D.C. lawmakers are proposing a new center to study gun violence, a move that would place the District in the vanguard of local governments seeking to fund research that gun-safety advocates say has been neglected by federal officials.
Legislation authored by D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) would establish the center, which would be housed at a university or other academic institution and would “research the causes and effects of urban firearm violence and make recommendations to prevent” it.
McDuffie’s proposal is modeled after a similar research facility at the University of California at Davis. Another gun research center is on its way to opening at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Legislators in other states have also suggested creating local institutions to study gun violence.
“We have to think about violence as an epidemic as it affects communities and understand the root causes,” McDuffie said in an interview. “One of the reasons I’ve decided to do this and the city needs to invest in it is because the federal government has decided not to.”
The legislation comes amid alarm over rising homicides in the nation’s capital. Last year, homicides were up 40 percent from 2017.
In an early measure of support, McDuffie’s bill was introduced with the support of 10 of the council’s 13 members — including Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), chairman of the committee on public safety.
In addition to McDuffie and Allen, signing on to the legislation were Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), David Grosso (I-At Large), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) and Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7).
A spokeswoman for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the administration backs the bill.
It is not yet clear what academic institution in the District would host the program if it moves forward or how much the center would cost.
Research into gun violence by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been largely stalled since 1996, when Congress approved the Dickey Amendment, which forbade the CDC to use its funding to promote gun control. The measure, which had been sought by the National Rifle Association, effectively put a stop to federally funded research into injuries and deaths caused by firearms.
In a spending bill last year, Congress altered the long-standing interpretation of the amendment, stating that the CDC can study gun violence. But that has not led to a burst of federal research, and local facilities can play an important role in ensuring that gun research advances regardless of political whims on Capitol Hill, said Kyleanne Hunter of the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Hunter said such centers show that gun violence “is a legitimate problem that needs to be addressed, and it brings a gravitas to the problem.”
She added, “We really don’t know the scope of the problem in this country right now because, for so long, the research has been stunted.”
The Violence Prevention Research Program at UC-Davis shows how academic studies into guns can inform public policy.
In December, a California state senator introduced a bill that would bar people convicted of some crimes involving alcohol from possessing a gun for 10 years.
The measure was based on research led by Garen Wintemute, director of the Davis program, showing that people with certain criminal convictions involving alcohol were at a higher risk of committing violent or gun-related crimes.