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Gun Rights Advocates Take Aim at Research Budget, Data Access

California is the epicenter of American gun violence research, largely because it maintains an extensive repository of firearms data and, unlike other states, has historically made much of the data available to scientists studying the root causes of gun deaths. Thanks to that distinction, and to an unfortunate lapse in data security, it's now the epicenter of political backlash against funding for gun violence research, the Los Angeles Times reports. In a double-barreled attack on recent increases in research resources, a lawsuit brought by gun-rights activists seeks to hobble California's data infrastructure while House Republicans in Washington work to kill federal gun-violence research funding that only resumed in 2019 after a long drought.

Last summer, the California Department of Justice accidentally published the personal information of roughly 192,000 firearm owners to the open internet. The records were gathered as part of an effort to quantify and publicize how many Californians were seeking to carry a concealed firearm in public. The state also keeps meticulous data regarding every firearm transaction — every sale, every transfer. Under California law, even private gun transactions must happen through a retailer. “The capacity to answer... questions with that data in California is really meaningful for the rest of the country,” said Cassandra Crifasi, a firearm researcher at Johns Hopkins University. “Some of the work that [California researchers are doing]… you literally could not do anywhere else, because of their decision to prioritize this information.” Plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought last fall won an injunction blocking a California law that requires the state to share gun transaction data with researchers. How the lawsuit over data sharing is ultimately resolved could set the tone for the rest of the country, especially other states considering similar policies. Meanwhile, the new federal money for research, $25 million a year, has begun allowing academics everywhere to start to do what California researchers have been doing for decades. Mark Rosenberg, a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official who oversaw early efforts to research gun violence in the 1990s, forecasts a "fierce battle" over that funding in the coming debate over the federal deficit.


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