SACRAMENTO – Today Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill 521, authored by Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), which tasks the UC Davis Firearm Violence Research Center with establishing firearm violence prevention education and training programs for health care providers.
“Despite repeated calls for a public health approach to ending the gun violence epidemic in this country, we have failed to equip our medical and mental health providers with the education and training they need to help reduce the high levels of gun violence their patients are experiencing,” said Assemblymember Marc Berman, a member of the Legislature’s Gun Violence Prevention Working Group. “AB 521 fixes that. By training doctors when and how to discuss firearms with their patients, and what to do when a patient is in immediate danger, doctors will be equipped not only to respond to gun violence, but also to help prevent it.”
Californians experience firearm-related death and injury at an unacceptably high rate. In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 3,184 gun-related deaths in California, including 1,610 suicides and 1,435 homicides. Furthermore, mass shootings are changing the character of public life. Last November, a mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California resulted in 12 deaths, and more recently, in July, a gunman opened fire at the Gilroy Garlic Festival killing three people, including two children.
For decades, we have relied on doctors, emergency room nurses, and trauma surgeons to save lives in the aftermath of gun violence. In 2010, the estimated cost of hospital and emergency department care for firearm-related injuries in California was $112 million, with Medi-Cal and other government payers responsible for 64% of those costs. These high costs occur even though most people who die from firearm-related injuries do so at the scene of the shooting and receive no medical care for their injuries. Medical costs make up approximately 2% of the total cost of firearm-related harm, which is driven primarily by losses in productivity and quality of life.
“This program will be the only one of its kind in the country,” said Dr. Garen Wintemute, director of the UC Davis Firearm Violence Research Center. “California health professionals are committed to making firearm violence prevention part of their practice, and we are very excited by the opportunity to equip them with the knowledge and skills they need.”
AB 521 recognizes that medical and mental health providers are uniquely positioned to both respond to and prevent firearm-related harm. Through the course of regular patient care, they have opportunities to assess patients for risk, provide evidence-based counseling, and intervene when necessary. Regrettably, many cite lack of knowledge regarding when and how to discuss firearms with their patients as a principal barrier to action.
Major medical associations, including the American College of Physicians, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have issued similar statements calling for a public health approach to reducing firearm-related injury and death. In 2017, the Board of Trustees of the California Medical Association noted that “expanded education and training are needed to improve clinician familiarity with the benefits and risks of firearm ownership, safety practices, and communication with patients about firearm violence.” The Board further stated that “medical schools and residency programs should incorporate firearm violence prevention into their academic curricula” and “California-specific resources such as continuing medical education modules, toolkits, patient education handouts, and clinical intervention information would help to address this practice gap.”
In 2016, California established the first-in-the-nation center devoted to firearms research. AB 521 furthers the work undertaken by the team of experts at the UC Davis Firearm Violence Research Center. The Budget Act of 2019 includes $3.85 million one-time General Fund for firearm violence prevention training. AB 521 provides clear guidelines for the use of those funds.
Contact: Kaitlin Curry, (916) 319-2024