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Science & Environment

Gun Violence Prevention Research

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Investigators are still searching for a motive in the mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio. But Governor Mike DeWine is doing something he's long resisted - urging gun control restrictions - after mourners sent him this message on Sunday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Do something. Do something.

MARTIN: The governor responded to that call yesterday.

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MIKE DEWINE: They were absolutely right. We must do something, and that is exactly what we are going to do.

MARTIN: Governor DeWine is proposing to increase gun background checks and pass other measures. But is that something that will actually affect change and save lives? We're going to ask Garen Wintemute. He's the director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis.

Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

GAREN WINTEMUTE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: About 40,000 people die from gun-related deaths every year in this country. That includes suicide and homicides. Gun control advocates have long called gun violence a public health crisis. Is that how you see it?

WINTEMUTE: I do. If violence weren't a health problem, why are all these people dying from it? It's plain on its face that violence has health effects. It can be studied and intervened with as a health problem.

MARTIN: President Trump has focused his calls on mental health - right? - reforming mental health laws. He hasn't called for stricter gun legislation. I want to play a clip of him speaking after this past weekend's mass shootings.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.

MARTIN: Is there evidence that focusing on mental health is an effective way to curb gun violence?

WINTEMUTE: It's one small part of what needs to be a multifaceted approach. We vastly overestimate the role of mental illness in interpersonal violence - one person against another. Mental illness by itself accounts for less than 5% of that violence. If we're talking about self-harm and suicide, mental illness becomes very important, accounting for between 45% and 75%.

MARTIN: So what works? I mean, I realize that's a huge question. But gun control laws have become so partisan. And whether it's focusing on mental health or these so-called red flag laws, more background checks, what measures work?

WINTEMUTE: Partisanship and effectiveness are two different things. Lots of things work here. Background checks work. We know, based on firm research evidence, that identifying prohibited persons and preventing them from acquiring firearms reduces their subsequent risk of violence by at least 25%. We have, I think, at least strong suggestive evidence that extreme risk protection orders, the measure proposed by Governor DeWine in Ohio, are effective with regard to suicide, which is how they're more often used. There...

MARTIN: These are the red flag laws where if you're worried about someone, you can get the government to take away their guns.

WINTEMUTE: That's correct. Those of us who work in the field try and avoid the term red flag law. We don't think it's useful. But, yes, we're talking about the same thing. They have been used - there are two, at least, widely-publicized cases and quite a few more here in California - where they have been used in an effort to prevent mass shootings. And none of those mass shootings has occurred.

MARTIN: How - is there evidence to suggest that in states with these policies - how does it compare with states that have more open gun laws?

WINTEMUTE: This is a tricky question. There's been lots of bling science done, simply comparing states with and without laws without any regard to their implementation and so forth. But carefully conducted evaluation studies have shown that the policies I mentioned and others are effective.

MARTIN: Garen Wintemute - he is the director of the Violence Prevention Research Program. We appreciate your time this morning. Thank you so much.

WINTEMUTE: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.