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California will be first state to train doctors in how their counsel can prevent gun deaths

The state of California will pay $3.85 million to researchers at the University of California, Davis, to develop the nation’s first program to train health care professionals to help their patients reduce firearm-related injury and death, university officials announced Tuesday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom approved the funding on Friday when he signed Assembly Bill 521 . Money will go toward educating a variety of California providers, including practicing physicians, mental health care professionals, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, health professions students and other specialists.

Dr. Amy Barnhorst, a UC Davis Health psychiatrist, will oversee the training. She has spent a good deal of her career studying gun violence, suicide and public mental health.

“Medical and mental health providers are uniquely positioned to respond to and prevent firearm-related harm,” Barnhorst said. “Many have asked for more information on when and how to discuss firearms with patients and what to do when patients have access to guns and are at high risk for harming themselves or others.”

Barnhorst and other UC Davis researchers look into how to prevent violence, what causes it, and the consequences of it at the Violence Prevention Research Program. This research program is home to the UC Firearm Violence Research Center.

Around the nation, physicians have called for meaningful policy changes to address the public health risk of gun violence in the wake of mass shootings like those at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in July and the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks last November. California reported 3,184 gun-related deaths in 2017, including 1,610 suicides and 1,435 homicides, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers from UCD’s Violence Prevention Research Program, Stanford University and other institutions teamed up to publish guidelines in the Annals of Internal Medicine on how the nation’s physicians could begin to have conversations with patients at risk of harm.

Dr. Garen Wintemute, the program’s director, said the new law allows Barnhorst and other team members to build upon this work.

Physicians can, for instance, counsel patients on safe storage practices or how to initiate gun violence restraining orders or how to intervene on behalf of individuals with mental health issues. To emphasize the importance of these conversations, researchers cited data in the Annals of Internal Medicine that show that as many as 30 percent of firearms owners keep at least one gun loaded but not locked up.

“California health professionals are committed to making firearm violence prevention part of their practices, and we are very excited by the opportunity to equip them with the knowledge and skills they need,” Wintemute said.

In addition to training physicians, Wintemute said, UC Davis will continue its rigorous search for specific gaps in knowledge and structural barriers that prevent society from being able to reduce the threat of gun violence.

Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, co-authored AB 521 with Assembly members Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters; David Chiu, D-San Francisco; Jesse Gabriel, D-San Fernando Valley; Todd Gloria, D-San Diego; Marc Levine, D-Marin County; and Mark Stone, D-Monterey Bay; as well as state Sens. Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, and Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco.

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Cathie Anderson covers health care for The Bee. Growing up, her blue-collar parents paid out of pocket for care. She joined The Bee in 2002, with roles including business columnist and features editor. She previously worked at papers including the Dallas Morning News, Detroit News and Austin American-Statesman.
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