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Wyden pushes for study of gun violence

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, wants the Centers for Disease Control to be able to study gun violence, and he's gathering data and information from around the state, including Southern Oregon, to make his case.

One of his stops Tuesday was the Rogue Valley Family YMCA, where he held a forum attended by representatives from law enforcement, health and education in Jackson, Josephine and Douglas counties. Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert, county Medical Director Jim Shames and Rogue Community College President Cathy Kemper-Pelle were among those in attendance.

Wyden discussed a rider in a spending bill passed by Congress in 1996 that prevents the CDC from conducting gun violence research. The provision states that "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control. Wyden said that passage has been misconstrued, and that allowing such research would not be an assault on the Second Amendment. 

"I think this ban is anti-science, ignorance-glorifying, common sense-defying policy," Wyden said. "It just doesn't add up, and I think we know these shootings have taken place like clockwork, then we have the vigils like clockwork, and then Congress doesn't act like clockwork. So I'm very hopeful that we can break this spiral of violence."

Wyden is one of 23 Democratic senators asking U.S. Senate leaders to allow the CDC to conduct gun-violence research in September. It's a first step in curtailing what he calls a public health threat.

"We must take the important step of funding gun-violence prevention research," a letter to the U.S. Senate leadership says. "Only the United States government is in a position to establish an integrated public health research agenda to understand the causes of gun violence and identify the most effective strategies for prevention."

Local public health and law enforcement officials offered input from Southern Oregon. Heckert pointed to examples of gun violence in Jackson County, citing drive-by shootings, robberies and domestic violence.

"I don't know that there's one particular area where we're seeing guns being used," she said. "It's a little bit across the board."

Health officials discussed the role of mental health funding and how much of a role it might play in gun-violence prevention.

"We don't know, because we don't have the research. When I go into work every day and I see the police bringing someone in on a mental health hold, that's a wide variation of why they're there, but it happens every single day multiple times throughout the day," said Chris David, an emergency room doctor at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass. "How do we not have anything to actually help us make decisions on, 'Is this person a significant risk?' "

Wyden said he hopes the information he gathers will be useful in pushing for research when Congress goes back into session in September.

"It's about getting good research into the hands of policymakers so they can make judgments that are just common sense," Wyden said. "It's not about a piece of legislation. It's about getting good information objectively laid out that addresses the kinds of issues that we heard about (today)."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.