UC Davis Health and the state of California are taking on a formally expanded leadership role in educating health professionals about best practices to reduce firearm-related injury and death.

Assembly Bill 521, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in October, designates the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center — hosted by UC Davis’ Violence Prevention Research Program (VPRP) — to expand its research and give health care professionals clinical tools to assess patients for risk, provide counseling, and intervene when necessary.

The program will be the only one of its kind in the country, according to Garen Wintemute, M.D., M.P.H., an emergency physician and director of both the UC Center and the VPRP. The sponsoring bill was authored by Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), and the Budget Act of 2019 includes $3.85 million for the training. Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar- Curry (D-Winters) was one of several co-authors.

Amy Barnhorst, M.D., a UC Davis psychiatrist who has dedicated much of her career to the issue of gun violence, suicide and public mental health, will direct the training. Barnhorst is vice chair for community mental health in the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and a frequent collaborator with Wintemute.

"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."

The new initiative builds on VPRP’s existing "What You Can Do" program, which offers strategies providers can use in clinic to reduce firearm injury and death. AB 521 supports comprehensive training for a wide range of providers, including practicing physicians, mental health professionals, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, health professions students and other specialists.

The UC Davis center will guide providers in working with at-risk patients, such as offering safer storage practices, initiating gun violence restraining orders, and pursuing interventions for individuals with mental health issues. It also will continue research to further identify barriers that prevent counseling and other interventions.

The VPRP-run UC Firearm Violence Research Center launched in 2017 with a historic $5 million state appropriation to fund leading-edge research on firearm violence and its prevention.