Guns and alcohol: Gun owners drink more and take more risks, study says


Gun owners: Don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger. I must warn you, though, that the findings on gun ownership and risky alcohol behaviors published this week in the British Medical Journal do not paint an altogether flattering picture.

You’re twice as likely as people who do not have a gun at home to down five or more drinks in a single sitting. You’re almost two-and-a-half times more likely than people who do not have a gun at home to get behind the wheel of a car when you have, by your own admission, drunk “perhaps too much.” And you were just a little less likely than that (2.39 times as likely to be exact) to consume 60 or more drinks per month.

And compared with gun owners who kept their firearms at home unloaded and under lock and key, those who said they sometimes carry a loaded weapon for personal protection or who keep a weapon loaded and unlocked around the house were more likely to do things like drink and drive, and to engage in what substance abuse researchers call “binge drinking.”

Here’s the problem: These two broad categories of behavior are often related. Of the 395,366 firearms-related deaths reported in the United States between 1997 -- when this data were actually collected -- and 2009 -- the latest date for which the tally of firearms-related deaths is available -- about one-third are thought to have involved alcohol. In 2007, 34.5% of suicide and homicide victims in the United States had alcohol in their systems at the time of death, and 60% of those were considered acutely intoxicated.

A very large body of research tells us that people who abuse alcohol or drugs are at far higher risk of committing acts of violence and self-harm. Although laws in some states bar the sale of guns to those with alcohol abuse problems, they’re often drafted in terms that aren’t very specific, and therefore aren’t very effective -- forbidding the sale of firearms, for instance, to “habitual drunkards.”

These insights were gleaned from a survey of risk behaviors conducted under the auspices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1996 and 1997 and culled by Garen J. Wintemute of UC Davis.