Does Alcohol Lead to Gun Violence?

Alcohol And Guns

Not long ago, a young man in Canada chased his mother around her home with a gun.  When she fell down, he shot her in the back of the neck.  According to a report on CBC News, a forensic psychiatric assessment determined that the young man had an alcohol-induced psychotic disorder triggered after five days of withdrawal from alcohol.  The man reported that he had been hearing voices for several days.  If withdrawal from alcohol could cause such terrible violence, what happens when people are actively abusing alcohol? We looked into the correlation between alcohol and guns.

Statistics on Alcohol and Gun Violence

A report by BMJ stated that alcohol abuse is a major warning sign of possible gun violence.  According to an article on Trace analyzing the report, about 1/3rd of firearm buyers who have previously been convicted of alcohol-related crimes, such as driving under the influence, go on to engage in a firearm-related offense.

Some people think that harder drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine are responsible for most violent crimes.  TV and movies often give the impression that most violent criminals are under the influence of cocaine or methamphetamine.  In actual reality though, alcohol is the largest single drug involved in violent crime.  Some surveys report that 40% of people incarcerated for violent crimes had been drinking at the time of the crime. A study published on Sage Journals found that 34% of gun murders were committed by people who had been drinking before the crime.

Gun owners are also more likely to overuse alcohol.  Prior alcohol abuse convictions are more significant in predicting future gun violence than age, gender, or history of prior violent behavior.

The author of one study, Dr. Wintemute, suggests that about 30 people are killed every day by people under the influence of alcohol.  This includes alcohol-related vehicle accidents resulting in death.  An analysis of 23 studies that was completed in 2013 found that 48% of murderers had been drinking at the time of the crime, and 37% were intoxicated.

These statistics may give the impression that alcohol is to blame for these crimes, but that is not necessarily the truth.  Alcohol is known to lower inhibitions and may make the user more aggressive.

Alcohol may also be a factor for victims of gun violence.  Persons under the influence of alcohol often engage in risky behavior.  This may lead to poor decision-making, which puts them in the cross hairs of an alcohol abuser who is becoming violent.  An article published in the New York Times found that 40% of the victims of violent crime had been using alcohol.  An example might be a drunk person who gets into a car driven by another person who has also been drinking.

Possible Solutions

There is no federal law forbidding people with a history of alcohol abuse or even people with prior alcohol-related convictions from purchasing guns.  Only a few states have laws citing alcohol abuse as a reason to block a gun purchase. A stature in Pennsylvania forbids people with 3 or more drunken driving convictions over a 5-year period from purchasing a gun.  However, alcohol and guns both remain very easy to buy for most Americans.

Some prohibition-era hopefuls might suggest that people who have been convicted of an alcohol-related crime shouldn’t be able to buy alcohol (possibly a more likely scenario than stopping people from buying guns).  This may sound like a solution, but most drinkers have friends or family members who also drink, and it would be very easy to get around such a law.

South Dakota’s 24/7 sobriety program provides closer monitoring of persons who were convicted of an alcohol-related crime.  Aside from such close monitoring, treatment for an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) would be productive.  The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as ObamaCare, makes treatment more accessible.

Some experts suggest that the federal excise tax should be raised, which may lead to a reduction in the amount of alcohol purchased.  State taxes for both alcohol and guns could be increased and the revenue used exclusively to provide AUD treatment.

Some creative solutions to keep alcohol and guns from ending up in the same hands at the same time have been suggested, including laws forbidding persons with a history of alcohol abuse from purchasing a gun, increasing federal and state taxes on the purchase of alcohol, prohibiting purveyors of alcohol from sponsoring cultural and athletic events, and improved access to treatment for persons suffering from an AUD.  Some or all of these solutions could be instituted at the state or federal level.

Alcohol and Gun Violence: An Explosive Match

Alcohol, which is known to lower inhibitions and increase aggressiveness, will often make a bad situation worse.  The numbers reveal a strong correlation between a history of alcohol abuse and gun-related violence.  Victims of violent crime are also more likely to have been using alcohol.  What might have ended with a fist fight or some other interaction can, when one of the parties is drunk and owns a gun, result in a homicide.