Research Reports

Firearms, Alcohol & Crime

Firearms, alcohol and crime

A long-term study of legal firearm owners in California shows that those with a history of DUI or other alcohol-related convictions are much more likely to eventually be arrested for crimes involving guns or violence than those with no prior criminal history.

Findings from the study by Garen Wintemute and researchers at the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis were published in Injury Prevention.[1] The study looked at more than 4,000 legal purchasers of firearms in California in 1977, and followed them through 1991, using publicly available records. It compared those with prior convictions for alcohol-related crimes (1,272) to those with no prior criminal history (2,794).

Researchers concluded that, among firearm owners, prior alcohol-related convictions were linked to a four- to five-fold increase in risk of arrest for violent crime — a greater increase in risk than accounted for by age, gender or prior violence. During the 14-year follow-up period, 54 percent of those with alcohol-related convictions were arrested, and 33 percent of those arrested were involved in a violent or firearm-related case. About one in 10 of those with no record were arrested for any reason.

The study’s connection between alcohol and violence is consistent with prior research, the authors say. Not only does research show that firearm owners are more likely than others to “binge drink” and to consume alcohol regularly, but also that individuals with DUI convictions are more likely than others to engage in other kinds of criminal activity, including violent and weapon-related crimes.

Policy implications

The link between alcohol abuse and violent crime is well known. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCAAD), alcohol is a factor in 40 percent of violent crimes. The council further notes that, of 2 million offenders in jail now, 37 percent report that they were drunk when they were arrested, citing data from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Legal restrictions on firearm ownership by persons with a record of alcohol-related offenses are rare. Only three states and the District of Columbia have such laws specific enough to be enforceable. This study suggests that limiting access to firearms by those with a history of alcohol-related convictions could reduce the risk of violence.

For more coverage of this study, see:

[1] Wintemute, GJ, Wright, MA, Castillo-Carniglia, A, Shev, A, Cerdá, M. Firearms, alcohol and crime: convictions or driving under the influence (DUI) and other alcohol-related crimes and risk for future criminal activity among authorized purchasers of handguns. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/inju... (Published online Jan. 30, 2017).

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