Guns, binge drinking go hand-in-hand

UC DAVIS (US) — Gun owners who carry concealed weapons or have confronted someone with a gun are more than twice as likely to drink heavily as people who don’t own guns.

Binge drinking, chronic heavy alcohol use, and drinking and driving are all more common among gun owners than among non-owners, even after adjusting for age, sex, race, and state of residence.

Alcohol abuse was most common among firearm owners who participated in gun-related behaviors that carry a risk of violence, which also included having a loaded, unlocked firearm in the home and driving or riding in a vehicle with a loaded firearm.

“It’s not surprising that risky behaviors go together,” says Garen J. Wintemute, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Califorina, Davis. “This is of particular concern given that alcohol intoxication also impairs a gun user’s accuracy as well as his judgment on whether to shoot.”

A new study appears online in the journal Injury Prevention.

The highest levels of alcohol abuse were reported by gun owners who engaged in dangerous behavior with their weapons.

For example, gun owners who also drove or rode in motor vehicles with loaded guns were more than four times as likely to drink and drive as were people who did not own guns.  Gun owners who did not travel with loaded guns were still more than twice as likely to drink and drive as were people who did not own guns.

Data for the study on firearms ownership and alcohol use came from telephone interviews conducted in 1996 and 1997 of more than 15,000 people in eight states—Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Ohio.

Participants were asked if they owned a gun, as well as if they engaged in specific firearm-related behaviors. Respondents also were asked about their consumption of alcohol, including whether they have had five or more alcoholic drinks on one occasion; if they drove after consuming “perhaps too much” alcohol; or if they had 60 or more drinks per month.

Drinking can impair judgment and lead people to use firearms in ways that they would otherwise avoid. Alternatively, underlying personality traits, such as impulsiveness or an inclination to take risks, could lead to an increase in dangerous behavior involving alcohol and guns.

The study also evaluated gun owners who indicated that they had attended a firearm-safety workshop in the previous three years. Those respondents were less likely to engage in alcohol-related risk behaviors than those who had not attended a workshop.

The 15-year-old data are the most recent available and only eight states chose to ask questions about both firearms and alcohol, but despite the limitations, the study’s results provide important evidence about gun ownership and the potential for gun use to be closely associated with the misuse and abuse of alcohol, Wintermute says.

“New and more comprehensive research is needed, since legislation authorizing the public carrying of loaded and concealed firearms has become almost universal in the United States. Efforts to separate the use of firearms from the use of alcohol may have important benefits for the health and safety of the public.”

Funding was supported by grants from the Joyce Foundation and the California Wellness Foundation.

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