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Guns and Alcohol Are a Deadly Combo. What Can Be Done About It?
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By Brian Phelps
Published 11 months ago on
June 6, 2023

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Guns and alcohol are prevalent throughout American culture, and they make for a fatal combination, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Center of Gun Violence Solutions at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health presented policy recommendations in May to combat alcohol misuse leading to firearm violence affecting thousands of Americans annually.

“The intersection of alcohol misuse and firearms can have devastating consequences,” said Silvia Villarreal, director of research translation at the Center for Gun Violence Solutions and the report’s lead author.

According to the report, “the intersection of alcohol misuse and guns is particularly dangerous. Specifically, alcohol misuse is a risk factor for all forms of gun violence.”

What the Numbers Reveal

The research suggests that alcohol misuse is associated with a risk of dangerous firearm behaviors, interpersonal firearm violence, and gun suicide.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the country has seen excessive drinking rise by 21% and alcohol-related deaths grow by 25%. Simultaneously, gun sales have risen by 30% and gun homicides have grown by 35%.

Currently, 4 in 10 adults in the country report having a firearm in their household, and more than 15 million gun owners are estimated to binge drink or drink heavily in a given month.

Excessive alcohol use caused more than 140,000 deaths each year from 2015-2019, an average of 380 people daily. Meanwhile, firearms account for nearly 49,000 deaths annually. That is a daily average of nearly 135 lives lost, with 200 people suffering non-fatal injuries requiring hospitalization every day.

Studies show that 1 in 3 people who commit homicide with a firearm have been heavily drinking when killing the victim. And, 30% of gun homicide victims have been drinking heavily, as well. About 25% of gun suicides follow heavy drinking.

Researchers also found that individuals who met the criteria for alcohol abuse were more than 2.4 times more likely to report impulsive angry behavior and to carry guns in public.

Policy Recommendations at a Glance

The report’s recommendations were drafted by experts at the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy. The recommendations focus primarily on limiting access to firearms by a person with a documented history of alcohol abuse and restricting firearms at locations where alcohol is consumed. These policies are outlined in the graphic below:

Federal law does not address the risks posed by the intersection of alcohol and guns. In addition, many states have ambiguous laws with unclear criteria.

For example, it is illegal in many states to possess a concealed carry firearm in places where alcohol is present, However, concealed carry permit holders in other states are exempt from such laws.

The report recommended additional policy considerations including:

  • Limiting the number of alcohol retailers in a particular area through licensing and zoning regulations;
  • Limiting the hours and days when alcohol can be served;
  • Increasing the price of alcohol by raising taxes.

“Firearm policies aimed at reducing harmful outcomes due to gun violence do not operate in a vacuum,” said Joshua Horwitz, one of the report’s authors. “We must take into consideration the environment where alcohol is sold and consumed to limit the risk of potential violence.”

You can read the full report here.

Pro 2nd Amendment Groups Oppose Recommendations

While the experts say these recommendations would reduce gun violence associated with alcohol misuse, opponents say they will be ineffective and violate constitutional rights.

Cam Edwards, at Bearing Arms, wrote: “Almost every one of their proposals involves new laws and new criminal penalties instead of the ‘harm reduction’ approach. … I found this report to be more of the same old ‘restrict our way to safety’ approach that results in laws that are unconstitutional, ineffective, or both.”

 

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