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Drinking and Gun Deaths

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Drinking and Gun Deaths

Young Man wth Gun.jpgPerusing information on the relationship between drinking and gun deaths on the Internet is enough to make a person crazy, especially when so many Americans are inflamed about a gunman killing schoolchildren in Connecticut last December and the victims of the Boston Marathon/MIT killings.  These latest tragedies seem to have rallied the group that wants an end to these tragedies, which in many people’s minds means stricter gun controls.  But the people against gun control are vocal as well and present their own statistics. So researching this is crazy-making.

The most recent mass shootings in the U.S. were by young men who were mentally ill. But for anyone touched by or concerned about alcohol abuse, it isn’t a stretch to also start ruminating about the link between drinking and gun deaths when these tragedies occur.

Two years ago the L.A. Times had an article about a study in the British Medical Journal which found that people who own guns are twice as likely to binge drink (“have five drinks in a single sitting”) and are more than twice as likely to drive when drunk. 

What was really scary is the number of deaths cited that were directly related to drinking alcohol:

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.”

Granted, many of the latest group homicides in the U.S. have been perpetrated by males who are severely mentally ill. But anyone who grew up with a violent drinker can relate and shudder. Perhaps we saw the person take a knife, or throw a lamp across a room. We know their potential for violence. And to think what might have happened if they’d had a gun—and in some cases, what did happen….Numerous domestic violence episodes occurred when a person was buoyed by alcohol or another drug. Unfortunately, some family members can only imagine what might have happened if a violent family member had a loaded gun while inebriated.

The New York Times had a more recent article on this subject last February: “Violent, Drunk, and Holding a Gun.” It was an editorial about the “multiple mass shootings by deranged young men” that I just mentioned, but said that to focus solely on this group overlooks others “at demonstrably increased risk of committing violent crimes but … not barred by federal law from buying and having guns.” Specifically, people known for violent misdemeanors, and alcohol abusers.

Did you know that it’s illegal for someone who uses a controlled substance to buy or have a gun, but not someone who has been found to abuse alcohol? The Times cited a study that found people who have been hospitalized for drinking or gotten in trouble at work for the same thing were in more danger of committing suicide and homicide. 

The article says that the problem is the lack of a useful definition of a pattern of alcohol abuse. That’s hard to believe when the writer goes on to show how Pennsylvania has done it: in that state, anyone who has been found guilty of at least three drunk driving offenses can’t buy a gun. That’s at least a start.



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