Gun Owners Twice as Likely to be Heavy Drinkers

By Dirk Hanson 06/15/11

Firearm owners who carry loaded guns in cars are four times as likely to drink and drive.

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High risk behaviors.
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“It's not surprising that risky behaviors go together," said Garen J. Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis and author of a disturbing recent study about handguns and drinking. Firearm owners were more likely than non-gun owners to drink and drive, and to have more than 60 drinks per month, Wintemute found. The study also found that binge drinking was more common among gun owners.

The heaviest alcohol use of all, said the UC Davis researcher, occurred among firearm owners who said that they carried a firearm for protection against other people, or who kept a loaded firearm at home. In addition, gun owners who 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. "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," said Wintemute.
The study, published online in Injury Prevention, was based on telephone surveys of more than 15,000 people in eight states in 1996. Wintemute said more recent numbers were not available, since only a few states have ever collected such statistics.

One theory about this connection is that underlying personality traits, such as impulsiveness or an inclination to take risks, could lead to an increase in dangerous behavior involving alcohol and guns.

In 2009, there were 30,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S., and more than 78,000 non-fatal gunshot wounds. About one third of firearm-related deaths involve alcohol. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, there are 260 to 300 million guns in civilian hands in the United States.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]