Recent years have seen an increased focus on gun rights in the news as gun violence appears to have increased in frequency. In light of this, California is considering a new bill – Senate Bill 55 – which would revoke a person’s right to own a gun for 10 years if they have been convicted of two or three alcohol-related misdemeanors within the past three years. The number of convictions would be dependent on the type of offense with which the person was being charged.
Part of the push for this bill comes from a recent study about DUIs. Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the report found that there may be some correlation between DUI and gun ownership. Out of about 80,000 legal gun purchasers in California, those with prior convictions of DUI were 2.5 times more likely than those with no DUI conviction to be arrested on suspicion of a more serious crime such as murder and robbery. When the convictions were expanded to include slightly less violent crimes such as harassment, the study found that they were three times more likely to have been arrested.
Back in 2013, then-Governor Jerry Brown had vetoed a similar bill, stating that he was “not persuaded that it is necessary to bar gun ownership on the basis of crimes that are non-felonies, non-violent, and do not involve misuse of a firearm.” The JAMA study offers the bill supporters a potential connection between gun ownership and history of drunk driving convictions.
However, the study does not substantiate that there is a direct link between alcohol use and gun violence. Rather than suggesting that alcohol is the culprit behind gun violence, the study suggests that many people “who engage in risky behavior involving alcohol will also engage in the kinds of risky behavior that endanger other people’ lives.” Especially when it comes to heavy drinking and gun access, impaired judgment can make it more likely for someone to act out.
Still, it is important that legislators and commenters understand that they are walking a very thin line. Prior DUI convictions seem to be a better predictor of future violence when compared with non-alcohol related misdemeanors. Recall the movie “Minority Report,” where law enforcement officers arrested people before they actually committed an offense. If you’ve seen the film, think about how the protagonist spent so much time trying to change the predicted outcome.
Is it worth putting a limit on human rights (remember there is a “right to bear arms”) in order to proactively prevent violent acts? Will we eventually come up with a formula that accurately predicts who is more likely to commit more violent acts? It’ll certainly be a tough time figuring that out.