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Alcohol Misuse Called Major Factor In Gun Violence, Reforms Urged

A fight broke out in a bar and spilled out onto the street last month in Melbourne, Fla., leaving three people injured, windows shattered and a bullet lodged in the child car seat of a vehicle.


"This is unacceptable," said Mayor Paul Alfrey. The incident prompted city leaders to consider requiring bars and restaurants to obtain extended-hours permits that emphasize security measures to serve alcohol.


The shooting in Melbourne is just one of the many incidents of gun violence happening nearly every day — many with a connection to alcohol, reports USA Today.


"Alcohol misuse is a risk factor for gun violence," said Silvia Villarreal of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, lead author of a new report on the intersecting public health issues.


The report by the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy, a group of more than 30 gun violence experts, and the Center for Gun Violence Solutions recommends policymakers limit access to firearms by people with a documented history of alcohol misuse and restrict firearms at places where alcohol is consumed.


Alcohol kills 140,000 people annually, and guns kill more than 48,000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


The two often intersect: An estimated 1 in 3 gun homicide perpetrators drank heavily before murdering someone, 30% of gun homicide victims drank heavily before being killed, and a quarter of gun suicide victims were heavily drinking before they died by suicide.


Among legal gun owners, alcohol misuse (as measured through DUI and other alcohol-related convictions) increases the risk of interpersonal gun violence, including intimate partner violence, studies from the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, found.


The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these issues. Excessive drinking increased by 21%, and alcohol-related deaths increased approximately 25%, one study found. Meanwhile, gun sales increased by 40% and gun homicides by 35%, and gun suicides had the largest one-year increase ever recorded, two other studies concluded.


Michelle Spencer, also from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, said alcohol has been socialized into our everyday lives and is an "under-appreciated" risk factor for gun violence.


The report's authors say states should pass laws prohibiting the purchase and possession of firearms by people convicted of two or more instances within a five-year period of driving under the influence of alcohol or driving while intoxicated.

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