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Study reveals surprising link between DUI convictions and domestic violence involving guns



Study reveals surprising link between DUI convictions and domestic violence involving guns originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

Regulating firearm ownership for at-risk individuals, such as those with prior felony or domestic violence convictions, is already written into federal law. Now, according to new research, there may be a reason to consider alcohol-related offenses as a precursor to partner violence, too.

Gun buyers with prior convictions for driving under the influence were nearly three times more likely to be arrested in the future for domestic partner violence than gun buyers who had no criminal history at the time of purchase, a study published Monday in the journal Health Affairs found .

The study used data from nearly 80,000 people between the ages of 21 and 49 who purchased a legal handgun in California in 2001.

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"It shows very, very clearly that prior criminal history predicts future criminal history," Dr. Megan Ranney, a professor at Brown University and chief research officer at the gun violence research group AFFIRM, told ABC News.

"People who have a tendency for risky behavior continue to have a tendency for risky behavior," said Ranney, who was not affiliated with the new study.

Predicting risky behavior with firearms is particularly important in the context of intimate partner violence, Ranney explained, since victims are five times more likely to die if an abuser has access to a gun. Even when women die, guns are a constant threat to their collective safety and well-being. Nearly 1 million women say they have been shot by an intimate partner at some point in their lives, and 4.5 million who report being bullied or coerced with a gun.

PHOTO: In this Dec. 21, 2108, file photo, handguns for sale are lined up in a display case in a gun shop. (Charlie Riedel / AP, FILE)
PHOTO: In this Dec. 21, 2108, file photo, handguns for sale are lined up in a display case in a gun shop. (Charlie Riedel / AP, FILE)

The study potentially helps fill a gap in our knowledge about violence, according to lead author Hannah Sybil Laqueur. While researchers have documented the link between guns and intimate partner violence, and alcohol and intimate partner violence, less attention has been paid to the nexus of the three factors together, Laqueur, who is also an assistant professor at UC Davis Health, said.

In California, new research may prove to be more than hypothetical.

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A 2013 bill passed in the state would have prohibited firearm sales for 10 years to people who had two or more DUI convictions over a three-year period. The governor vetoed the bill at the time, on the grounds that there was sufficient evidence linking non-violent crimes committed without a firearm to violent firearm crimes. A similar proposal was floated this year, citing a smaller UC Davis study with older data that specifically examined intimate partner violence.

If the bill is put forward again next year, much more robust data for policymakers to pull from.

"Given the evidence that people who consume alcohol at increased risk of violence, and intimate partner violence in particular, regulating firearm access may provide an important public health opportunity to reduce the risk and severity of that 10-year prohibition on firearm sales," the study authors wrote.

PHOTO: In this undated file photo, Crime Scene tape at the front door of a luxury home. (Adam Kaz / Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: In this undated file photo, Crime Scene tape at the front door of a luxury home. (Adam Kaz / Getty Images, FILE)

Loopholes that limit and hamstring background checks

While background checks are a popular policy, even among Republicans, 83% of whom support background checks for potential gun owners, according to a Washington Post / ABC News poll conducted in early September, evidence of their effectiveness is moderate in some areas, and inconclusive in others.

The most glaring examples are recent mass shootings involving legal guns purchased by individuals who would have failed, or failed, background checks and went on to kill. This summer in Odessa, Texas, for example, a gunman who was barred from buying a firearm because of his history of serious mental health problems and volatile behavior was denied a gun dealer but went on to purchase an AR-15- style weapon privately, which he then used to shoot 32 people, killing seven of them.

In a review published in Health Affairs in conjunction with domestic violence study Monday, Dr. Garen Wintemute set out to identify why background checks seem to work at a population level.

One of the biggest problems is incomplete data, according to Wintemute, who directs the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program and the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center and has spent decades studying firearm violence.

PHOTO: In this undated file photo, a sobriety test is being given. (Doug Menuez / Forrester Images via Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: In this undated file photo, a sobriety test is being given. (Doug Menuez / Forrester Images via Getty Images, FILE)

For starters, except for federal agencies, a lot of reporting on at-risk individuals – from courts, psychiatric facilities, etc. – is voluntary. Even when the information is available, not every state uses the state data they have to run checks. Some simply rely on federal data, meaning their examinations are less thorough.

Vague definitions of categories that would exclude someone from firearm ownership add a layer of subjectivity to the process, and even to those entities that are required to report, a certain subset of sellers and buyers who care about the rules.

A focus on DUIs, as shown in Ranney's statistics, may provide less subjectivity.

In so-called Second Amendment sanctuaries, where officials have publicly stated that they apply enforce state background check laws, enforcement can be particularly patchy.

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Then the loophole of private gun sales is once limited to gun shows, but with the internet, the private, background check-free marketplace is effectively everywhere.

In the face of these weak spots, Wintemute thinks the rules should be tightened. Re-education campaigns could drive down accidental non-compliance, and sting operations could target sellers who knowingly break the rules. Federal support for state and local reporting needs to continue, or increase, with a goal of 100% reporting – and importantly – timely reporting, since the risk of violence is highest after a disqualifying event.

"Any reform of policy and practice will merit rigorous evaluation," Wintemute wrote in his review, stressing that making strides to plug those holes could "substantially improve the checks' effectiveness at the population level."


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