How to predict whether a gun owner is more likely to commit violent crimes

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Convictions for driving under the influence may be linked to the risk of being arrested for subsequent violent crimes, a new study of legal gun owners suggests.

Researchers studied 79,678 California handgun owners from their first legal firearm purchase in 2001 until 2013, using the state Justice Department’s database of legal handgun sales.

During that period, nearly 9% of the 1,495 handgun buyers with previous DUI convictions were later arrested for crimes classified as violent by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s crime index: murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Only 2% of the 65,700 buyers with no previous criminal history wound up being arrested for those violent crimes, according to the study, which was published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“In adjusted comparisons, purchasers with DUI convictions and no non-DUI arrests or convictions had more than double the risk of arrest for a Crime Index–listed crime compared with purchasers who had no criminal history,” the study authors wrote.

The firearm purchasers in the study, which was led by the University of California, Davis’s Violence Prevention Research Program, ranged in age from 21 to 49 at the time they acquired their firearms. Nine in 10 firearm purchasers in the study were men, and nearly seven in 10 were white.

The results suggest that restricting firearm purchases among people convicted of driving while intoxicated might help decrease the incidence of violent crimes, the authors wrote, in the same vein as policies aimed at other high-risk populations like felons and people convicted of domestic-violence misdemeanors.

Excessive drinking has also been linked with gun suicides, and a 2015 study found that “alcohol misuse and firearm access increase risk of committing homicide and suicide.” Meanwhile, alcohol stores have been associated with heightened risk of being assaulted with a gun.

Separate 2017 research conducted by some of the same authors analyzed data from 4,066 California handgun purchasers from 1977 to 1991, finding that nearly a third of people with alcohol-related convictions in their past — “chiefly driving under the influence” — were later arrested for a violent or firearm-linked offense.

Some 16% with prior alcohol-related convictions were arrested for murder, rape, robbery or aggravated assault, that study found. Meanwhile, less than 6% of purchasers with no criminal history were arrested for violent or firearm-related crimes, and less than 3% were arrested for murder, rape, robbery or aggravated assault.