Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hold My Beer And Watch This

Guns and beer in Wisconsin are things that, even if you've never partaken in either, are pervasive in your daily life.

The beer should be obvious. For Bucky's sake, we have a professional baseball team called the Brewers, and they play at Miller Park. Milwaukee prides itself on being a beer capital, even if the major breweries have mostly moved away or folded. In some towns- like mine- drinking is almost a requirement in order to have any semblance of a social life.

On the flip side, state pride in beer leads to extremely lax drunk-driving laws, exacerbated by the fact that the state has the highest percentage of drunk drivers in the nation. Wisconsin is the only state in America where a first-offense DUI is not a crime, but rather a mere traffic ticket, this designation holding even after a toughening of drunk-driving laws in late 2009. Wisconsin also rates highly in underage and binge drinking, sometimes leading in one or both.

As for guns, every year, deer season comes along in the fall. And every year when I was in school, when deer season came along, half the class would vanish for at least one day, maybe several. They were out hunting. This is no exaggeration. Half, sometimes more. On one occasion in college, so many of my classmates were out hunting that class was cancelled. I'm positive that those of you in hunting-intensive regions have similar stories.

And what is a time-honored part of modern-day hunting? Drinking, of course.

These factors should have at least prepared me a bit for this study out of UC-Davis, but it proved no less troubling. According to the study, people who carry concealed weapons, and who engage in various irresponsible gun-related behaviors, are more likely to drink heavily- and drive drunk- than people who don't own guns. And the more dangerous the behavior, the more likely you are to drink heavily. One example showed that people who drive with loaded guns in their car were twice as likely to drink heavily as gun-owners who don't, who were in turn twice as likely to drink heavily as non-gun owners.

The data was gathered from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, using the results of a phone poll done over eight states in 1996 and 1997- the most recent data available. The eight states are Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota and Ohio.

The article, and study director Garen J. Wintermute, note that four states explicitly allow concealed guns in bars: Arizona, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia. There is a provision that this is dependent on the person not drinking alcohol, but as Wintermute notes, because the gun is concealed, it seems difficult to enforce.

Wintermute notes the age of the data used, and calls for more research, with more recent data, to be done on the relationship between guns and alcohol. He will likely run into trouble, though. The only early responses we have are the comments in the linked article, and all eight comments as of this writing allege Wintermute of having an anti-gun bias.

They've had plenty of run-ins with Wintermute before. By 2007, he had racked up over 50 published articles on gun violence. Among his work is this piece on sales at gun shows, this piece exploring the risk factors of recently-purchased handguns being used in a crime or as part of trafficking, and this piece (PDF) on recently-purchased guns being used for suicides.

As the scientific community holds, though, that doesn't constitute a bias. Just a trend.

And as the trend goes any time Wintermute releases a study, he's in for another earful.

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