As a number of researchers have consistently demonstrated for several decades, firearm violence is often alcohol-related violence, but until now there has been no comprehensive assessment of the link between alcohol, gun ownership, and the likelihood of future firearm violence. Recently, however, researchers at the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program studied the connection between DUI convictions and the risk of a subsequent arrest for a crime of gun violence. The researchers’ findings have a number of implications for legislators and policy-makers to consider. Those findings were published in January in the journal Injury Prevention.

The subjects of the research were 4,066 randomly selected individuals who were under the age of 50 when they each purchased a handgun from a licensed retailer in California in 1977. With California Department of Justice records, the researchers identified individuals with prior convictions for DUI and other alcohol-related crimes. Over 1,200 of the 4,066 gun buyers had prior criminal convictions that were alcohol-related when they purchased a firearm in 1977. The gun buyers were then tracked by the researchers through 1991.

By the year 1991, 32.8 percent of those 1977 gun buyers with a previous alcohol-related conviction had been arrested for a violent crime or a firearm-related crime. The UC Davis research is the first to link alcohol abuse to future criminal activity by gun owners. The UC Davis research, along with other ongoing research projects, may provide insights to help lawmakers and policy-makers craft more effective measures to prevent violence and to identify high-risk individuals before they commit crimes.

WHAT OTHER FINDINGS DOES THE UC DAVIS RESEARCH OFFER?

The UC Davis researchers additionally determined that handgun purchasers with only a single conviction for driving under the influence and no other criminal arrests or convictions were nevertheless more than four times as likely as gun purchasers with no criminal convictions at all to be arrested, subsequent to purchasing the firearm, for a firearm-related crime or a crime of violence.

“We found prior DUI and other alcohol-related convictions among legal handgun owners in California increased the risk of arrest for a violent or firearm-related crime fourfold to fivefold,” according to Garen Wintemute, the director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program. “The increase in risk was large and independent of other well-known risk factors for future violence. This suggests that prior convictions for alcohol-related crimes may be an important predictor of risk for future criminal activity among firearm owners.”

IN CALIFORNIA, WHO CAN AND CAN’T OWN A FIREARM?

California already prohibits anyone convicted of felony driving under the influence from purchasing or owning a firearm. Gun owners in California are expected to use abundant care and caution when handling a firearm, and they are expected to understand and to comply with all federal, state, and local gun laws and regulations. In California, the following groups of persons may not own or purchase a firearm:

anyone with a felony conviction including felony DUI
anyone convicted of certain firearms offenses
anyone who is the subject of a domestic violence restraining order
anyone who has been committed to a mental institution
anyone convicted of certain misdemeanors that include intimidating and threatening witnesses or law enforcement officers, making death threats, and possession of a firearm in a school zone

A DUI will be charged as a felony in California if it is your fourth DUI charge within ten years, if you have a prior felony DUI conviction in the previous ten years, or if you are in a collision while driving under the influence and someone is injured. The good news for gun owners is that driving under the influence is rarely charged as a felony in this state. For example, in 2009, California prosecutors filed over 208,000 DUI charges, but only 5,577 of those cases were prosecuted as felonies.

Will a conviction for a misdemeanor DUI keep you from possessing or purchasing a firearm in California? That answer is no, but Californians should fully understand that a felony DUI conviction triggers a lifetime ban on the offender’s ability to purchase or possess a firearm. If you are charged with driving under the influence in California, you could be looking at substantial fines, time behind bars, and the suspension of your driver’s license, but if the charge is a misdemeanor, you will not be required to surrender any firearms you own.

If you are employed in private security, law enforcement, or firearm sales, losing your firearm rights could mean losing your employment and finding fewer opportunities in those fields. Felony DUI is one reason people lose their gun rights in California, but many others lose those rights because of a domestic violence conviction. A conviction for a crime of domestic violence such as making criminal threats, stalking, or harassment will also entail the loss of the offender’s firearm rights.

IF YOU LOSE YOUR GUN RIGHTS, CAN THEY BE RESTORED?

Regaining your gun rights after losing them in this state is a complex and detailed legal process, and frankly, it will not possible for everyone. First, you will need the help of an experienced Orange County defense attorney to have a felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor conviction. Secondly, in a separate procedure, you will have to have the misdemeanor conviction expunged.

If you are found guilty of discharging or brandishing a firearm in California, or if you are convicted of felony DUI, quite candidly, you will probably never have your gun rights restored. Still, every case is different, and mistakes that need to be rectified may have been made in the past, so if you have lost your gun rights in Southern California, an experienced Orange County criminal defense attorney can review your criminal record and advise you on how – and if – your right to own a firearm can be restored.

The right to bear arms is a fundamental civil right under the United States Constitution, but that right is not absolute. Finding answers to gun violence is a recurring dilemma for lawmakers in California and all fifty states. Every state, including California, is looking for alternative and innovative ways to deal with gun violence. Identifying potentially high-risk individuals – such as gun purchasers with previous DUI convictions – is only one of several approaches that authorities are considering as they respond to the continuing problem of gun violence.