RESPONSE – SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2013
I write in response to Andy Caldwell’s September 25 op-ed attacking Senator Jackson for her support of Senate Bill 755, a measure that will help reduce gun violence by prohibiting repeat alcohol and drug offenders from purchasing or possessing firearms for ten years. Mr. Caldwell claims there is no nexus connecting alcohol and drugs crimes with firearms abuse. He’s just plain wrong. Numerous studies confirm the significantly higher safety risks posed by alcoholics and drug addicts with firearms.
This connection is so significant that the California Narcotics Officers Association, whose officers put their lives in danger while arresting armed criminals who are intoxicated or under the influence of controlled substances, joined Senator Jackson in supporting this important legislation.
Senate Bill 755, authored by State Senator Lois Wolk, simply adds additional crimes to the list of misdemeanors that already prevent a person from possessing a firearm for 10 years after conviction. Existing law prohibits a person from possessing a firearm if the person has 1) been convicted of two or more crimes while under the influence of drugs or alcohol within a three-year period, or 2) been convicted of possessing any controlled substance for sale. SB 755 would merely add two convictions for driving under the influence within a 3- year period to the ban. One slip up would have no impact on that individual’s right to possess a firearm.
Mr. Caldwell at least concedes that drunk driving exhibits impaired judgment. However, he doesn’t acknowledge that the penalties for one DUI conviction are so considerable that one’s willingness to continue to drive drunk indicate a glaring lack of judgment.
We also take issue with Caldwell’s assertion that there is no connection between an individual convicted of a DUI and the reckless use of firearms. Statistics show that the combination of alcohol abusers and guns creates a serious threat to public safety.
The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that firearm owners who reported they drink and drive were twice as likely as other firearm owners to drive with a loaded firearm. They were also twice as likely to have firearms at home that were loaded and not locked. Firearm owners who drank heavily (at least 60 drinks a month on average) were also more likely to engage in risky behaviors with firearms.
Contrary to Caldwell’s assertions about gun deaths and hardened criminals, the majority of gun deaths are suicides, and the heavy use of alcohol has been positively linked with firearm suicides.
The California Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians supports firearm safety legislation, including SB 755, stating, “When we first put on the white coat we took an oath to protect and to heal. We carry with us memories of patients who have been victims of firearm violence. We must embrace common-sense solutions to this problem while researching the underpinnings of firearm violence and working to address related societal issues.”
Opponents of sensible gun violence prevention always raise the Second Amendment red flag. Gun ownership is a right that must be exercised responsibly and gun regulations are also a Constitutional right. Yet the intervention proposed by SB 755 enjoys strong public support that spans the traditional disagreement over “gun control” initiatives. A nationwide public opinion survey (New England Journal of Medicine) found that:
- 75% of the general population
- 71% of self-identified firearm owners
- and 64% self-identified NRA members
endorsed “prohibiting a person convicted of two or more crimes involving alcohol or drugs within a 3-year period from having a gun for 10 years.”
Who is Mr. Caldwell hoping to protect, individuals with a history of DUIs or the general public? We think protecting the public from individuals who have proven they are likely to engage in behavior that threatens public safety should be everyone’s primary concern, even Andy Caldwell’s.
Toni Wellen, Chair
Coalition Against Gun Violence