Substance abuse laws: How to reduce gun and domestic violence


Missouri House Bill 402 is a major step forward reducing gun violence, domestic violence, and other forms of serious violence.  For decades, federal and state policy attempting to impact these growing problems failed because the policies were pointed in the wrong direction.

Substance abuse in the family is the leading factor and primary driver of many kinds of gun-related crimes, domestic violence, and other offenses.

Substance abuse is tightly bound to domestic violence. Three-quarters of serious domestic violence is associated with substance abuse at the time of violence (Fig 3). This statistic does not include substance abusers who were not “loaded” at the time of violence.

When gun violence takes place, our problem is not loaded guns.  It is “loaded” individuals, most often raised outside marriage, who borrowed or stole a gun from somebody else.

Nearly half of gun-related violence is associated with substance abuse at the time of the offense (Table 28).  We do not know how many of these offenses involve substance abusers not “loaded” at the time of the offense.  Individuals raised by substance-abusing parents, and individuals raised outside intact marriages are 2.5 times more likely to commit an act of gun violence (Table 6).

Two-thirds of other violent crimes involve substance abuse at the time of the offense (Fig 5).   The latest National Crime Victimization Surveys reports find that  drugs and alcohol are a leading factor in many kinds of criminal offenses. Nearly three-fourths of federal prisoners admitted using drugs in 2007 – up from 60% in 1990 (Table 3). Substance abuse rates for female offenders are even higher (Table 6).  Few offenders have ever had substance abuse treatment, and participation in recovery programs has declined since 1991.

Missouri House Bill 402 takes the bull by the horns.  Substance abuse in the family has never been addressed with policy empowering non-substance-abusing spouses the ability to leverage the troubled spouse into recovery.   Spouses have to “live with it” or get a divorce.  Most individuals do not like those options.  They just want their partner to get into recovery.

Our legislation creates a “Family Intervention Order”.   If your spouse is a substance abuser, a restraining order gives control of the family to you.  The substance abuser has only two choices: seek recovery or “lose it all”.   Nothing is more likely to reliably result in recovery than this.  The Family Intervention Order is ideal because it is self-balancing within families and does not give the nanny-state power to interfere in families.

By taking substance abuse in the family seriously, and giving spouses a power tool to save marriages and build future marriages, everybody wins:

  • Future gun violence will be prevented.
  • Future divorces will be prevented and more cohabiting individuals will marry.  Reducing divorce and improving marriage rates by only 10% in Missouri will save the state $180-million the first year alone – compounding annually.
  • With improving marriage rates, we will see corresponding decreases in family violence, violence against women, crime, child abuse, and child neglect.
  • Motor vehicle fatalities and accidents will decrease.
  • Insurance companies will have fewer claims for accidents.
  • Unmarried individuals have significantly higher rates of psychological and stress-related physical disorders. Insurance companies will see significant reductions in claims.
  • Health care actuarial metrics will change.  We will see fewer low-income individuals requiring free health care.
  • Many individuals will be moved from welfare and poverty to happier and safer marriages.
  • Banks, mortgage companies, and credit card companies will benefit from fewer bankruptcies and non-collectables.
  • Businesses will see higher employee productivity.  Individuals in troubled families do not perform as well at work and miss more work.
  • States will see demand spending needs shrink.  Governors and legislatures will not have to settle for a “buckdancer’s choice” hiking taxes, cutting-off needy individuals, or cutting essential services.

We encourage other states to consider the wisdom of enacting proactive marriage-positive socioeconomic policy.  An ounce of prevention will save trillions in downstream cures.

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David R. Usher is President of the Center for Marriage Policy

Cynthia Davis is Executive Director of the Center for Marriage Policy

©2013 The Center for Marriage Policy.