Should You Shoot Targets or Just Shoot the Breeze While Drinking?

Shooting is often a social event. Though much of my time is spent teaching, practicing, training, and competing, there is a special place in my heart for hanging out with friends and shooting some guns. It is a rare social gathering where heading out to the field or home range to shoot some guns is not a part of the plan. Some of these have become traditions, such as shooting cheap beer cans (shot from an AR-15 Can Cannon) from the sky with shotguns on Independence Day.

Another American tradition often associated with social gatherings is the consumption of alcohol. Gatherings I host are not an exception and include beer, wine, and often a whiskey or Scotch tasting. However, such common events (drinking and shooting) have made me reconsider my thoughts on the blending of guns and booze over the years.

Shooting Skeet with an AR-15 Can Cannon
Can there be anything more American than shooting cans of beer from an AR-15 Can Cannon while skeet shooting on the 4th of July?

I would be a hypocrite if I claimed I had never carried, hunted, or fired a firearm while drinking in the past. I grew up in rural Southern Illinois, currently live in rural Southwest Indiana, and often enjoy shooting in rural Oklahoma. However, I also have evolved in my thinking regarding the operation of any potentially dangerous equipment while under the influence. Thus, I want to make a few statements early on in this article.

1) The choice to carry and/or use a firearm is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly, and my personal blanket advice to anyone is not to consume any substance that will impact your decision-making while carrying or using a firearm. Safety is always the first priority.

2) Though this article will discuss carry laws in relation to intoxication, it is not intended as legal advice, and anyone interested in learning more should contact a competent Second Amendment attorney operating in their state.

3) For this discussion, we are discussing alcohol consumption under your state laws and the legal definition of intoxication. Although the focus of this article is alcohol, similar thoughts, and legal issues would relate to other intoxicating substances.

This article intends to discuss the legal issues with drinking, shooting, and carrying. The focus will then shift to the physiological and psychological impact of light drinking on behaviors and cognition. It will then end by examining my personal policies based on this information.

The Legal

Although safety is always the greatest concern, it is also well worth learning your state laws concerning carrying and using firearms under the influence of alcohol. There are currently 14 states with no mention of alcohol consumption and carrying a firearm in their gun laws. My current home state of Indiana is included in this list.

Four states directly ban any use of alcohol and carrying a firearm. Twenty-three states ban carrying when legally intoxicated or under the influence (this is then defined differently state by state). The final nine states ban carrying if consuming and further ban carrying when intoxicated. See the U.S. map below for specific information regarding carrying alcohol in your state.

US Map of Alcohol and Concealed Carry Laws
A state-by-state comparison of laws specifically connecting carrying and alcohol consumption across the United States.

The Physiological and Psychological Impact of Alcohol

There have been numerous studies regarding the physiological impact of alcohol on reaction times, decision-making, and judgment, all of which have found adverse effects as individuals become more intoxicated. What is less consistent is research on how low levels (sub-legal intoxication) of consumption impact these behaviors.

This is likely due to differences in individual physiology and psychology (expectations). Double-blind studies of alcohol consumption (neither the participant nor the researcher knows during the study if the person is consuming alcohol or not) have found purely placebo effects on behaviors in those who think they have had alcohol (but in actuality did not). The psychological impacts of ‘acting’ drunker are more likely and stronger in social situations.

This placebo effect of ‘acting’ drunker than we are can occur with only one drink. These effects may well result in less than consistent findings when looking at small amounts of alcohol and its impact on behavior.

Three Friends enjoying Shooting
Social activities often include alcoholic beverages, and like many things, preplanning can help avoid unwanted consequences.

Though research may disagree when certain factors are measurably impacted, there is no question that as alcohol consumption increases, there are changes in behavior. These changes include more impulsive decision-making, a reduction in moral (right and wrong) judgments, exaggerated emotions (including sadness, despair, and anger), greater risk-taking behaviors, and increased aggression.

This list focuses on the negative outcomes, but there are also positive exaggerated emotions (happiness, joy, and love) and an increased likelihood to commit to pro-social behaviors, as well. Perhaps most important is the finding that decision-making in ambiguous situations is further compromised compared to decisions made with clearly defined risks. In other words, if the situation is ambiguous when intoxicated, we are more likely to make poor decisions.

Guns displayed in the bed of a pickup truck
There is a lot of fun to be had shooting with friends.

My Thoughts

Many states specifically ban carrying when intoxicated, some ban carrying when consuming at all, and even in those with no specific language, they may include the use of alcohol in additional charges based on poor decisions regarding a firearm. Summarizing the physiological and psychological findings, even one drink can result in us behaving more aggressively, impulsively, and making poorer decisions. Each person will need to make their own decisions of risk and safety when balancing self-defense and social drinking.

I have adopted a zero-tolerance policy for myself. I do not carry or shoot firearms if under any narcotic influence. When my wife and I go out, we have a designated driver who is also a designated person for self-defense if one of us plans on drinking. Part of this decision was based on some of the information already shared, but it was also driven by my role as a firearms instructor. I feel the need to practice what I preach. My tolerance for others’ drinking is simply driven by safety.

I will intervene if I think the person is a potential danger to themselves or others. Much like driving, I will politely intervene if appropriate, but if the person is not open to a request, I simply, quickly, and safely remove myself and my family from the situation. I have friends who often will have a drink or two while carrying, and I trust them to have made the right choice for them. However, I do not count as friends anyone who carries or shoots while fully intoxicated. In the end, the decision is a personal one, but it is a good idea, as with all self-defense issues, to have thought through your own decision and reactions when firearms and alcohol are mixed.

Joel Nadler is the Training Director at Indy Arms Company in Indianapolis and co-owner of Tactical Training Associates.  He writes for several gun-focused publications and is an avid supporter of the right to self-sufficiency, including self-defense. Formerly a full professor, he has a Ph.D. in Psychology and now works as a senior consultant living on a horse ranch in rural Indiana.  Feel free to follow him on Instagram @TacticalPhD.

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