Northwestern trauma surgeon finds link between booze and bullets

September 19, 2013

Flickr/Thomas Hawk

Dr. Marie Crandall was at UCLA when riots broke out in Los Angeles in the early ‘90s. In the aftermath, activists there zeroed in on liquor stores, identifying them as as hotspots for violence. Many sought to have licenses revoked—but store owners rebuffed and said there was no data to support the claims. And they were right.

While the discussion about a potential link between booze and bullets has persisted over the last 20-plus years, the data dam remained dry.

So Crandall, now an associate professor of surgery at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, decided to crunch Chicago’s numbers. She and her research partners used data from the Illinois State Trauma Registry from 1999 - 2009 to geocode all the gunshot wounds that presented to trauma centers in Chicago during that period. They cross referenced the data with the locations of liquor licenses held in the area.

“I was not surprised that there was an association in our again, already distressed communities. I was surprised at the strength of the association in a few of these areas,” Crandall said.

The study found that in some South and West Side neighborhoods, a person is up to 500 times more likely to get shot hanging out by a place with a liquor license than they are standing three blocks away.

That was not the case in more affluent areas of the city. And Crandall said she thought the geographic trend reflected other issues facing Chicago.

“If you looked at the maps, you would see that the trauma deserts, and these neighborhoods that have the association with liquor licenses and food deserts and places where we’re closing elementary schools—all seem to overlap,” she explained.

Crandall said she hopes that when the study is published in a couple of months, it will inform discussions at the city level about potential to engage the business community and public health officials about this association and potential solutions.

Katie O’Brien is a WBEZ reporter and producer. Follow her @katieobez.