Mental Illness Not As Tied To Mass Shootings As Some Think

(AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Anyone who tries to kill a pile of people for no good reason has got to have some kind of mental illness. Sane people don’t decide to slaughter dozens of innocent people just because. It’s bad enough if they’re doing it to make some kind of a political point, but to do it just because you want to be famous or because you’re just so angry at the world…that’s just crazy.

In fact, it’s such a common idea that many want to require mental health screenings before you can buy a gun.

However, it seems mental illness isn’t a good predictor of mass shootings.

While I appreciate the most current media responses to mass shootings, in the recent past, news coverage has often associated violence with mental illness out of proportion to the actual rate in the United States. In an analysis of 400 news stories claiming mental illness to be the reason for mass violence, most  were on the front page. This kind of news coverage can be influential in creating and perpetuating public fear of  those diagnosed with mental illness.

In contrast to public opinion, research findings indicate that people with mental illness have a risk factor of being violent themselves on par with the general population. While Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine and well-known researcher in the field of mental illness and gun violence, found low rates of gun violence associated with all mental illness, psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have the lowest rates. In reality, mental illness is a poor predictor of violence.

In his article, “Thinking Differently about Mental Illness, Violence Risk, and Gun Rights,” Swanson states that violence in the U.S. would only be reduced by 4% if in the future we could cure all mental illness. While there are certainly some people with serious mental illness who become violent, they make up a small percentage. According to research by the Violence Project, mental illness was a primary contributing factor for violence in only 15.8% of mass shootings. While the percentage seems high, consider that 84% of the shootings are related to other more prominent reasons.

In other words, mental health screenings also wouldn’t have the impact some would like to believe. Instead, all they would do is further stigmatize mental illness and deny millions of law-abiding citizens their Second Amendment rights.

Look, I’m not saying we shouldn’t at least talk about expanding mental health treatment as a nation. Far from it. Millions of Americans are suffering–and believe me, people with mental health issues are suffering–with no real way to deal with the issue. They need help in order to live their lives to the fullest and become the most productive members of society they can be.

However, there’s long been an attempt to pretend that you can somehow stop things like mass shootings simply by screening gun buyers. That’s not going to accomplish much good.

What it will do, though, is make the mentally ill vulnerable to every form of predation imaginable since they’ll be barred from having the best tools available for self-defense.

For those who represent a real danger, there’s already a mechanism to keep them disarmed. Maybe it’s time to use that instead of trying to keep an entire segment of the population disarmed for the comfort of those who don’t really even understand the issue.

Jul 31, 2021 8:30 AM ET