On Wednesday December 2, 2015 once again a mass shooting took place, this time in San Bernardino, California. Before the dust even settled, both sides of the gun control issue came out swinging. Proponents of gun control advocated adding those on the no fly list to be barred from purchasing guns. Those who oppose more gun control measures conveniently blamed the mentally ill. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan commented that one common theme among many mass shootings is mental illness and there shouldn’t be a rush to infringe upon the rights of law-abiding citizens. We would like to dispel this myth.
America’s Love Affair with Guns
No other developed country in the world has anywhere near the same gun violence as America. The U.S. has nearly 6 times the gun homicide rate as Canada, more than 7 times as Sweden and 16 times as Germany. The U.S. has by far the highest number of privately owned guns in the world. Americans make up 4.43% of the world’s population yet own roughly 42% of all the world’s privately held firearms.
After every single mass shooting there’s a call for more gun control. Opponents claim the government is trying to take away their guns. They argue that these shootings would happen less often if even more people had guns. This is simply not true, more guns mean more death. Furthermore, multiple simulations have shown that most people, if placed in an active shooter situation may actually get killed themselves.
Myth that Mental Illness causes Gun Violence
Another factor used to explain gun violence is mental illness. This is simply not the case. People with mental illness are more likely to be victims not perpetrators of violence. Statistics show fewer than 5% of gun-related killings in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010 were committed by people diagnosed with mental illness. The idea that mental illness causes gun violence stereotypes a vast and diverse population diagnosed with psychiatric conditions and oversimplifies links between violence and mental illness. Better predictors of gun violence are substance abuse, poverty, history of violence and access to guns.
Psychiatric Diagnosis can Predict Gun Violence
Legislation in a number of states mandates that psychiatrists assess their patients for the potential to commit violent gun crime. There is actually very little evidence to support the predictive value of psychiatric diagnosis concerning gun violence. Perhaps psychiatric expertise might be put to better use by increasing conversation about stigma and what makes people fear each other in the first place. Psychiatry could join with community resources to address issues that create stigma.
Gun violence is an epidemic in our country. Until an effort is made to look at all the facts and not just blame one population, gun violence will continue to escalate. Our mission at Shore House is to reduce stigma and discrimination through education and community outreach. We invite you to do the same.
Lopez, G. (December 6th, 2015). America’s gun problem, explained. Retrieved from http://www.vox.com/2015/10/3/9444417/gun-violence-united-states-america
Metzel, J. M. & MacLeish, K. T. (February 2015). Mental illness, mass shootings, and the politics of American firearms. American Journal of Public Health. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4318286/
Blog posts are written by Shore House members and staff.