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Mental Illness is the wrong scapegoat after mass shootings

by | Dec. 11, 2014, 10:57 AM | Want more research news? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter »

An extensive new study by two Vanderbilt University researchers challenges common assumptions about gun violence and mental illness that often emerge in the aftermath of mass shootings.

Jonathan Metzl (Vanderbilt University)

When a mass shooting occurs, there seems to be a familiar narrative that untreated mental illness is the primary cause for the terrifying act. But a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health by Dr. Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth T. MacLeish finds that an isolated focus on mental illness is misguided.

“Gun discourse after mass shootings often perpetuates the fear that ‘some crazy person is going to come shoot me,’” said Metzl, the study’s lead author. “But if you look at the research, it’s not the ‘crazy’ person you have to fear.”

Mentally ill not violent

In the article, “Mental Illness, Mass Shootings and the Politics of American Firearms,” Metzl and MacLeish analyze data and literature linking guns and mental illness over the past 40 years. They found that despite societal pre-conceived notions, most mentally ill people are not violent.

“Fewer than 5 percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness,” they write.

Four myths arise after mass shootings

Their research uncovered four central myths that arise in the aftermath of mass shootings:

  • Mental illness causes gun violence.
  • Psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun crime before it happens.
  • U.S. mass shootings “prove” that we should fear mentally ill loners.
  • Because of the complex psychiatric histories of mass shooters, gun control “won’t prevent” mass shootings.

They stress that all four of these are incorrect, though understandable, assumptions.

“Our research finds that across the board, the mentally ill are 60 to 120 percent more likely than the average person to be the victims of violent crime rather than the perpetrators.”

Misdirected blame

Metzl and MacLeish find that the focus on mental illness after horrific, yet statistically rare, mass shootings misdirects people from the bigger issues tied to preventing gun deaths in the United States.

“There are 32,000 gun deaths in the United States on average every year, and people are far more likely to be shot by relatives, friends or acquaintances than they are by lone violent psychopaths,” Metzl said.

“We should set our attention and gun policies on the everyday shootings, not on the sensational shootings, because there we will get much more traction in preventing gun crime.”

Mental health screening can’t prevent gun crime

The presumed link between mental illness and gun violence has led to calls for mental health screening for gun owners. But the authors find that psychiatric diagnosis is in and of itself not predictive of violence.

“Even the overwhelming majority of psychiatric patients who fit the profile of recent U.S. mass shooters – gun-owning, angry, paranoid white men – do not commit crimes,” Metzl and MacLeish write.

“Basing gun crime-prevention efforts on the mental health histories of mass shooters risks building ‘common evidence’ from ‘uncommon things,’ all while giving mental health providers the untenable responsibility of preventing the next massacre.”

Signs to predict gun violence

The authors detail how focusing solely on mental illness ignores those factors that do predict gun violence more broadly:

  • Drug and alcohol use
  • History of violence
  • Access to firearms
  • Personal relationship stress

“People are far more likely to be shot by relatives, friends, enemies or acquaintances than they are by lone violent psychopaths,” according to Metzl and MacLeish’s research.

Kenneth MacLeish (Vanderbilt University)

Mental health systems

The authors argue in the paper that lawmakers and voters should pay much more attention to mental health systems such as access to mental health care, medication and health insurance.

“In a way, it is a failure of the system often that becomes represented as a failure of the individual,” Metzl said.

Race, gender and anxiety

The authors also delve into to the ways that responses to mass shootings reflect cultural anxieties about race and gender.

“The rhetoric in which people are accumulating guns in the present day has a lot to do with the fear of the unknown stranger. ‘Somebody could come attack me or my family, so we need to protect ourselves.’ And that rhetoric is most common among suburban white men,” Metzl said.

The authors uncover how the political and racial strife in the 1960s led some African Americans to push for their constitutional right to own and carry guns, while some white Americans at the time, including the National Rifle Association, pushed for stricter gun control laws.

“The gun rights statements of the Black Panthers and other black power groups in the 1960s reads almost exactly the same as the pro-gun rhetoric of the Tea Party today,” Metzl said. “Both groups argued that they’re protecting themselves from government tyranny and have a constitutional right as individuals to bear arms.”

Yet Metzl adds that in the ’60s, American society rushed to pathologize “black culture” while restricting gun rights, while in the present day our narratives locate the problem on individual white brains while at the same time encouraging further gun ownership.

Metzl and MacLeish teach at the Center for Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt, an innovative multidisciplinary center that studies the social and societal dimensions of health and illness. Its scholarship, teaching and wide-ranging collaborative projects explore medicine and science in an array of cultural contexts, while at the same time fostering productive dialogue across disciplinary boundaries.

The paper will be published in the February issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Media Inquiries:
Amy Wolf, (615) 322-NEWS
amy.wolf@vanderbilt.edu


  • Wendy Barnes

    It bothers me that there seems to be a great divide between diagnosed mental illness and undiagnosed mental illness. Perhaps Adam Lanza’s mother had an undiagnosed mental illness or personality disorder that made her unable to follow up or cooperate in therapy or with meds that may have helped him.
    Someone who drinks or drugs themselves sufficiently on a daily basis to get angry and shoot people or threaten to shoot people over some non-issue, has some mental problem, in my opinion. The person who continues to stay with a “shooting threatener” also has some disordered thinking in my opinion.
    With currently existing HIPPA laws, I have no idea how filling out a form of “yes” “no” questions gives any gun seller info on an applicant’s mental stability or ability to own a gun.
    So what is the right scapegoat?

    • David Oland

      so are you saying we should assume all who want to buy a gun must be crazy, or are you saying all who kill another person must be insane? While I think killing anybody is insane, it is not mental illness. It can be just hate. Does revenge, hate, greed, fear, or anything else count for reason to kill?

      • dokdaka

        Revenge, hate, greed, and fear are all very common, very human, mental illnesses.

        • Veldask Krofkomanov

          But, importantly, those are not accepted definitions of mental illness per the scientific medical community. That’s what matters. In medicine, we don’t use laymen’s terms to define diseases, syndromes, and illnesses.

        • I_am_IT

          What you just listed are mental states, not mental illnesses. If you must create a new category of mental illness that includes “desire for revenge”, “hate”, “greed”, and “fear”, then you must include “compassion”, “love”, “piety”, “generosity”, and “fearlessness”. By your categorization, anyone with any emotional state beyond benign awareness is mentally ill. That’s pretty sad. Or do I mean (mentally) ill?

        • Mike McB

          Those are not necessarily “illnesses ” but normal human emotions (except revenge, which is an act) How we deal with them may be healthy or indicative of illness.

          • form

            That’s actually not true. A responsible, trusting person who confides in their doctor (or friend, spouse, school counselor, etc.) about their private suicidal or homicidal feelings which they have never acted on WILL get pathologized with a psychiatric label. Then, everything they’ve ever needed, loved, and worked their whole life for will be jeopardized by that label.

          • Mike McB

            I beg to differ. As a therapist, I’ve had folks talk about those very feelings. The only time I am allowed to break confidence, even obligated by law to do so, is when there is imminent danger to the patient or another. Other than that, I am equally constrained by law to keep silent.

  • Prickly Pam

    Please quote from Ms. Wolf’s article where it says anything about taking away anyone’s rights.

    • Steven Little

      It is implied when he sites one of the main causes of gun violence as access to fire arms. He doesn’t want the rights of people who are violently mentally ill infringed (sorry but those people should not have weapons nor if they are at all lucid should they want them). But, rather than have violent mental illness exclude someone from guns ownership we apparently should exclude everyone in the interest of fairness of some sort. Why stop there? Why exclude the blind from getting drivers licenses? That is unfair to that minority. The reality is that certain handicaps exclude you from doing certain things and I would think it would be reasonable that violent mental illness would cause you to fail a weapons background check, but apparently this author doesn’t think so.

      • Prickly Pam

        So you can’t point out where she said that; you say she just implied it. Sorry, I don’t see that implication. You may see that implication because you have been stoked up to fear that “they” are coming for your guns. “They” aren’t.

        • Steven Little

          If the author says that the people doing mass shootings aren’t mentally ill and that isn’t a cause, but owning guns is a cause of mass shootings to me that is pretty obvious. They are saying that keeping guns from the mentally ill isn’t the issue, but keeping guns from everyone is. Read their key factors in gun violence. they list drugs/alcohol abuse. violent behavior, stress, and gun access as the reasons for it. One would think that a history of substance abuse and violence would be considered abnormal behavior and a sign of mental issues, but apparently the author does not. I like how you put “they” in quotes like it is some secret conspiracy group that guns owners make up. We all know who “They” are, you just choose to ignore it. “They” are the Bloomberg’s of the world that are travelling around the country promoting anti-gun legislation from state to state (where he doesn’t live) and pouring millions of his money into his groups. As each one gets discredited he starts another. I believe the current one is Everytown which does things like include criminals killed in gun battles with police in their lists of ‘victims’ of gun violence.

          • Alan Duval

            The author said, “[…]factors that do predict gun violence more broadly. […] access to firearms […]”

            Of course gun ownership is one of the factors that predicts gun violence – if you’re violent without a gun, it’s not gun violence, by definition.

            The ONLY thing that one should take from this article is that people with a history of violence should not have access to guns. Are you arguing against that?

          • Barbie

            The comment that substance abuse and past violence ought to be signs of mental ilness. This is why you are neither a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Plenty of people who abuse substances are not mentally ill.Most alcoholics do not have a recognizable mental illness. Similarly most violent people do not have a mental illness. They may not be happy people but “normal” covers a big swath of behavior. If it didn’t, there would be more defenses to charges of DUI or drug possession based on an insanity defense. It just doesn’t happen because the law and the science both do not support the claim that substance abuse is a mental illness. The same is true for violence. While a small percentage of mentally ill people are violent, they certainly don’t account for most of the people in jail for violent crimes. When John Oliver talked about mental health issues this week, he pointed out that not enough money is being spent on the mental health issues in this country. That’s true. The only time the issue comes up is when the NRA starts spinning each mass murder as the work of the mentally ill. See Trump, Carson and Huckabee on the Oregon shooting if you doubt it. None of them has proposed a plan for increased spending on mental health.

      • Cherokee

        You tell me of even one evaluation that can predict violence on the part of someone who is mentally ill or of someone who is not, for that matter, and you might have a point. Instead, let’s take guns away from people who drink, use drugs, have stress from a failed relationship or a history of a bar fight or domestic violence. After all, those were also on the list. Let’s look at those “handicaps”.

      • islandor

        I think perhaps you are making an inference rather than the author making an implication. Access to firearms as a risk factor is just a data point, and data points are necessary in analysis. They don’t imply any sort of recommendation.

  • Prickly Pam

    Please don’t villify drugs. They have saved my life multiple times, and I live in fear that some do-gooder will make a big stink and get them banned.

    • Kayewla

      I am curious to know how «some do-gooder» will be able to have drugs banned with no reply coming from the multi-powerfull drug manufacturers ? My point is that some people have their personality transformed by some drugs. There are studies that confirmed this point of view. I am glad that for you, the medication that you are taking are working nicely.

    • Tooi de Vry

      Well psychiatric drugs are prescribed every day and fact is that the patient is a guinea pig…..prescribe a pill….it does not work so prescribe another kind…. they talk about a chemical imbalance but there is no test or no way of knowing what this so called chemical imbalances are or if they even exist. Today normal human emotions like being shy, nervous in a crowd, sad (which I have always been but it changed as I got older) and so on is seen as a mental illness…….well it is not. A psychiatrist prescribes medicine but he is not a doctor. When I grew up there was no ADHD for instance and a stern loving talk from my father or the pastor was always all that was needed. If it works for you it is good of course ……….. but personally I do not want anyone to mess with my mind.

      • Prickly Pam

        What you call normal human emotions are just that, normal human emotions. It is when such things interfere with your daily functioning that they become mental illnesses.

        And please don’t confuse depression with sadness. When I am clinically depressed, I am seldom sad. Look up a list of symptoms of depression sometime.

        Lastly, a psychIATRIST is absolutely a medical doctor. If a doctor doesn’t have an MD or DO after their name, they are probably a PhD psychOLOGIST, and cannot prescribe medications.

  • Jeff

    Let’s look at the report:

    “most mentally ill people are not violent.” Irrelevant and silly. Most people of any description, other than the defined subset of violent people, are not violent. In what is likely the only correct statement, the researchers themselves admitted that “Even the overwhelming majority of psychiatric patients who fit the profile of recent U.S. mass shooters – gun-owning, angry, paranoid white men – do not commit crimes.” Because the overwhelming majority aren’t mentally ill, perhaps?

    “Fewer than 5 percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness.” This is irrelevant in the article-titled context of mass shootings. What percentage of mass shootings were perpetrated by sick people?

    “the mentally ill are 60 to 120 percent more likely than the average person to be the victims of violent crime rather than the perpetrators.” How many mentally ill are victims is irrelevant. And it could be that they’re more likely to be victims because they are slower to perceive or react to a threat or more likely to rub someone the wrong way. But it’s irrelevant because we are talking about who the perps are, not who the victims are.

    “People are far more likely to be shot by relatives, friends, enemies or acquaintances than they are by lone violent psychopaths.” This doesn’t mean that those known shooters aren’t mentally ill.

    I’m not a mental health professional. But I am a professional, educated and licensed in a scientific field, with over 30 years experience, and it seems laughable to me to propose that people who plan and commit mass murders or massacres are not psychologically unsound. How could anyone, especially university doctors, argue otherwise? And that is easily the single common denominator in EVERY case.

    • Cherokee

      Shall we also prevent young men who experience relationship stress from having a gun? How about we have each purchaser in the U.S. have to obtain a permit to purchase first, whether from a gun store, gun show, online or through a private party. Then have enough time before selling the gun for a thorough background check.

    • Achilles Says

      THANK you!

    • Ben Lucid

      I’m not an expert in the field in question, but let me respond as though I know better, because I have experience in a non-related field.

      You’re the reason I ask my vet the fix my car, and local grocer to do my taxes.

      • Dan Green Jr

        Ben, just because someone is not an expert in a particular field, does not mean they cannot have valid thoughts and ideas regarding that field. I am not an auto mechanic, yet I often manage to fix my own car and have even rebuilt an engine. Also, I am not an accountant, yet I do my own taxes each year. Citing his profession in an unrelated scientific field seems to me to be a way of pointing out that he knows how to gather, correlate, and evaluate evidence following the scientific method. That his conclusions are not the same as yours is irrelevant. This is not a simple subject and there is no ‘right’ answer. I feel that we all need to be less judgmental of the people actually participating in the conversation and try to understand and incorporate their ideas. The fact is that there is no simple answer; how could there be? There is not even a simple question.

    • Alan Duval

      “I’m not a mental health professional. But I am a professional, educated and licensed in a scientific field, with over 30 years experience, and it seems laughable to me to propose that people who plan and commit mass murders or massacres are not psychologically unsound.”

      So all the Mayans were psychologically unsound for sacrificing children to ensure the sunrise? All the German people were psychologically unsound because they (mostly through inaction) allowed the Third Reich to happen? All people who have failed to give up smoking are psychologically unsound because they are, with high statistical likelihood, accelerating their own demise? I think you misunderstand the fragility of even a healthy human mind, and misunderstand the impact of stress, anger, or anxiety on an otherwise healthy human mind.

      The authors detailed four factors which are statistically more likely to appear in the backgrounds of those that engage in these mass shootings:
      1) Drug and alcohol use: note, use, not abuse – and such use is by far the norm, not the exception in modern Western culture.
      2) History of violence: proneness to violence can be indicative of a mental disorder, but is far more often characteristic of lower intelligence or poorly self-regulated emotion – neither of which is a diagnosable disorder.
      3) Access to firearms: So the mere fact of access to fire arms means that people, in the heat of the moment, have the means to act on an impulsive drive to get rid of a source of anxiety or stress.
      4) Personal relationship stress: Everyone goes through personal relationship stress at one time or another. Again, I would suggest that lower intelligence and poor emotional self-regulation can make this a more common occurrence in some people ahead of others. The latter is a matter of skill/education, not mental defectiveness.

      You’ll note that only one of these is something that can be picked up in a background check: a history of violence.

      “How could anyone, especially university doctors, argue otherwise?”

      See above. Also, read Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ – realise the impact of system 1 (impulse/intuition) and that system 2 (rationality/intelligence) does not always come to the rescue (or comes to the rescue too late). I fear that you have the same view of human rationality that Adam Smith did, and look at the mess that the doctrine of the rational actor has caused in modern economics.

      “And that is easily the single common denominator in EVERY case.”

      Nope.

      Nice one for super-imposing your judgment from an unrelated field onto that of those that are within the field. I’m pretty sure you’d be appalled if some upstart psychologist started declaiming in your field of scientific expertise based on anecdotal evidence and selection bias.

      • Prickly Pam

        So well said, Alan Duval. And Amen.

  • Ripley Wolfwood

    Valid point. There is no “the” mentally ill, because speaking strictly using the DSM criteria, people with eating disorders would be categorized as “mentally ill” along with a host of other people suffering from afflictions that would have NO connection with violence. I myself am “mentally ill,” having suffered with OCD since I was a young child. There seems to be some misconception that because someone shoots up a place or kills someone else, they “MUST be mentally ill.” Not a really accurate assessment. Furthermore it ignores the very big social component to these crimes and the reality that it doesn’t always take much for a “responsible gun owner” to become a criminal. It’s not black and white. The fact that an abused woman is five times more likely to be killed by her abuser if he owns a gun seems to support the idea that you can’t always tell by screening who would or would not become a murderer.

    I do find the statement “gun-owning, angry, paranoid white men” very telling. These seem to be the ones screaming most loudly for their “gun rights.”

    • Joe Piechota

      Then you are not listening to the others.

    • Dan Green Jr

      I’m curious; is not ‘paranoia’ itself a mental illness? Also, I find the statement that “…despite societal pre-conceived notions, most mentally ill people are not violent.” Most may not be, but clearly some are.

      “Fewer than 5 percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness,” That statement is completely meaningless as anything other than a comment on how under-diagnosed mental illness must be. Just because they were not diagnosed before a mass shooting, does not mean the shooters were not mentally ill! To me, what screams “mental illness” louder than going into a school and shooting a bunch of kids?!? How is that person not mentally ill?

  • lisetteDeBorchgrave

    “The gun rights statements of the Black Panthers and other black power groups in the 1960s reads almost exactly the same as the pro-gun rhetoric of the Tea Party today,” Metzl said. “Both groups argued that they’re protecting themselves from government tyranny and have a constitutional right as individuals to bear arms.”
    There are some arguments with semantics in this article, however the 2 sentences that I quoted I think are the most salient too me. I lived until just recently in an area which had a large senior citizen population. Many, owned upwards of 50 firearms each. When asked why they needed guns, I was often told by these seniors about how they were afraid of the situation in the movie Red Dawn actually happening. Many would bring up that movie from 30+ years ago. I think that fear, may be at the heart of the “old white men” effect that is so apparent in our gun laws.

  • Kidlitskorner

    If the shooters were taking antidepressants, that would mean they were seeking care for their illnesses. Being responsible. And chances are, they would be in therapy as well. however, 9of 10 times, these shooters are isolationist. they stay by themselves and have a mass Arsenal built up in their homes. Okay maybe not all of them with the mass arsenal. and some are brainwashed by extremists that believe that they need to fight against the man. Some are teenagers that are sick and tired of being bullied and haven’t gone to therapy to learn to deal with it, and so they take their parents gun. None of that screams “hey, i’m taking medication and being monitored by my doctor.” So yeah I see major flaws in your theory.

  • Cherokee

    Much more common than Axis 1 disorders.

  • Vote2016

    Many people do not fit the accepted criteria for “mentally ill”, but they are or can become severely neurotic and can certainly be dangerous. Having a weapon handy during an accelerated episode( usually due to various potential triggers) does not give that person time to reconsider.
    When friends, family or other (school, work?) associates see or hear a person expressing a preoccupation with violence or other hostile antisocial behavior, they should not ignore it.
    Get outside help if not confident in dealing with the person who begins showing signs of escalating toward losing control.

  • Ed

    Substance abuse disorders are Axis I.

    • Laura Runyan

      When I wrote “they,” I meant personality disorders. An appropriately placed comma and conjunction could have prevented the confusion. Sorry. Of course, in DSM-V, the classification of substance use disorders has changed considerably. And, of course, the axial system doesn’t exist in DSM-V.

  • Substance abuse can trigger mental illness. The two are not unrelated.

  • T Lee

    Is it possible that we could address more than one cause at the same time or must all of our eggs go into one basket?

  • Don Huizinga

    No……. actually, a person who abuses alcohol or drugs and has a history of violence is pretty much normal in America. Sou your point would be?

  • Nancy Lake

    Excellent. The police are now handcuffing mentally ill patients in Arizona to transport them to ICU. The police could use a bit more education on this because that is heartbreaking to see and it reinforces the stigma placed upon people in the mental health 3 ring circus.

  • jill

    Mental illness diagnosis is often based on patient’s responses to a standard questionnaire. It’s very easy to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, even bipolar (if you’re seeking to apply for permanent disability, for example). Until we develop objective, accurate testing for mental conditions, we have no right to treat these individuals any different than someone who’s never been “diagnosed” (read: someone who was never able to afford mental care).

  • barbbfly

    its ”people with mental illness ” not the mentally ill – thats not a good way to label

  • hrntphxr

    Anyone can perform a survey. Based on what and how questions are asked, and more importantly who is asked, will drive a DESIRED result. I give little credence to statements of survey results that don’t disclose all the facts. Who was surveyed, what questions were asked, etc.

  • Maukwa

    What you say may be true, however, most mass shooters are mentally ill. By abandoning them, and allowing the state to condemn them to death or life in prison, when a hospital is what they really need, is shameful. You are arguing that the mentally ill are somehow scapegoats…and I agree with this except that it is the US government and the law makers who are scapegoating them. One in four Americans are mentally ill, and yet we cut millions from programs to help them. How many more must be sacrificed before someone realizes the real truth in this matter.

  • Jim Johnson

    “Fewer than 5 percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United
    .States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness,” they write.

    There’s the flaw. Just because the shooters had not been diagnosed does not mean they are not insane. Unless someone can explain why a sane person would walk into a school and indiscriminately shoot anyone who comes into view, I have to question the sanity of Metzl and MacLeish.

  • islandor

    That’s an analysis I’d like to see – regression as to whether it’s the illness or the medication that correlates most strongly to violent behavior.

  • islandor

    Precisely. Psychiatrists are medical doctors. Psychologists are social scientists.

  • Michael Tollefsrud

    The use of the term “scapegoat” in the title demonstrates a bias in,y opinion. There is no such thing as a “right scapegoat”. The use of the term implies that that those who propose mental health issues may play a role in mass shootings are insincere. Scapegoating is assigning blame where one knows it doesn’t belong. If a person sincerely believes their proposition, they are offering an “explaination” not a “scapegoat”. I believe the authors are more concerned with unfair discrimination against the mentally ill than they are with getting to the truth. While I am sympathetic to their concern, publishing biased and misleading information is not the best solution.

  • Lisa M

    Thank you!

  • RD81

    It is a discussion about SHOOTERS, so OF COURSE the single common denominator is guns. If this was a discussion about mass killers instead of just mass shooters, we would include things like the Boston Bombing, which was about fireworks and pressure cookers.

  • Mark M

    One of their main premises seems highly unlikely, so I question their research technique. I’ll ask you a simple question. Do you think someone that goes and shoots up a school or public area with innocent people has sound mental health? If the answer is no, then obviously mental health has a role in the discussion of the gun violence we’re dealing with today. I agree that it’s not the only “scapegoat” we should be looking at, but it absolutely shouldn’t be dismissed. So how does this study come to the ultimate conclusion that, “Mental illness causes gun violence” is a myth? To me, it would seem that they have a distorted view of mental illness.

    If an individual thinks it’s reasonable to go shoot up a movie theater or school, to me, they are automatically classifiable as mentally ill, and as a health care professional I would bring them somewhere to obtain professional aid with their mental illness. In my professional we call that “homicidal ideations.” They aren’t trying to shoot people to get money, or for drugs, or for a gang-related reason, or for fathomable forms of revenge (wrong, but fathomable), or for self defense. That would be a police issue, and we’d let the police handle that. They are doing it simply to kill, cause terror, and typically taking their own life after the event (suicidal ideations). This IS mental illness. These people, were they to survive the incident or be caught prior to committing the act, would inevitably receive mental healthcare.

    I feel safe in saying that any ER nurse, paramedic, police officer, or mental health unit employee has plenty of first hand experience with demonstrations of violence from those that are already diagnosed with mental health issues. I personally am just grateful I haven’t come across one with a gun yet. This article is disingenuous in their presentation of information. They would have you believe there is no link between any form of violence, and mental illness. “They found that despite societal pre-conceived notions, most mentally ill people are not violent.” Perhaps that may be true when you consider the broad scope of mental illness, but I assure you there is a link between violence and mental illness. If you have 500 mentally ill people, and only one of them picks up a gun and shoots innocent people, it’s disingenuous to wipe away the issue by saying “most mentally ill people are not violent.”

    We still need to attack this issue from multiple fronts, and urging others to dismiss mental illness as part of the cause of these tragedies is incredibly misguided.

  • David

    Nobody has blindly labeled mass killers as mentally ill. It just happens to turn out that most of them were.

  • Mike McB

    I appreciate the thoughts behind the article. I have one question. Whenever there is a mass shooting such as Sandy Hook, Columbine, the theater in Denver, etc., THEN the question of how mental health issues are related comes into play. This study addresses gun violence and the mentally ill as a whole, not just in mass situations. Two related but very different scenarios. My question is, did the researchers look at the data from only the mass shootings? To me, that is the relevant question. How is mental health an issue where the I’ll are the perpetrators, not the victims? I’ve spent 20 years working with victims, perpetrators, substance abuseres, various mental diagnosis: you cannot just lump all these folks on one side of the equation together.

  • puckerupamerica

    Would someone who is suicidal be considered mentally ill? Suicides make up 2/3 of gun deaths.
    The other 1/3 are mostly criminals with prior records or a history of violence. Criminals are considered acquainted with their victims in many of these situations – drug dealer or rival gang member. Mainly domestic abusers in the cases of spouses or significant others or family.
    It would be interesting for someone to do a current study of how many victims have criminal histories. Older smaller studies have found that victims had a criminal history in 2/3 of the cases looked at. Suggests criminals are killing each other for the most part.

  • big john ok

    This article fails to mention once that 60-65% of gun deaths are by suicide. If you are willing to take your life then you do have a mental health condition. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/05/24/suicides-account-for-most-gun-deaths/