Mental illness and gun control: Is it to blame for mass shootings?
When mass shootings, especially school shootings, occur in the United States, gun advocates always blame the shooter’s mental issues while the opposing side chooses gun control laws as a solution.
Immediately after the mass shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Fl, I couldn’t help but notice my far-right Facebook friends clogging up my timeline with posts declaring that mental illness is to be blamed while rejecting gun control as an effective solution to mass shootings.
This rationale puzzles me for several reasons.
I don’t see how addressing mental illness is a legitimate solution to reduce mass shootings because that’s something that we can’t prevent from happening. And even if mental illness is a factor, imputing it as the sole culprit is not acceptable for two reasons — one, it’s perpetuating the common misconception that mentally ill people are violent and two, mass shootings are not a common occurrence in countries where mental illness is also prevalent.
It’s time to acknowledge that the immediate solution to mass shootings is to regulate guns so that people who pose a real danger to society can’t access them easily.
A 2006 Harvard Health Publishing survey found that “60 percent of Americans thought that people with schizophrenia were likely to act violently toward someone else, while 32 percent thought that people with major depression were likely to do so. However, research suggests that this is not the case and that most individuals with psychiatric disorders are not violent.”
The notion that mental illness is what we need to address in order to reduce mass shootings is absurd to me because the only thing it’s achieving is putting mentally ill people in a box labeled “violent.”
Using social media as a venue to spread this fallacy for the sake of protecting guns, weapons that are built for the sole purpose of killing is damaging to society and frankly, offensive to many people who suffer from a mental illness. Furthermore, there is no direct correlation showing that mentally ill people are violent. In a recent study featured in a New York Times article, “an analysis of 235 mass killings, many of which were carried out with firearms, only 22 percent of the perpetrators could be considered mentally ill.”
Mental illness does need to be addressed but not because it poses a real, imminent danger to society.
Another reason why the argument of mental health in relation to mass shootings is a failing one is that mass shootings aren’t an issue in other countries where mental illness is also common.
A study by the Black Dog Institute showed that in Australia, one in five people will experience a mental illness throughout their lifetime and at least 54 percent don’t access any type of treatment while Mind: For Better Mental Health showed that in the U.K. it’s approximately one in four people each year and only one in eight people receive treatment.
Compared to these countries, the U.S. does not have an alarmingly higher rate of mental illness with at least one in five adults diagnosed in a given year, according to National Alliance on Mental Illness. However, in comparison, the U.S. has a higher gun related deaths with at least 102 per one million people in 2010 while Australia only has 10 deaths per one million people and Britain with only two deaths per one million people, as reported by CNN.
What’s the difference between these countries and the U.S.?
They have implemented tighter gun control laws. A 2017 study by Gliffords Law Center stated that “an estimated 42 percent of U.S. gun owners acquired their most recent firearm without a background check.”
PBS NewsHour reported that Australia has banned automatic and semi-automatic rifles and implemented mandatory licensing. The law also requires license applicants to show a “genuine need” for a particular type of gun. In the U.K., automatic and semi-automatic rifles are also prohibited, and they have implemented tighter registration requirements following the Hungerford massacre.
Both Australia and the U.K. have about the same rate of mental illness per year as the U.S. but they have managed to maintain low gun-related death rates in comparison. Even Japan, a country with one of the highest suicide rates among high-income countries had zero gun-related deaths in 2010, according to CNN. In Japan, only shotguns, air guns and guns with specific industrial purposes are allowed, and in order to acquire one, applicants must go through formal instruction, pass written, mental and drug tests. They are also required to do an annual inspection of their firearms.
Many gun control opponents believe that regulating guns is not a justifiable solution because some countries like Colombia have implemented gun control, but still continue to experience almost 26 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people, according to NPR. However, in countries like Colombia where gun violence is common, there are also high rates of illegal drug trade, gang activity and guerrilla warfare — issues that aren’t widespread in the U.S. We can’t compare our country to countries like Colombia because they have far more extenuating circumstances in comparison and to do so is just another excuse to avoid the discussion of gun control.
If a country like Japan, with its high suicide rates, can maintain gun violence incidents to an average of under 10 per one million people, then why can’t we? Mentally ill people in the U.S. can get treatments. It’s a topic that is being discussed more and more today and claiming that mentally ill people are causing these mass shooting is resulting in its stigmatization. It is baseless and also hurtful to mentally ill people.
We need to stop blaming mental health as the main reason why mass shootings occur in this country because it does not cause mass shootings in other high-income countries. We need to start recognizing the cold fact that guns are built to kill. These weapons are so easily accessible to people who pose an imminent danger because of our lousy gun regulations.
Guns are just inanimate objects until they are put in the wrong hands then they become a very dangerous threat. The same way that a knife is just an object until a person intending to harm someone picks it up. Before defending your guns, ask yourselves if you would give them to someone you don’t trust, to someone who has a criminal history or to your children. If the answer is no, then we need tighter gun control laws.
We can’t just blame mental illness because we can’t always treat it, and we definitely can’t stop it forever. We can no longer avoid conversations about gun control laws because it is the only immediate solution that so many countries have successfully implemented. We need to enforce stricter rules that can serve as a deterrent. It’s not going to end gun violence indefinitely, but it’s a step to reducing it.