Mental Health And Gun Violence

In this series of blog post I’ll try to present an unbiased set of facts concerning people with mental health issues and gun violence. I think you get enough from the talking heads that spew uneducated sensationalised vomit on our main media channels. Why do people that we are supposed to trust lie about such an important subject. Shame on them.

After the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012, a senator announced that he supported mea-
sures to keep guns “out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill” (Strauss

2012). Shortly thereafter, a National Rifle Association official stated in a press
conference that “our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine
monsters. People that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven
by demons, that no sane person can even possibly comprehend them. . . .How can
we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active

national database of the mentally ill?” (The Washington Post 2012). Such state-
ments, widely disseminated by the media, reinforce the existing societal presump-
tive association between “criminals,” “evil,” and “the mentally ill.” In fact, such

misguided associations need no further reinforcement. The lay public requires
little persuasion to associate mental illness with criminality and evil (Coulter 2012)

In no way will this kind of rhetoric bullshit be helpful in preventing gun violence. I will try to provide you with some real facts from people who know and are in the trenches.

Mass Shootings and
Mental Illness
James L. Knoll IV, M.D.
George D. Mass Shootings and\nMental IllnessAnnas, M.D., M.P.H.

Common Misperceptions

 Mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent the
most significant relationship between gun violence and mental illness.
 People with serious mental illness should be considered dangerous.
 Gun laws focusing on people with mental illness or wiCommon Misperceptionsth a psychiatric
diagnosis can effectively prevent mass shootings.

 Gun laws focusing on people with mental illness or a psychiatric diag-
nosis are reasonable, even if they add to the stigma already associated

with mental illness.

Evidence-Based Facts

 Mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent less
than 1% of all yearly gun-related homicides. In contrast, deaths by
suicide using firearms account for the majority of yearly gun-related

 The overall contribution of people with serious mental illness to vio-
lent crimes is only about 3%. When these crimes are examined in de-
tail, an even smaller percentage of them are found to involve firearms.

Copyright © 2016 American Psychiatric Association Publishing. All Rights Reserved.
To purchase the complete resource, please visit or your local bookseller.


 Laws intended to reduce gun violence that focus on a population rep-
resenting less than 3% of all gun violence will be extremely low yield,

ineffective, and wasteful of scarce resources. Perpetrators of mass

shootings are unlikely to have a history of involuntary psychiatric hos-
pitalization. Thus, databases intended to restrict access to guns and

established by guns laws that broadly target people with mental ill-
ness will not capture this group of individuals.

 Gun restriction laws focusing on people with mental illness perpetu-
ate the myth that mental illness leads to violence, as well as the mis-
perception that gun violence and mental illness are strongly linked.

Stigma represents a major barrier to access and treatment of mental
illness, which in turn increases the public health burden.

Mass shootings understandably create outpourings of public horror and

outrage. Nevertheless, and contrary to common media depictions and the gen-
eral public’s beliefs, mass shootings are extremely rare events. These tragedies

are influenced by multiple complex factors, many of which are still poorly un-
derstood. However, the lay public and the media typically assume that the perpe-
trator has a mental illness and that the mental illness is the cause of these highly

violent acts of horrific desperation. Although some mass shooters are found to
have a history of psychiatric illness, no reliable research has suggested that a
majority of perpetrators are primarily influenced by serious mental illness as
opposed to, for example, psychological turmoil flowing from other sources. As a
result, debate on how to prevent mass shootings has focused heavily on issues
that are 1) highly politicized, 2) grossly oversimplified, and 3) unlikely to result in
productive solutions.
In this chapter, we discuss the existing research, limited though it may be, on
mass shootings and then examine the nature of the link between gun violence
and mental illness. We consider the value of gun laws focusing on mental illness,
with attention to their potential efficacy in preventing future mass shootings. We

conclude by proposing that instead of the focus on mental illness, increased at-
tention should be paid to sociocultural factors associated with mass shootings

and exploring other interventions and areas for further research.
Because of frequent and sensational media coverage, it may appear that the era
of mass shootings began in 1966, atop the tower at the University of Texas in
Austin, and became a part of American life in subsequent decades (Associated

Press 2007). However, cases of mass murder, of which mass shootings are a sub-
Copyright © 2016 American Psychiatric Association Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

To purchase the complete resource, please visit or your local bookseller.

Mass Shootings and Mental Illness 83
set, have been recorded over time long before mass shootings captured public

attention. For example, in the Bath school disaster of 1927, to this day the dead-
liest mass murder in a school in United States history, one man killed 38 Mich-
igan elementary school children and 6 adults and injured at least 58 other

The farmer who perpetrated these attacks had run into financial trouble. His

wife was seriously ill with tuberculosis. He reportedly became angry after an in-
crease in taxes and losing an election in which he had run for town clerk. He first

killed his wife, then firebombed his farm, and then detonated explosives in the

Bath Consolidated School, before committing suicide by detonating a final explo-
sion in his truck. Like many modern-day mass murderers, he left a final com-
munication. Stenciled and painted on a board outside his property, his message

read, “Criminals are made, not born”—a statement suggestive of externalization
of blame and long-held grievance. Many “premodern” cases of mass murder often
involved a depressed and angry male who killed his family and then himself. Such

cases did not capture much media attention because they were regarded primar-
ily as “family business” and were “too close for comfort” (Dietz 1986, p. 481). In

contrast, mass shootings beginning in the 1990s and covered intensely by the me-
dia appeared to be a different type of violence, at least in the eyes of the public.

Heavily armed individuals who had meticulously planned a public massacre in
which they intended to spread as much destruction as possible and then kill

themselves seemed a new phenomenon. Compared with depressed and despair-
ing familicide-suicides, these “modern” cases seemed distant enough from the av-
erage person’s experience to capture the public’s attention with morbid fascination

over prolonged periods of time.

Mass shootings cause endless public speculation regarding causes and mo-
tives. However, high-profile cases of mass shootings, which typically receive the

most intense media coverage, are in fact the least representative of mass killings.
In reality, such rare cases are the result of many complex factors. Nevertheless,
the news media have heavily influenced the public’s perception of mass murders

(Duwe 2005), offering simplified explanations that assume the perpetrator is ei-
ther “mad or bad.” After all, who but a madman would execute innocent people

in broad daylight, while planning to commit suicide or be killed by police?

Such simplistic explanations are easier for the media to report, as well as eas-
ier for the public to accept. Nevertheless, these explanations are often inaccurate

and based on little or no evidence. In addition, they stoke the political fires sur-
rounding debates concerning regulation of firearms while providing no construc-
tive suggestions to prevent future tragedies. Psychiatric illness, although present

in some mass murderers and mass shooters, is far from the most significant or

consistent finding from attempts to investigate the nature of these deeply trou-
bling events.

American Psychiatric Association Publishing. All Rights Reserved.
To purchase the complete resource, please visit or your local bookseller.