|Image courtesy of Salon.|
The focus on mental illness in the wake of recent mass shootings reflects a decades-long history of more general debates in psychiatry and law about guns, gun violence, and “mental competence.” Psychiatric articles in the 1960s deliberated ways to assess whether mental patients were “of sound mind enough” to possess firearms. Following the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School, Breggin decried the toxic combination of mental illness, guns, and psychotropic medications that contributed to the actions of shooter Eric Harris. After the 2012 shooting at Newtown, Torrey amplified his earlier warnings about dangerous “subgroups” of persons with mental illness who, he contended, were perpetrators of gun crimes. Speaking to a national television audience, Torrey, a psychiatrist, claimed that “about half of . . . mass killings are being done by people with severe mental illness, mostly schizophrenia, and if they were being treated they would have been preventable.” Similar themes appear in legal dialogues as well. Even the US Supreme Court, which in 2008 strongly affirmed a broad right to bear arms, endorsed prohibitions on gun ownership “by felons and the mentally ill” because of their special potential for violence.
Yet surprisingly little population-level evidence supports the notion that individuals diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit gun crimes. According to Appelbaum,25 less than 3% to 5% of US crimes involve people with mental illness, and the percentages of crimes that involve guns are lower than the national average for persons not diagnosed with mental illness. Databases that track gun homicides, such as the National Center for Health Statistics, similarly show that fewer than 5% of the 120 000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness.
This of course is almost exactly what I have been saying for months now, but it it always nice to have research to back it up.
Media reports often assume a binary distinction between mild and severe mental illness, and connect the latter form to unpredictability and lack of self-control. However, this distinction, too, is called into question by mental health research. To be sure, a number of the most common psychiatric diagnoses, including depressive, anxiety, and attention-deficit disorders, have no correlation with violence whatsoever. Community studies find that serious mental illness without substance abuse is also “statistically unrelated” to community violence. At the aggregate level, the vast majority of people diagnosed with psychiatric disorders do not commit violent acts—only about 4% of violence in the United States can be attributed to people diagnosed with mental illness.
The study also says that of course people who demonstrate hostility, or aggressive behaviors should have their access to guns restricted, but that there are many with a mental health diagnosis who are just as safe, or safer, than those who have never even seen a psychiatrist.
I would like to expand on that further by saying that everyday you are surrounded by people with mental health issues that fall within the diagnostic classifications found within the DSM IV.
In fact some of these people may even benefit from such disorders as Aspergers, paranoia, compulsive disorders, and even body dysmorphia (As related to success as a body builder or model.)
Some classifications are subtle and not easily detected, or temporary, and though inconvenient (Such as depression) not disruptive enough to warrant a psychiatric evaluation.
Simply put if you yourself do not suffer from one ore more classifications for mental illness, you are almost certainly surrounded by several people who do.
And trust me that if we were to get really serious about expanding psychiatric screenings, and then taking the guns away from anybody who received a negative diagnoses (Which by the way sounds like a great idea to me.), the NRA would stop talking about mental illness overnight and start blaming all the shootings on video games, violent movies, or rap music.