Mental Illness is Not the Cause of Mass Shootings

Mass shootings and gun violence are epidemics within the United States that are affecting far too many innocent people and need to be dealt with immediately. The Republican Party tends to blame mental illness for the mass shootings that occur. This theory is not only detrimental to the stigma around mental illness in the United States but also provides an excuse for a problem with a clear solution. Therefore, even though the United States has an abundantly clear issue with the stigmatization of mental illness, the real problem at the root of mass shootings is the accessibility of assault weapons and the leniency and lack of strong gun control legislation.

On Valentine’s Day of 2018, the United States saw its most fatal high school shooting. Nikolas Cruz, a nineteen-year-old who had been expelled from the school, opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where he killed seventeen students and staff members and injured seventeen others. After the shooting in Parkland, Floridian legislators raised the minimum age for purchasing rifles to twenty-one yet Congress did not attempt to make any changes to federal gun policies (Council on Foreign Relations). Twenty survivors including notable leaders such as Emma González, David Hogg, and Cameron Kasky started an organization entitled, Never Again MSD, which quickly led to the nationally recognized, March for Our Lives.

Many government officials, specifically those with a Republican affiliation, tend to use an extremely detrimental scapegoat in their reasoning behind the abundant mass shootings in the United States. They almost always claim that these shootings stem from some sort of mental illness within the perpetrator. This does not only harm the progress being made in destigmatizing mental illness in the United States. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, this claim is ludicrous and unsupported by any scientific evidence. All this claim does is perpetuate the idea that people with mental illnesses are violent which is not true for the overwhelming majority of those suffering from mental health problems. It also provides an excuse that allows legislators to not make any progress in the fight for better gun control laws (American Academy of Family Physicians).

However, whether or not the federal government takes action in the fight for mental health reform does not change the fact that that is not the reason behind mass shootings. According to a study published by the American Psychiatric Association entitled “Mass Shootings and Mental Illness”, people suffering from mental health issues commit a diminutive percentage of mass shootings and carry out less than one percent of the annual gun homicides. In this same study, it was detailed that people with mental illnesses are infinitely more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than the perpetrators. According to C-SPAN, in the press briefing following the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio on August 3 and 4, respectively, President Donald Trump cited “mentally ill monsters” as the reason for these acts of violence. Many psychiatric specialists outright rejected those claims. 

The American Psychiatric Association issued a statement in response that read, “It is important to note that the overwhelming majority of people with mental illness are not violent and are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators of violence. Rhetoric that argues otherwise will further stigmatize and interfere with people accessing needed treatment.” 

According to psychiatrist Amy Barnhorst, MD, the reasons behind this outlandish theory that is pumped through the media is likely a means of understanding an intangible idea and senseless act. Barnhorst told MedPage Today:

It’s hard for people to understand why they would have done it and they want to come up with some explanation. Many people don’t really understand what mental illness is, they just think it’s a problem with your mind. They think [a shooter’s] mind must not be working, and that’s why this happened. This further feeds into the stigmatization of mental illness and the lack of mental health education in the United States (MedPage Today). 

This quote details that blaming mental illness for these incessant shootings serves as nothing but an attempt to deflect attention from the real issue at hand: the easy accessibility of firearms and the lack of strong gun control legislation. The United States’ gun ownership legislation all stems from the Second Amendment which states, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” While there are still some restrictions on the process of obtaining firearms, the Supreme Court has rolled back its decisions on some restrictions. For example, in 2008, the Supreme Court stripped Washington, DC of a law that banned handguns. In January 2016, President Barack Obama began to take many steps in order to decrease gun violence. These included making it a requirement for firearm dealers at gun shows and online to receive federal licenses as well as to conduct background checks. However, even though some small steps have been made in the right direction, there is not close to enough being done. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, as of 2019, there are no federal laws banning semi automatic assault weapons, military-style rifles, handguns, or large-capacity magazines in the United States. The United States accounts for roughly five percent of the world’s population yet holds 46 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns. Not only does it house the most civilian-owned guns it has the highest amount of firearms per capita and the greatest homicide by firearm rate of all the world’s developed nations. Yet organizations like the National Rifle Association who profits like to claim that these statistics do not present a direct relationship. The United States has a serious problem with gun violence that other developed countries do not deal with to such an extent. 

The Christchurch mosque shootings were two chronological terroristic shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 19, 2019. One day after the first victims were memorialized, Ardern announced a national ban on all semiautomatic weapons, all high capacity ammunition magazines and all parts that allow weapons to be modified into the kinds of guns that carried out the Christchurch attacks (New York Times).

Mass shootings within the United States are very frequent and barely any legislative change is ever made as a result of them. However, after almost each tragedy, legislators extend their thoughts and prayers and constantly fail to implement any sort of legislation to put an end to this horrendous cycle. The lack of legislative change on this topic can be attributed to a few major reasons. Members of the Republican Party often sound like broken records after each mass shooting, always citing the same reason for the mass shootings: mental illness. This is a scapegoat that pushes the misinformation that those suffering from mental illness are violent and are at the helm of mass shootings even though that theory is constantly discredited by notable psychiatrists and psychological professionals. This theory that has no credible evidence is detrimental to the stigma around mental illness in the United States while also providing an excuse for a problem that has a clear solution. The United States Congress needs to pass laws that call for stricter universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons, for example. So, therefore, even though the United States has an abundantly clear issue with the stigmatization of mental illness, the real problem at the root of mass shootings is the accessibility of assault weapons and the leniency and lack of strong gun control legislation.

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