Fact or fiction: does mental illness contribute to gun violence in the United States?
There is an undoubted stigma toward mental illness in the United States. Americans who suffer from mental illnesses are treated by some as detriments to society and to the capitalist system. Although the United States has come a long way in terms of acceptance and treatment toward those with mental illnesses, there is still much that needs to be done, as people across the country struggle with their place in society and their own mental disabilities. What has allowed this stigma to continue for decades in the United States?
Some of the most prominent and heated debate related to mental illness in recent years is about its connection to gun violence. In an article by Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post, she writes that Republicans have often used the issue of mental health to focus the problems with gun violence on the individual, rather than the guns and a lack of gun control legislation. There has also been a fight to put more effort toward preventing potentially dangerous mentally ill citizens from obtaining guns.
In recent months, gun control legislation proposed by the Obama administration takes into account mental illness as a potential catalyst for gun violence, as it has called for for a stricter background check system and more than $500 million dollars to go towards mental health treatment.
While both sides of the aisle may disagree on the appropriate response to gun violence, how much does mental illness actually contribute to gun violence in the U.S.? According to research done by Jonathan Metzl, a professor of Sociology and Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, not very much. Metzl found that from 2001-2010, less than 5% of gun-related murders were committed by an individual who suffered from a mental illness. In an article written by Tod Essig for Forbes, it is stated that mental illness contributes to only 4% of gun-related crimes, a number that Essig took from a quote by Jeffrey W. Swanson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University. Yet despite numerous studies showing otherwise, mental illness is still used as a scapegoat for a purpose behind many gun-related crimes.
The decades of advocacy and work of thousands of Americans will only continue to weaken if politicians and the media continue to incorrectly blame certain acts of gun violence on mental illness. The importance of stricter gun control regulations is an important discussion for both citizens and politicians to have, but this discussion can not be properly conducted until those having it are properly informed on all aspects of the issue.
An understanding of mental illness, as well as an expansion of mental health treatment and awareness, is undoubtedly an important step for the United States; however, it should not only stop there. The distinct differences and separation between gun violence and mental illness only exemplifies the importance of educating people about mental illness and its significance across the United States.
By: Brian Cieplicki ’19