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Mental Illness or Gun Control: That is the Question

Each time there is a mass shooting, we begin to speculate about their mental health. It seems second-nature to most of us that someone who could do something so terrible, and senseless, must be, in some sense, insane.

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“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.”

– Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

Each time there is a mass shooting, we begin to speculate about their mental health. It seems second-nature to most of us that someone who could do something so terrible, and senseless, must be, in some sense, insane. But is that actually true? Are gun violence and mental illness really so closely connected?

Those who oppose expanded gun-control legislation frequently argue that instead of limiting access to guns, the country should focus on mental health problems.

But, in reality, mass shootings represent a small percentage of all gun violence, and mental illness is not a factor in most violent acts.

Blaming mental health problems for gun violence in America gives the public the false impression that most people with mental illness are dangerous, when in fact a vast majority will never commit violence. Still, some legal changes should be made to reduce access to firearms among the small percentage of people with mental illness who are dangerous to themselves or others.

Mental illness increases the risk of gun violence when that violence takes the form of suicide. According to the C.D.C., between 21% and 44% of those who commit suicide had previously exhibited mental-health problems. Many studies have shown an even higher risk of suicide among the mentally ill, up to ten to twenty times higher than the general population for bipolar disorder and depression, and thirteen times higher for schizophrenia-spectrum disorders.

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Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine has published several research papers on gun violence and mental health. A 2011 paper by Swanson published examines the lack of data available on firearm use against strangers, and how it is impossible to reliably predict which specific individuals would engage in the most serious acts of violence.

So, in other words, we don’t even have enough sound proof to justify the current battle that connects mental health with gun violence in this country.

A natural train of thought leads us to be compelled to take a look at the amount of guns in the United States.

The statistics show the percentage of households in the United States which own firearms to be about 42 percent with at least one gun in possession. Half of America’s guns are owned by only 3 percent of the population in this country.

The New England Journal of Medicine found that people who kept guns in the home faced a 2.7-times greater risk of homicide and a 4.8-times greater risk of suicide.

Let me put it this way: On average, the gun imperils everyone in the home more than it protects them.

It’s tough to know exactly how many guns we have in the United States. But what we do know is that the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency marked the first time that the number of firearms in circulation surpassed the total U.S. population. That would mean that there are over 300 million guns in the United States!

The United States, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, has about 35–50 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns. The United States also has the highest homicide-by-firearm rate among the world’s most developed nations.

In the United States, there were more than 50,000 incidents of gun violence in 2015.

The numbers include everything from homicides and multiple-victim gang assaults to incidents of self-defense and accidental shootings. The organization’s records show that more than 12,000 people have been killed with guns this year, but what its numbers do not record – because of government reporting practices – is a massive hole in the data: the nearly 20,000 Americans who end their lives with a gun each year.

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A 2016 academic study estimated that just 4 percent of violence is associated with serious mental illness alone, and less than 5 percent of gun-related killings in the United States were committed by people diagnosed with mental illness. Evidence is clear that the large majority of people with mental disorders do not engage in violence against others, and that most violent behavior is due to factors other than mental illness.

Remington, one of the oldest and most well-known gun companies in the world, plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection; not because they don’t know how to sell guns, or because of competition; it’s because everyone who wants one, already have as many as they want.

In 2016, when Barack Obama was president, there were fears that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would implement gun controls. When Trump, a Republican endorsed by the National Rifle Association, was elected, those fears were alleviated. But sales also dropped off.

It’s time to start thinking more about what type of country we have become, and stop shifting our societal shortcomings to the mentally ill among us…

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

Glenn Ellis is an active media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics. For more good health information, visit:


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