Mental health and gun violence

Posted on Feb 12 2013 - 7:00am by Lacey Russell
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In the wake of mass shootings such as the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, the Aurora theater shooting and the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, debates about gun control have come to surface once again.
There has been a focus on mental health research and awareness as a means to combat violence.
Both sides see an increase in research as a good thing, but anti-gun control advocates see it as the primary way to combat violence, while pro-gun control groups see it as a secondary means behind new legislation.
Dilip Jeste, the president of the American Psychological Association, said “only 4 to 5 percent of violent crimes are committed by people with mental illness.”

Such statistics poke holes in the theory that mental health is the primary concern in violent acts.

Jeste also said, “About one quarter of Americans have a mental disorder in any given year, and only a small percentage of them will commit violent crimes.”
Other psychologists have stated unless a patient tells someone they are planning on doing something violent, there is no way to know who will commit some sort of violent act out of those 25 percent of Americans.

Another concern is that this focus on a correlation between mental health and shootings will stigmatize the majority of Americans suffering from mental disorders who will never do anything violent.
Another problem both sides of the debate point out are the gaps in the background check system done when someone purchases a firearm. Federal law already prohibits people with some forms of mental illness from buying a gun; however, many states are not sending the proper paperwork into the FBI database, which creates gaps in information.
For example, the Huffington Post published an article that said Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho and Long Island Rail Road shooter Colin Ferguson might have been prevented from purchasing a firearm if all of their information had been submitted to the database.

A recent report by ABC News found that only 12 states in the U.S., send in the proper paperwork.
It’s easy to see the issue is not as simple as either side would like it to be or, at times, present it to be.
More mental health research on its own and more legislation on its own probably won’t solve the problem.

As seen by mental health statistics, it is difficult to blame mental disorders for even the majority of mass acts of violence, and further focus on these disorders as the cause only serve to stigmatize Americans suffering from illness who will never be violent.
However, the laws already in place are obviously not serving their purposes as seen by the FBI background gaps, leaving us no reason to believe new laws will be any more effective.
We can’t reduce the debate over gun control to one side or the other because it isn’t a simple issue.

Instead, we could all benefit from civil discussion on the matter as opposed to the heated battles we’re so used to seeing.

Megan Massey is a religious studies senior from Mount Olive. Follow her on Twitter @megan_massey.