There is of course no “one law” that would prevent all gun massacres, any more than there is “one law” that would eliminate all house fires, all fatal car crashes, or all smoking deaths. Yet American society has made amazing progress at enhancing citizen safety against fires, car crashes, and smoking.
As we try to balance constitutional rights and public safety regarding people with mental illness, the traditional legal approach has been to prohibit firearms from involuntarily-committed psychiatric patients. But now we have more evidence that current laws don’t necessarily keep firearms out of the hands of a lot of potentially dangerous individuals, according to a recent Duke University report on linking the issues of anger and access to guns.
Researchers found that anger-prone people with guns were at elevated risk for a range of fairly common psychiatric conditions such as personality disorders, alcohol abuse, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress, while only a tiny fraction suffered from acute symptoms of major disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Fewer than one in 10 angry people with access to guns had ever been admitted to a hospital for a psychiatric or substance abuse problem, the study found. As a result, most of these individuals’ medical histories wouldn’t stop them from being able to legally purchase guns under existing mental-health-related restrictions.
Researchers suggest data could support “dangerous persons” gun removal laws, like those in Connecticut and Indiana, or a “gun violence restraining order” law like California recently enacted. Such laws give family members and law enforcement a legal tool to immediately seize guns and prevent gun or ammunition purchases by people who show warning signs of impending violence.
The bonds that tie a neighborhood together can help shield community members from gun violence, according to new findings by Yale School of Medicine researchers in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program (RWJF CSP).
“Police and government response to the problem has focused on the victim or the criminal. Our study focuses on empowering communities to combat the effects of living with chronic and persistent gun violence.”
“Our study is a community-based and community-driven intervention to prevent and reduce the negative effects of gun violence in the communities affected by high rates of gun violence by strengthening social ties, bonds, resilience, or in other words, by ‘putting neighbor back in hood,'” said Ann Greene, community research liaison for the RWJF CSP at Yale.
Preliminary findings show that social cohesion, or the strength of bonds between neighbors, is inversely associated with exposure to gun violence, and that a multi-sector approach that includes community members is required to address and prevent gun violence.
- To Reduce Gun Violence, Know Thy Neighbor (theatlantic.com)
Far more people kill themselves with a firearm each year than are murdered with one. In 2010 in the U.S., 19,392 people committed suicide with guns, compared with 11,078 who were killed by others. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S.; in 2010, 38,364 people killed themselves. In more than half of these cases, they used firearms.
Indeed, more people in this country kill themselves with guns than with all other intentional means combined, including hanging, poisoning or overdose, jumping, or cutting. Though guns are not the most common method by which people attempt suicide, they are the most lethal. About 85 percent of suicide attempts with a firearm end in death.
Rates of firearm suicides in states with the highest rates of gun ownership are 3.7 times higher for men and 7.9 times higher for women, compared with states with the lowest gun ownership—though the rates of non-firearm suicides are about the same.
“Cut it however you want: In places where exposure to guns is higher, more people die of suicide.”
When widely used lethal means are made less available or less deadly, suicide rates by that method decline, as do suicide rates overall.
It’s important that gun owners and non-gun-owners talk to one another. The question can’t be, “What do you think of gun control?” because everybody’s going to be for or against. The question needs to be, “How do we solve the problem of gun suicide?”
Most police officers have frequent contact with people with mental illness, but have minimal training in recognizing the symptoms and assessing when they should be taken to a clinic or emergency room for further evaluation. Perhaps the most useful intervention … is to provide police officers with some good, basic mental health knowledge.
When guns are present, officers might use de-escalation skills to temporarily remove weapons from individuals at-risk of violence or suicide. If one happens to be in a state such as Indiana that has a preemptive “dangerous person” gun seizure law, police can remove firearms without a warrant, pending a judicial hearing, even if the person with mental illness is not imminently dangerous at the time and wouldn’t meet criteria for involuntary commitment.
We also might examine the minimum age at which people can easily purchase guns. FBI data indicate that 45 percent of identified murderers are younger than age 25. Many young adults are experiencing (often for the first time) serious mental health or social difficulties, and thus pose special risks to themselves and others. Rental car companies apply extra scrutiny to drivers under the age of 25. Perhaps there’s a lesson there for gun policy.
After recent mass shootings, there have been calls to ease the strict standards guiding involuntary mental health treatment to give authorities greater ability to detain and compel the treatment of mentally ill people they fear could become a risk to the community, even if they aren’t imminently one at the time of their interaction with the person.
The question of using the civil mental health system to involuntarily detain someone who hasn’t committed a crime, but who we fear may commit one at some point in the future is fundamentally one of human rights. It risks making it easier to commit the terrible injustice of unnecessarily taking away the freedom of mentally ill people who pose no real risk to public safety. There are many ways to prevent mass murder that we should be discussing, including the quality of mental health treatment we provide, but calling for more involuntary mental health commitments isn’t one of them.
Of course, mental illness shouldn’t be ignored. But it is often discussed in a way that is dishonest and inaccurate in the context of mass shootings. And it reinforces an effort to redirect the conversation away from guns and their effect on our culture.
Too often in American politics, corporate interests such as the gun industry are able to displace their costs onto people unrepresented by lobbyists and super PACs — people like the mentally ill. If we continue to scapegoat them with the convenient myth of the “psycho killer,” we are precluded from recognizing which factors do contribute to homicides in the United States.
- The Atlantic: Locking Up People for Mental Illness Won’t Stop Killers (politicaloutcast.com)
- Op-Ed Contributor: Why Can’t Doctors Identify Killers? (rss.nytimes.com)
- Santa Barbara shootings: Would a ‘gun restraining order’ have helped? (+video) (csmonitor.com)
- The Divide Over Involuntary Mental Health Treatment (wnyc.org)
According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, an average of 32 Americans are killed every day and 140 are treated for gunshots in an emergency room. An average of eight children and teenagers are killed each day, and an additional 51 people take their own lives with a firearm.
The San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence notes that about 4,400 American military men and women died in the first seven years of the war in Iraq, which is the same number of gun-related deaths in the U.S. every seven weeks. In 2010, more than 75% of the firearms used in suicide or accidental killings of children and teenagers were stored in the residence of the victim, a relative or a friend.
A report last year by the Children’s Defense Fund said the number of teenagers and children killed by guns in 2010 was five times the number of U.S. servicemen and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan that year. And U.S. military and police officers have about 4 million guns total, while U.S. citizens have about 310 million. Annual bullet production, meanwhile, is 31 times the number of U.S. residents.
- Gun Violence Killed At Least 80 People The Week Prior To Elliot Rodger’s Rampage (huffingtonpost.com)
- Gun Violence Must Never Be the ‘New Normal’ (independent.com)
- Democrats Introduce Legislation To Restart CDC Funding For Gun Violence Research (publichealthwatch.wordpress.com)