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MENTAL ILLNESS AND GUN VIOLENCE: CORRELATION≠CAUSATION

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Over 200 schools have experienced gun violence on their campuses since January of this year alone, with the Parkland shooting being the most recent; despite what Donald Trump says, mentally ill people are not the cause.

The Gun Safety Legislation and Walkout—which happened on March 14—made a statement about the increasing death toll from school shootings since Columbine. Local grocers, Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods, pledged on February 28 to cease the sale of firearms and ammunition to people under 21 in light of the Parkland shooting where 17 students and faculty members were killed. Walmart will remove all items resembling assault rifles from its website. Dick’s Sporting Goods will execute a similar procedure.

At the White House, our beloved President Donald Trump is doing all he can to make the public feel safe again—by blaming the mentally disturbed for the rise in gun violence.

“We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries. But this isn’t a gun situation…this is a mental health problem at the highest level,” he told the press.

Trump didn’t take long to conclude that mental illness and gun violence have an interrelationship after the Parkland shooting, which means his true feelings on the matter might have been harbored longer than that. In a televised address to the public at the White House on February 15, he blamed gun violence and school shootings on a “mental health problem at the highest level.”  On the same day, Trump Tweeted, “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!” This promotes false belief that mentally ill people are a danger to our country, as well as feeding the prejudices against mentally ill people. Currently, his words are the new gospel for many frightened parents and school staff.

Meanwhile, doctors do their best to refute him.

“Research shows that the association between mental illness and violence is not strong, but it does exist,” John T. Monahan, a professor specializing in psychology and law at the University of Virginia told the Times.

The relationship between gun violence and mental illness has a neutral correlation at best. Gun violence experts believe that barring gun sales to mentally ill people could help prevent mass shootings, despite the American Psychiatric Association’s statistics from 2016 which found that the mentally ill are only responsible for 1% of all homicides each year.

It is important that people not be influenced by prejudice any more than they are influenced by fear. It is understandable that people are frightened for their own safety and the safety of their family, but sometimes people will take extreme measures to protect themselves from those fears. A 2017 Pew Research Center survey found that there was “broad public support for preventing people with mental illnesses from purchasing guns (89% said they favored it),” despite constant reminders by the APA that mental illness is not a direct cause of gun violence.

Right now, mentally ill people are the designated target for some people’s hatred, when it should be directed at the actual weapon itself.

According to data on gun violence published by the CDC, more than 30,000 people are killed by firearms each year in America. Over 30 people are shot and murdered each day. Half of them are between the ages of 18 and 35, and a third of them are under 20. 62% of firearm deaths in the U.S. are suicides. Seven children and teens are killed with guns in the U.S. on an average day.

We remain the most gun-saturated country in the world.

Overall, guns in general (and their accessibility) are a problem, no matter which way people look at it. As a result, protecting mentally ill people and their civil rights has become a controversial debate between civil rights activists, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, and Donald Trump. One side believes that baring the sales of firearms to mentally ill people would violate their 2nd Amendment right, but Trump, along with his supporters, are adamant on ignoring this and preventing people with mental illnesses from purchasing guns. According to a 2016 White House fact sheet, that rule would affect 75,000 people.

Once again, the correlation between mental illness and gun violence does not mean mental illness causes gun violence. Instigators of gun violence stem from the most basic threats: bullying, racism, conflict, anger, and hypocrisy. After the Parkland, Florida shooting, students and adults began posting fake gun and bomb threats on the internet. Just recently, a 23-year-old man was taken into custody after sending an “electronic message” to the FBI, saying he was going to “shoot up the school.”

“What if the president had said, instead of, ‘This is a mental illness thing,’ that [the Texas church shooter] was a veteran, this is a veterans’ problem, ban guns for all the veterans,” Jeffrey Swanson, a sociologist and psychiatric epidemiologist who studies the relationship between violence and mental illness asks, referring to the Sutherland Springs, Texas shootings in November 2017. “That would be outrageous. We need to understand risk for what it is and not just assume punitively that this whole huge category of people is risky.”

One step lawmakers could take would be to limit these instigators is to take guns off the streets and limit those who can buy them. It can save lives.

 

Works Cited:

Berenson, Tessa. “Donald Trump Made It Easier for Mentally Ill People to Buy Guns.” Time, 6 Nov. 2017, time.com/5011519/texas-church-shooting-mental-health-donald-trump/.

Every Town Research. “Gun Violence by the Numbers.” https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-by-the-numbers/

Grinberg, Emanuella and Howard, Jacqueline. “Gun violence: More complicated than a ‘mental health problem’.” CNN, 6 November 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/11/06/health/guns-mental-health-texas-trump/index.html  

Postel, Therese. “Infograph: Guns of the World.” The Century Foundation, 3 January 2013, https://tcf.org/content/commentary/infograph-guns-of-the-world/.

Qui, Linda and Bank, Justin. “Checking Facts and Falsehoods About Gun Violence and Mental Illness After Parkland Shooting.” The New York Times, 16 February 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/16/us/politics/fact-check-parkland-gun-violence-mental-illness.html

 

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MENTAL ILLNESS AND GUN VIOLENCE: CORRELATION≠CAUSATION