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Stop Scapegoating Mental Illness for Mass Shootings

Written by on September 2, 2019 | Opinion

In the wake of more mass shootings from a stadium in Mobile, AL and another on a highway in Odessa, TX, gun advocates are increasingly scapegoating mental illness as the primary cause of mass shootings and violence. They conveniently ignore the fact that the U.S. has roughly the same rate of mental illness in its population as other industrialized nations, yet those nations don’t even come close to having a similar rate of mass shootings that have become frequent, recurring tragedies in America.

In fact, scholarly, peer-reviewed research indicates that people without diagnosed mental illness are three times more likely to commit violent acts than the mentally ill. However, the political argument that untreated or undiagnosed mental illness is to blame has been growing. It’s happening because the gun lobby doesn’t want to acknowledge the obvious direct correlation between the number of guns in the population and the incidence of gun deaths. They also don’t want to recognize how easy it is to modify weapons to make them weapons of war.

Ironically, the gun lobby’s embrace of blaming mental illness hasn’t stopped them from opposing “red flag” laws and expanding background checks for gun purchases. As usual, they seem to only advocate for more guns in the hands of more people in more places. That explains why, in Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey signed an executive order last year allowing school administrators to carry firearms in schools that don’t have armed security resource officers. Luckily, proposed legislation in Alabama for permit-less concealed carry didn’t make it through a state senate committee, but it’s a clear indicator of the conservative mindset on gun legislation.

The other big problem with scapegoating mental illness as the leading predeterminant for mass gun violence is that it paints all mental illness with a broad, assumptive brush. This idea falsely assigns symptoms of anger, social isolation, or erratic behavior on all types of mental illness, regardless of whether these symptoms exist in a diagnosis, or for an individual. In fact, many people without diagnosable mental illness exhibit rage and impulsivity. Psychological experts claim that even if there was a magic cure for all mental illness, that the overall rate of gun violence would only be decreased by about 4%.

Contrary to what President Trump asserts, mental illness didn’t pull the trigger. The real problem is that there are too many triggers for people to easily access in moments of high emotional stress. Blaming the mentally ill is nothing more than a gaudy political distraction to avoid talking about stronger gun regulations.

This is not an attempt to repeal the Second Amendment or to take away the rights of gun ownership. Although, there is a rational and formidable case to be made against average citizens having access to weapons of war, such as the AR-15, designed solely to create mass casualties. The answer is to pass laws that prohibit certain types of weapons and accessories, to ensure universal background checks, and to provide a legal process for removing weapons from people that have demonstrated that they are a threat to themselves or others.

Indeed, if mental illness was to blame for mass shootings, then other countries would have the same issues we face in the United States. They don’t because they understand that having more guns in more places doesn’t solve the problem. They don’t because they refuse to believe in fantasy, gun-lobby propaganda that claims that the only effective response to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. The U.S. has had 281 mass shootings so far this year and more guns than anywhere on the planet.

It’s time to stop stigmatizing mental illness and faulting it as the leading cause for mass shootings. The problem is America’s gun lobby that owns politicians and brainwashes them into apathy or inaction. Blaming the mentally ill is dishonest and wrong.

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