The Impact of Gun Laws on Mass Shootings in the United States and the Relationship Between Mass Shootings and Mental Illness
There is a common belief that mentally disturbed people perpetrate gun-related crimes; however, research shows that the violence perpetrated by people with mental health problems accounts for a relatively small percentage of all gun-related crimes, and when they do occur, they are seldom mass murders. The wrong mindset that there is a close connection between gun-related violence, particularly mass shootings, and mental health will be further propagated by drafting gun laws that focus on people with mental illness, which will increase the stigma against people who suffer from mental illness. Unfortunately, this will make it harder for such people to seek for psychiatric help and in the long run, it will worsen the public health situation. Violence by people with serious mental health issues, those are that gun related, are less than three percent which is very low in comparison to those crimes by other people. Mass shootings are rarely by people with mental health problems; only less than one percent of them are. Creating gun laws that aim at controlling gun handling by people with mental health will only serve towards enhancing the misconception that mentally ill people orchestrate gun violence. A sure thing is those gun laws preventing mentally ill people from handling guns will be ineffective and achieve no significant results as far as stopping mass shootings is involved. Even creating databases that are meant to ensure people with mental illness do not access guns will not do much to curtail individuals who orchestrate mass shootings.
Mental Health and Mass Shootings are Not Connected
It is a serious misconception that people with mental health should be regarded as dangerous and everything they do should be monitored. Research correctly indicates that among the mass shootings and mass murders that have occurred in past years up to the year 2014, less than 3% of them were committed by people with mental health issues (McGinty, Frattaroli, Appelbaum, Bonnie, Grilley, Horwitz and Webster, 2014). Gun laws focused on limiting gun handling by mentally ill people will be a waste of public resources and also a waste of time (Swanson, McGinty, Fazel and Mays, 2015). The wrongful perception and assumption that people with mental illness are prone to violence need to be dealt with and hopefully changed. Unless the misconception that these people affected by mental illness are dangerous is changed and the precious time wasted in making gun laws and policies precisely affecting them is reversed, then there will continue to be unnecessary stigmatization of people with mental illness. At the same time, a lot of valuable public resources will continue to be wasted on a formulation of policies and creation of unnecessary databases that are aimed at curtailing people with any form of mental illness from handling guns.
The Media Misreports on Causes of Gun Violence
There are many complex factors that may cause mass shootings and gun violence, however, most of these are greatly misunderstood, and this has largely to do with the media wrongly portraying mentally ill people as the ones to blame for much of the gun-related violence. The media often wrongly assumes and states it as fact that the greatest perpetrators of gun violence are people with some sort of mental illness and this is believed by many to be true (Lankford, 2015). Although there is information from research indicating that some of the perpetrators of gun violence at times had some of sort of psychiatric problem, this is not always the case, and these are often isolated cases. There is no indication whatsoever to suggest that there is a correlation between gun violence and mental illness (Lankford, 2015). By nature, people are wired to be more drawn to news that is greatly violent and more graphic in nature. These same people form the audience of most of these media outlets. Often when there is a mass shooting somewhere, in a frantic effort to be the first to break the news, reporters often gets the facts wrong and their story ends up empty of facts but full of stereotypes (Lankford, 2015). Shift in trends and technological advancements have also played a huge role in making it harder to get the facts right concerning a mass shooting when it happens. In the past, reporters had to rely on law enforcers and the justice system for information regarding any such incidents, however, in this day and age of social media; it is not easy to get the facts right for a story once it begins trending as everyone will give their own version of the story (Lankford, 2015). The input of the media in propagating the stereotype that mass shootings are mostly by people with mental illness cannot be overlooked, and by understanding this factor, will the truth of the un-relatedness of these two things come forth.
Sociocultural Factors Play a Major Role in Mass Shootings
There are far more serious sociocultural factors surrounding mass shootings and gun violence that remain unexplored and are overshadowed by the rhetoric on mental illness. All gun violence has at the core of it a sociocultural aspect, and this may not be perceived from the surface by a mere psychiatric diagnosis done independently (Swanson, McGinty, Fazel and Mays, 2015). One particular aspect that may have a contribution in this is the internet and technology. Nowadays people are more easily influenced by others through online interactions, and therefore, more people are more pressured to live a certain way and prove themselves in the eyes of others, this may cause them to go over the edge, and this has no connection to mental illness (Swanson, McGinty, Fazel and Mays, 2015). Understanding the real issues behind the mass murders and gun violence will serve a long way in making it clear to people who always make the wrong assumption that people with mental illness are always behind the killings even in instances when it is not true.
There is a misconception held by many people and propagated as truth especially by the media that gun violence and mass shootings are always committed by people with mental illness. There are always other underlying factors behind the mass shooting most of which evidence suggests are sociocultural. The misconception of associating mental illness with mass shooting has enhanced stigmatization of people suffering from whatever kind of mental condition. To dismantle this misconception and ensure the media does correct, and objective reporting will help people understand how unrelated gun violence and mental illness are. It is imperative and of great importance that all stakeholders involved in making gun policies reconsider their stance and realize that there is almost no connection between the high statistics of homicides, suicides and mass shootings with mental health.
Lankford, A. (2015). Mass shooters in the USA, 1966–2010: Differences between attackers who live and die. Justice Quarterly, 32(2), 360-379.
McGinty, E. E., Frattaroli, S., Appelbaum, P. S., Bonnie, R. J., Grilley, A., Horwitz, J., & Webster, D. W. (2014). Using research evidence to reframe the policy debate around mental illness and guns: process and recommendations. American Journal of Public Health, 104(11), e22-e26.
Swanson, J. W., McGinty, E. E., Fazel, S., & Mays, V. M. (2015). Mental illness and reduction of gun violence and suicide: bringing epidemiologic research to policy. Annals of Epidemiology, 25(5), 366-376.