Guns—Not the Mentally Ill—Kill People


After a year of violent tragedies that culminated with the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, America is finally having a conversation about gun control. For the many who want to decrease access to firearms in the wake of several mass shootings, new laws being proposed around the country to limit and regulate guns and ammunition represent a momentous first step.

But running through the gun-control debate is a more delicate conversation: how to handle mental-health treatment in America. Among both Democrats and Republicans, in both the pro-gun and anti-gun lobbies, there’s a widespread belief that mental-health treatment and monitoring is key to decreasing gun violence. Shining more light on the needs and struggles of the mentally ill would normally be a positive change; mental-health programs and services have been cut year after year in the name of austerity. But in the context of gun violence, those with mental illness have become easy scapegoats. Rather than offering solutions to the existing problems that patients and providers face, policymakers instead promise to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. The trouble is, that often means presenting policies that are actually detrimental to mental-health treatment—threatening doctor-patient confidentiality, expanding forced treatment rather than successful voluntary programs, and further stigmatizing people with databases that track who’s been committed to hospitals or mental institutions.

The National Rifle Association has led the charge to blame those with mental illness. “The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters—people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them,” NRA executive vice president Wayne Lapierre said at his December 21 press conference. “How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation's refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?” Ann Coulter was more succinct: "Guns don’t kill people—the mentally ill do.” 

It's not just the NRA and the right wing who are turning mentally ill Americans into political pawns. See, for instance, New York’s new gun-control law, the first passed after Newtown. In addition to banning assault weapons and semiautomatic guns with military-level components, the legislation requires therapists, nurses and other mental-health-care providers to alert state health authorities if they deem a patient is a danger to self or others. That would then allow the state to confiscate the person’s guns. The measure broadens the confiscation powers to include those who voluntarily seek commitment to a mental-health facility—in other words, the people who get help without being forced. Finally, it strengthens Kendra’s Law, which allows the courts to involuntarily commit the mentally ill. 

Other states will very likely follow suit. Legislatures in Ohio and Colorado will both consider measures to make it easier to commit people. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley wants to broaden the range of people banned from owning guns to include those who have been civilly committed to mental institutions at any time. Policymakers in Louisiana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Utah have also proposed measures aimed specifically at keeping the mentally ill from getting guns.

The new rules and proposals perpetuate the assumption that people with mental illness are dangerous; instead of making people safer, the requirements may hurt efforts to get the mentally ill treatment. For instance, the expanded reporting requirements mean mental-health providers must alert officials if a patient may harm herself or others. Law-enforcement officials can then show up and confiscate any guns the patient owns. Mental-health providers are already supposed to report if a patient seems in imminent danger of doing harm, but the new law broadens that rule. It could easily chip away trust between therapists and their patients. The threat of gun confiscation may make it less likely that folks like policemen and veterans suffering from trauma get help, since many are gun owners. “It’s very hard to get people to come forward and get help,” says Ron Honberg, the national director for policy and legal affairs at the mental-health advocacy group National Alliance on Mental Illness. “If they’re aware that by seeking help they’re going to lose their right to have a gun, we’re concerned it’s going to have a chilling effect.”

It’s also not likely to slow down the violence. Predicting murderous behavior is extremely difficult and most of the time, the providers can’t do it accurately. “We’re making an assumption that violence can be predicted," Honberg says. In fact, it’s lack of treatment, combined with substance abuse and a history of violence, that tend to be the best predictors of future violence. Yet many of New York’s new laws—like the reporting requirements and the push to put more mentally ill people in government databases—target those who are already getting help.

The issue is not that mental-health advocates want to arm more people but that those with mental illness are being singled out by often well-intended gun-control measures, which could increase the stigma around getting help. By focusing on keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill specifically—and not those who have histories of substance abuse, domestic violence, and other predictors of violent behavior—these laws perpetuate the idea that the mentally ill are an overwhelming threat. So does a recent report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which highlights the gaps in reporting mentally ill people to the NICS database; in red pullout text, it prominently displays examples of mentally ill people responsible for violence.

The stereotype that the mentally ill are very violent is simply incorrect. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, people with severe mental illness, like schizophrenia, are up to three times more likely to be violent, but “most people with [severe mental illness] are not violent and most violent acts are not committed by people with [severe mental illness.]” On the whole, those with mental illness are responsible for only 5 percent of violent crimes.

“People with mental illness are so much more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators that it’s almost immeasurable,” says Debbie Plotnick, the senior director of state policy at Mental Health America, an advocacy group for mental-health treatment. According to one study, people with mental illness are 11 times more likely to be the victims of violence.

Fortunately, the national conversation hasn’t been entirely negative. Advocates see an undeniable opportunity to get more funding and attention to mental-health services. For the first time in recent memory, governors and lawmakers across the political spectrum are pushing for more dollars to help those with mental illness. That’s particularly important because over the past four years, $4.35 billion was cut in funding for Medicaid mental-health funding, substance abuse, housing, and other mental-health programs at the state and federal level. Now, even Kansas’s ultra-conservative Governor Sam Brownback is pushing for $10 million more for mental-health care. South Carolina Governor Nicki Haley, a Tea Party favorite, has also argued for an increase in funding. In Oklahoma, Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, legislatures will very likely consider investing more heavily in treatment of mental illness.

The investment is badly needed. Over the years, most states have cut back to only providing emergency and crisis care for mental illnesses. That's both expensive and ineffective. Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitative Services, says the most successful programs are those that focus on getting a patient help wherever they are, while providing other necessities like housing. For instance, the “housing first” model provides housing to people who might not otherwise qualify and then layers on services like mental health and substance-abuse treatment. Such programs, like New York’s Pathways to Housing, have an astounding 85 percent retention rate, and according to Rosenthal, they’re successful because they tailor to a person’s specific needs rather than telling patients, “You're mentally ill and you need medicine.”

More attention to the cracks in care for the mentally ill is a good thing. While it may not have much to do with gun violence, there is a serious mental-health-care problem in the country.


The problem is that guns are the symptom of the illness. Imagining the overwhelming need is part of the problem.

Saying "guns are the symptom of the illness" is like saying having a car is a symptom of road rage. Just because there is a correlation between mentally ill people and guns does not mean that there is a causation relationship.

The Democrat mind will try any angle, no matter how foolish. All the mass shooters were suffering from mental illness and were taking anti-depressive medication. Oh, and all were Democrats too (maybe that’s the true root cause of the problem).

Yes, I think the mass shooters probably were suffering from mental illness. But how do you know that all were taking anti-depressants? That they were all Democrats? And are you saying that these medications cause mass shootings?

Most gun violence isn't a mass shooting. Most entail one-to-one humdrum incidents involving acquaintances, neighbors, family members, or suicide. Maybe there's a history of mental illness (particularly in the last) but for the most part it's usually some combination of alcohol, carelessness, poorly expressed anger, and easy access to firearms.

"On the whole, those with mental illness are responsible for only 5 percent of violent crimes."

That's an interesting and utterly meaningless statistic. While only 5 percent of violent crimes in general may be attributable to mental illness, virtually 100 percent of the slaughters like Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech have been committed by individuals with serious, previously identified but largely untreated mental problems.

Like it or not, a gun is an inanimate object. No gun has ever jumped up, on its own and harmed anyone. The person holding the gun is always the problem, whether mentally disturbed or not.

Well, the author didn't explain the statistic very well. Only a small percentage of violent crimes are mass shootings like Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech---which were committed by individuals who clearly were mentally ill. I think the statistic refers to the constant deluge of day-to-day gun violence, the great majority of which is committed by people who do not appear to be mentally ill. People exactly like your neighbors, your family, and you (I'm assuming you're mentally sound).

Those damn guns! Walking out of the store, grabbing some ammo on the way, filling it's own magazine, placing the mag where the sun don't shine, charging it's self and pulling it's own trigger.....

Pencils, not people, misspell words.

before anyone says that drunks not cars cause the bulk of the carnage on the roads. remember the Stephen King documentary on a rabid car.

""Christine is a 1983 American Horror thriller film (documentary) about a sentient automobile named "Christine" and its effects on its teenaged owner, written by Stephen King.""
Yes, yes some creative editing by me - sorry

before anyone says that drunks not cars cause the bulk of the carnage on the roads. remember the Stephen King documentary on a rabid car.

""Christine is a 1983 American Horror thriller film (documentary) about a sentient automobile named "Christine" and its effects on its teenaged owner, written by Stephen King.""
Yes, yes some creative editing by me - sorry

I stopped reading at "It’s also not likely to slow down the violence. Predicting murderous behavior is extremely difficult and most of the time, the providers can’t do it accurately." So, it's not behavior that kills people (regardless of the tool used) but it is? Right in the quote says "murderous behavior". Is that NOT a key indicator that it IS mental illness??

Why can Lefties not think in clear terms and see fact? They must start using their brains instead of their hearts to create policy.

I'm curious why the liberals haven't attacked the group that recently called for more armed guards in their schools with the same vitriol as the NRA and others?

I guess the FACT that the Newtown School Board was the one calling for armed guards made their tirade a bit tougher. (which is why nobody in the media has reported it. Curious, isn't it?)

Guns, not laws, protect the innocent from being killed.

Of course the liberals and politicians in general want to 'do something' about these killings, even though they only represent 1% of the deaths by gun overall. Spree killings are not on the rise (about 150 per year killed in these type of killings, so the author is right that the mentally ill account for a small part of the issue. Most gun deaths are from gang related crime and domestic violence (15,000 per year), and you don't hear a peep about the gang culture and black america's over representation as perpetrators and victims, nor any mention of the 'gangsta' culture that is so prevalent in our pop culture.

No, politicians want to do something symbolic, not meaningful. Hardly news to the rest of us.

Sad but true. Gun violence in the US is no greater than in Europe - if all you count is the white population. Once you get the minorities into the mix..then we have high rates. Truly a culture issue. In DC and Chicago with strict gun laws you have a lot of gun violence, in neighboring communities in Alexandria and Schaumburg with "lax" gun laws, not so much.
If it is any comfort to the left, the vast majority of gun deaths are suicides (60% vs 30% homicides) . So perhaps the problem is self correcting.

Keeping the mentally deranged focused on guns may actually limit the carnage. All James Holmes had to do was block the exits at that theater in Colorado, douse the entrance in gasoline, and light a fire or throw a Molotov cocktail in there. And perhaps he could have used large shop fans to fan the flames & channel the deadly fumes back into the theater. The shooter in Newtown could've done the same.

I think it boils down to two very liberal concepts:

1. That liberalism seeks unchallenged control; that the removal of guns from the citizens strengthens a predominantly liberal, ruling class, and
2. the 'Mommy State' that fosters a dependancy on government, punishes independant thought and self-motivation, and restricts successes that would compete with the dependancy concepts.

My observation is that 99% of the Dems and more than 50% of the Repubs are liberal is fiscal policies and governance. They've made a profession not as leaders, but as rulers - now, the liberal ruler elite - exepting themselves from law and accountability, protected by a complict liberal media, and re-elected by self-serving political base of government dependants.

Liberalism will cause the death of freedom and the United States.

I'm sorry but the title of this piece is just another piece of meaningless rhetoric just as stupid and lazy as if it has said the opposite. Killing requires both an agent and means. You can certainly argue about one particular agent or means being more or less important, but please don't characterize it with bullshit titles like this one. I'm not commenting on the content of the article because frankly I'm too annoyed by the cheesy title to read it.

It may the drugs. In nearly every case of a psychopathic killer in the last few decades, whether using guns, baseball bats, knives, machete's, and even a bathtub, the killer had been on some kind of psychiatric drug. In the other than "nearly every case", the medical history has not been released.

Columbine. Aurora, Virginia Tech, Ikeda, Jokela, Sudbury, Dekalb, Fresno, Kauhajoki, Houston. The list goes on and on. Dozens of them. You do not hear about the ones that do not use guns so much, except maybe Yates. But a gun is just one of the many tools. They were all on drugs or had recently stopped taking them.

For LaPierre to complain about the lack of a national database of mentally ill individuals is a classic case of the NRA's tactic of pot calling kettle black. We don't have a national database of public health info related to gun violence. And why not? Because the NRA has lobbied for the Tiahrt amendments and other legislation to forbid the CDC, NIH, ATF and other agencies from collecting data on gun violence.

Pretty blatant that this is just another try to limit the 2nd amendment. As soon as you said, "to limit and regulate guns and ammunition represent a momentous first step", it is obvious you don't want to have a discussion about this issue. You are just going to use this as a foot in the door or "first step" to eventually get to the real goal of eliminating private gun ownership.

"perpetuate the assumption that people with mental illness are dangerous"

A straw man argument. Whether or not proposals to identify and commit dangerous people are practical and will be effective, they are not predicated on the "assumption that people with mental illness are dangerous" - they are predicated on the fact that SOME people with mental illness are dangerous.

Whether the measure proposed will help, I don't know. Certainly, great care would have to be taken - and some dangerous people will always be missed.

What the author doesn't offer is any reason to think that gun restrictions will prevent dangerous people from getting their hands on guns.

Guns ARE the problem.
The "military style weapons" should be banned. Large capacity magazines (over 7 rounds) should be banned.
Background checks must be for ALL gun transfers.
Gun trafficking must be made illegal.

If we do this we all will be saver.

Not everyone who uses a gun to kill another is mentally ill. They made a choice to pick up the weapon and kill. But I am so tired of those who beat their chests that I will not have my rights taken away...somewhere along the line you have forgotten all those who lay buried, all those families who mourn, who are angry because their loved ones will never have the right to speak out on their rights because in one moment their voices were silenced forever.
I have no issue with someone owning a gun but I do take issue with assault weapons, like the one my son used in Iraq, to be accessible to anyone. I have not heard one reasonable point of view as to the necessity of that type of weapon. Seriously you all need to reach inside your souls and search for an answer. You set in judgement on this group or that group.
Too many lives have been lost and there is no one singular answer. In CT last week hundreds showed up at the legislative office building to speak for and against gun control yet the very next day only a handful showed up to speak on mental health.
Seriously you all need to get a grip.....
Thank Abby!

It goes without saying that someone who walks into a crowded public place and starts shooting people is mentally ill. This does not alter the fact that he is far more dangerous having a gun than he would be without one. We need both better monitoring and treatment of mental illness, and better regulation of guns.

We don't lack regulation of guns. We do lack the ability to lock up severely disturbed people.

What do people's fetishes with guns & weapons have to say about human civilization in the 21st century? What are we? Nomads? Are we still of the mindset that every stranger we meet is out to get us?

Heal those that need healing. Help those that are crying and in need. And put away this fetish called guns.

No gun left to itself kills.

Some who are mentally ill, DO kill even when left to themselves.

When a mentally ill person comes into possession of a powerful weapon they can use it to kill more efficiently.

You're simply wrong, Ms Rapaport.

I think a lot of times it is when passion overcomes rational thought, that's when people make the ultimate mistake of playing god and killing some one. And sometimes that effect is multiplied if alcohol is involved, like the instance with Joven Belcher, no history of mental illness... Just tensions with the opposite sex, and alcohol blinded his inhibitions and he popped. I don't blame the guns, I blame American society, our culture massages our insecurities by offering guns and our irrational fear drives us to defend gun ownership even in the wake of 20 children getting killed. Most people don't have to thank gun ownership for their life being here safe today, but we sure as hell fight tooth and nail to keep our options because you just never know...
That's what I find to be troubling the issue here, our culture.
All it takes is one small instance of getting overwhelmed and if a gun is in reach (usually the case all over the US) then there is the risk of passion taking a life overboard with it. Once done it cannot be erased, gun accidents and incidents are too lethal.

The absurdity of the title of this ill conceived essay is enough to make me puke! Since when does a gun do anything on its own. It is an inanimate object you stupid fools AKA liberals

Last I head it takes a human to pull the trigger or drive a car which are both inanimate objects. Without the human ZERO will happen.
If you are going to blame the gun then you need to blame the car for all car related deaths.

So your argument is that it is too difficult to properly,accurartely and fairly diagnose and categorize those with mental health problems and therefor we should simply ban guns?How about identifying simple minded thinkers and bamming them from their 1st Amendment right to express their thoughts. Ithought not.

This Apparently Sugggests
Mental Health Screening
For Would-Be Gun Owners Would
Discourage Those Needing Help From
Seeking It. Though I Loathe
The Thought Of Someone Thinking
Of Me And The Coulter-Types Having
Anything In Common Politically Or
Economically (I Oppose Monopolies
Entrenched By Force And Denial
Of Rights, And I Oppose Scapegoating
For Enabling The Folly Of Monopolists,)
The Authors Must Not
Have Considered The Approach I
Suggest, Which Requires Disclosure
To No One But Simply Denies Gun
Ownership Absent Compliance. My View
Is To Simply Cite The Very Real
Fact Of The Militia Vs. Personal
Ownership View Of The 2d Amendment
(No One’s Going To Care About My
View As To That) And Then Propose
A Means Of Basic Protection.

Good Summary

On The Supreme
Court's Treatment Of The Second
Amendment (State Militia Vs.
Individual Gun Ownership)

Guns Can Be Bought To Serve Not-
Self-Understood Emotional Issues.

Undiagnosed, Untreated Paranoids
Own Guns. Persons With Uncontrollable
Rage Own Guns. Persons Prone To
Getting Drunk Own Guns. Persons
Falling Under All Combinations And
Permutations Of The Above Own Guns.

Psychological Testing Is Sufficiently
Sophisticated That Psych Tests
Could Be Integrated Into The
Gun Acquisition Process. It
Doesn't Have To Be Costly, Or
Cost Anything At All, Or
Particularly Lengthy. Results
Can Be Analyzed
Electronically, Centrally.




Views as to Coulter/Coulter-types reflect personal opinion only.

Wow, the gun advocates are out in number (even though they are a minority of the population) with their usual ad hominem attacks on liberals and made-up stuff about their 2nd Amendment rights being in jeopardy (yeah, only if you want to have a tank or bazooka in your rec room).
All this nonsense about guns not killing anyone; that's right, but it's killers (or participants in accidents) with a gun. The focus on mass murders misses the daily carnage in this country from guns: not just gang violence but accidents, murders of family members in hot blood, suicide, etc.
The numbers are overwhelming. No other country has anywhere like this kind of gun-driven bloodshed. They have violent media and mentally ill people, but they also have what we don't: limits on the most dangerous weapons.
Is that American exceptionalism? We value abstract principles (or more accurately, paranoid interpretations of them supposedly being under threat) more than human life?
The majority get it. This time we will prevail, with common sense rules, and all the flimflammery and gun lobby money won't be enough.

Someone wrote: "The absurdity of the title of this ill conceived essay is enough to make me puke! Since when does a gun do anything on its own. It is an inanimate object you stupid fools AKA liberals"

This incorrect argument is used over and over again. The discouraging thing about the gun debate is the fact that such demonstrably incorrect reasoning continues to have purchase.

The fact that a gun does not have intent does not, of course, mean that the gun is not the problem. The gun is a tool that arguably enables the human agent with evil intent to actualize that intent. So, to the extent that it is particularly effective tool in this respect in relation to other tools for visiting death and injury, it is indeed very much the problem.

Again, we really should not have to have this particular discussion - the "its only a tool" argument can be undermined by a ninth grader. So why do we keep hearing it? There may, repeat may, be legitimate arguments to allow citizens to have guns. Lets concentrate on those and discard the clearly fallacious ones.

I wonder when people will bring up Vermont, a state where anyone 16 or over can buy a gun and legally carry it around concealed without a license, yet it's the second safest state in the union despite the most liberal gun laws.

The NRA would love to push a narrative that only criminals and the mentally ill misuse firearms and are a threat to society; the rest are "law abiding citizens" like their membership. They don't want us to delve into the mentality of those who seem obsessed with gun ownership and compelled to target practice. One wonders what the purpose of target practicing with an assault rifle really means. This country has a lot of problems to address like jobs, the environment and our infrastructure needs. The right wing wants the entire national focus to be on their vision of Armaggedon and government tyranny and armed conflict. Talk about the mentally ill.

Sociopaths are probably responsible for most of the shootings! People get shot and killed everyday.

Antisocial personality disorder.

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