The Questionable Link Between Mass Shootings And Mental Illness

Twenty six year-old Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire inside a South Texas Church earlier this month, killing 26 people and injuring 20 others. Kelley entered the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, dressed in all black and armed with an assault rifle. The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, labelled the attack as the worst mass shooting in the state’s history.

However, it is not the shooting itself that has created waves in the media recently. Instead, it is President Donald Trump’s response to the attack that has sparked media attention. In a tweet addressing the Texas shooting, Trump said the shooting represents a “mental health problem at the highest level”, rather than simply “a gun situation.”

This statement was supported by evidence that Kelley had suffered from serious mental health problems and had been sent to a psychiatric hospital five years earlier after being charged with assaulting his wife and infant stepson.

When surveyed about the relationship between mental health and mass shootings, 63% of Americans believe that mass shootings in the U.S. are more likely to be attributed to mental health disorders than gun control laws.

However, this assumption was recently refuted by the 2015 American Journal of Psychiatry, in a study that showed only three to five percent of violent acts in the U.S. are committed by those suffering some form of mental illness. Moreover, the mentally ill are no more likely to commit acts of violence than those without illness. Despite such clear evidence, Americans refuse to believe that gun control, or lack thereof,  is the source of the problem. Instead, the U.S. continues to blame mass shootings on the result of poor mental health care.

This state of denial has been fueled by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the most prominent gun lobby in the U.S. After the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas in October, the NRA’s Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre attributed the attack to mental illness. “I mean, the outrage they’re trying to stir against the NRA, they ought to be stirring against the mental health system, which has completely collapsed,” LaPierre told CBS following the shooting. The October attack has been declared the worst mass shooting in America’s history, killing 58 people and leaving more than 500 injured. Investigators have not yet said whether the shooter, Stephen Paddock, had a diagnosable mental illness.

When examining the prominent issue of mass shootings in the United States, attention must be focused on gun control, not necessarily mental illness. The right for Americans to bear arms is outlined in the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. This means that any U.S. citizen or permanent resident can acquire a firearm. Of course, there are various background checks that an individual must undertake before possessing a firearm. 

However, many argue that these background checks are neither effective, nor sufficient. In many cases, even though convicted felons or those suffering from mental illness are restricted from acquiring any type of firearm, these weapons still fall in the hands of such individuals. Currently, U.S. law mandates background checks from firearm retailers with a license to sell. This means that sellers without a federal license can often undertake private sales without the need for a background check. This loophole enables almost anyone to acquire firearms. As a result, many are advocating for a “universal background check” for all firearm purchases – whether that be private, unlicensed or anything in between. 

Overall, it is time that the U.S. strongly considers reforming gun control laws in the country, rather than just simply attributing the rising number of mass shootings to a national mental health crisis. Mental illness should no longer be used as a scapegoat for such a significant and timely issue. A state of denial and neglect will not reduce the number of mass shootings in the U.S., but perhaps confronting the issue of control and accessibility will.