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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Blaming Mental Illness for Gun Violence

BY Alex Yablon
The Trace
Originally posted September 1, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Add it all up, and the “mental health” post-shooting playbook looks as calculated to ensure political inaction as it is the appearance of sensitivity. The general public would hardly disagree with statements by Trump, Bush, and others that the severely mentally ill pose a danger; in fact, surveys show that more Americans blame failures of the mental health system for mass shootings than any other factor. Meanwhile the Republican base — not to mention mental health professionals — would hardly countenance any action to expand the reach of background checks to block gun purchases by people with personality disorders or other mental health issues that are not quite so debilitating as conditions that require hospitalization, like schizophrenia or psychosis. So politicians can make statements like “The common thread we see in many of these cases is a failure in the system to help someone who is suffering from mental illness” (Scott Walker, the day after the WDBJ shooting), knowing full well they will not result in any action that could anger their pro-gun supporters.

In fact, framing incidents of gun violence as the product of unsettled perpetrators, versus firearms risks, may influence support for given solutions among the general public. An NPR article published on August 31 describes a psychiatric study in which two groups of subjects were given hypothetical news articles about a mass shooting, slightly altered to emphasize different underlying causes. Readers of the version emphasizing the need to “keep dangerous guns off our streets” were more likely to support limits on gun magazine capacity.

The irony of the psychiatric turn in debate on new gun law is that, for the most part, a body of research shows the severely mentally ill are among the least of our worries when it comes to violent crime, especially when compared to other risk factors. Alcohol, for example, is a factor in 40 percent of all violent acts committed in the United States today, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

The entire article is here.

The full title is: The Political Strategy Behind the GOP’s Post-Shooting ‘Mental Health’ Playbook