Mass Shootings and Mental Illness 

“Nearly one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness (44.7 million in 2016),” (NIMH). Mental illness is a behavioral pattern which is viewed as outside of society’s normal culture or actions. There are two different types of mental illness. For example, “Any mental illness (AMI) is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder. AMI can vary in impact, ranging from no impairment to mild, moderate, and even severe impairment. Serious mental illness (SMI) is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities,” (NIMH). Most of the time, only SMI accompanies violence.

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As shown, weapon threat/use occurs 29.3 percent of time in mentally ill patients. And in recent mass shootings; Sandy Hook, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, etc, semi-automatic rifles, handguns and more have been used to commit these murders and all of the shooters have either claimed mental illness or are deemed mentally ill. A survey states, “Lifetime violence rates were estimated at 15% for the population without mental illness, 33% in those with serious mental illness only, and 55% for those with serious mental illness and substance abuse combined….In a large, nationally representative sample of adults residing in the community (n = 5692), the National Comorbidity Study-Replication study found that 34.1% of persons with lifetime mental disorders had access to a gun, 4.8% carried a gun, and 6.2% stored a gun in an unsafe manner.”(Swanson). The U.S. Government, and U.S. citizens have all recognized this issue and they have created a few preventions. However, how effective are the preventions taken politically, historically, and how will they impact the future?

These graphs by Mass Shooting Tracker show the amount of mass shootings in 2017 and 2018, so far. As shown, 2018 has fewer shootings than previous years, however, only by a little, and since December isn’t over yet, the mass shooting amount can be greater than last year. Only if the amount of mass shootings decreases in the future, will the prevention’s outcomes be apparent. Current Congress is not really worried about the future of gun violence; therefore, they aren’t really concerned about increasing or decreasing the accessibility of guns in the hands of the mentally ill.

Most government preventions which are announced, are not enforced. The United States House of Representatives passed a bill to fund more security at schools, but the bill lacked gun control measures, (CNN Staff). Even the number of mental health records in the government database has nearly quadrupled, and, as of last year, only three states – Montana, Wyoming and New Hampshire – had submitted fewer than 100 records, according to William Rosen, the deputy legal director at Everytown for Gun Safety. More effort is still needed, (Beckett). Few states have taken it upon themselves to issue legislations and restrictions pertaining to purchasing and owning guns. States like Florida and Illinois raised their minimum purchasing age to 21, (CNN). California passed a law creating a “gun violence restraining order”, which gives family members and law enforcement the power to temporarily stop a high-risk person from owning or buying firearms. Washington passed a similar law last year and advocates have launched a joint effort this year across 20 states to pass similar protection orders….

Sandy Hook Promise, a not-for-profit group formed by family members of some of the victims of the 2012 shooting, has developed free training programs to help schoolchildren and adults recognize the signs of at-risk behavior and know how to respond. More than 2 million students and adults have taken part, including students in large public school districts in Miami and Los Angeles…10 states have passed universal background checks or expanded background check requirements, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, part of a laborious, costly effort to close the federal loopholes one state at a time,” (Beckett). Other states like Connecticut pioneered what are called extreme risk protection orders in 1999. The Connecticut law allows police to obtain a court warrant to remove guns from people who pose an imminent risk to themselves or others. The law led to gun removals in 762 cases from 1999 through 2013, according to a study in Law and Contemporary Problems, but the law only works if someone intervenes. The Indiana General Assembly adopted its law in 2005, allowing police to seize weapons from a person considered ‘dangerous'(Jansen).

The government tends to be very perfunctory when it comes down to gun regulations. Especially when the NRA, National Rifle Association, has interfered with various research attempts. According to NPR, “Federal limits on both research into gun violence and the release of data about guns used in crimes are powerful reminders of the lobbying groups’ advantages over gun control activists. For decades, the NRA pushed legislation that stifled the study and spread of information about the causes of gun violence,” (Raphelson). In March, Congress passed a spending bill that included language giving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the authority to resume gun-related studies, but some researchers are skeptical anything will change without funding. The Democrats wrote that part of the bill in order to reverse the Dickey Amendment of 1996, which many believe virtually halted all research on gun violence. The amendment didn’t explicitly ban gun research, but funding cuts reduced it by 90 percent. The National Institute of Justice, the primary Justice Department research office, funded 32 gun-related studies from 1993 to 1999, but none from 2009 to 2012, according to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, (Raphelson).

There are many approaches to how gun control can be enforced in order to prevent mass shootings. APHA believes, “In order to prevent future gun violence, we need: better surveillance, more research, common-sense gun policies, expanded access to mental health services, resources for school and community-base, and gun safety technology,” (APHA). Congress has not took any dramatic steps towards gun control reform and the mental illness. And if their apathy towards gun control continues, then the annual amount of mass shootings may increase as it already is. U.S. citizens are more active on reforming gun laws and gun control in their own states rather than in Congress. They come together and form organizations like the Sandy Hook Promise, Everytown for Gun Safety, etc. These organizations help with decreasing gun violence: however, they don’t have the power to completely stop it like the government. To conclude, mass shootings in the United States are connected to mental health issues and the recent endeavors taken by the U.S. to prevent getting guns into the hands of the mentally ill by citizens are effective, nonetheless, the preventions taken by the government are not effective. 

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Mass Shootings and Mental Illness . (2022, Feb 09). Retrieved September 29, 2022 , from
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