NAMI’s Official Stand on Guns, Violence and Mental Illness


The National Alliance on Mental Illness has released a statement about Guns, Mental Illness and Violence. Give my recent blog posts about NAMI and its official policies, I wanted to share this policy statement with you.

Guns, Mental Illness and Violence — an Official Statement

NAMI’s public policy platform recognizes that most acts of violence or dangerous acts by people affected by mental illness are the result of mental health systems’ treatment failures. Public policies and programs that provide access to early diagnosis, crisis intervention, appropriate treatment and support, including integrated treatment when there is co-occurring substance abuse, must be available and accessible. In addition, family support and education must be available and promoted.

It is recognized that it is currently easier for individuals to gain access to guns than it is for an individual to access mental health treatment and services. Firearms regulations and safety as well as widespread access to mental health crisis intervention, support and treatment should be promoted. People with mental illness should not be treated differently with respect to guns and firearms due to their condition.


One in four adults—nearly 60 million Americans—experiences a mental health disorder in a given year. One in 17 lives with serious mental illness, and one in 10 children lives with a mental health condition. Yet fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a diagnosed mental disorder receive mental health services in a given year.

There is widespread agreement that most people with mental illness are not violent. Research that has been conducted on the relationship between mental illness and violence shows that there are certain factors that may increase risks of violence among a small subset of individuals with mental illness. These factors include:

• Co-occurring abuse of alcohol or illegal drugs;

• Untreated psychosis;

• Past history of violence; and/or

• Being young and male.

To the extent that certain individuals with mental illness may pose an increased risk of violence, the best way to reduce this risk is through treatment.

Lack of available services is a significant contributor to lack of treatment. Additionally, some people with mental illness do not accept treatment that may be available for reasons that include fears about adverse consequences such as loss of employment or housing or as a consequence of lack of insight and awareness about one’s need for treatment, a condition referred to by many in the medical profession as Anasognosia.

Broadening gun reporting criteria in federal and state law, however well intentioned, could have the effect of creating further barriers to the willingness of individuals to seek treatment and help when they most need it. An individual who believes that participating in mental health treatment could subject him or herself to placement in a database maintained by the FBI or the state police will be highly reluctant if not outright resistant to participating in such care.

Solutions to gun violence associated with mental illness lie in improving access to treatment, not in erecting further barriers to treatment.

Advocacy Priorities and Goals

• Federal and state gun reporting laws should be based on violence, not mental illness. Research should be conducted to better identify predictors of gun violence and laws subsequently crafted to reflect these predictors.

• Efforts to modernize federal standards pertaining to including individuals with serious mental illness on the NICS reporting system should be based on current scientific knowledge about factors that may increase risks of violence among persons with mental illness. States must be provided with clear guidance about who should be  reported and who should not be reported.

• Federal legislation should be enacted to eliminate highly offensive and outdated terminology currently contained in the NICS reporting law, specifically the term “individuals adjudicated as being mentally defective.”

• Since treatment is the best way to address violence among the small subset of individuals with mental illness who pose an increased risk, the federal government and states should allocate more resources for mental health treatment. Treatment resources should particularly be focused on early identification, early intervention and  evidence-based mental health treatments.

• Strong safeguards must be established in federal and state gun reporting databases to protect the privacy of  individuals whose names are included and to ensure that the identities of such individuals are not shared or used for any other purposes.

— March 2013

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.


  1. Excellent statement!

  2. The most common profiled finding in people who commit mass shootings is the their attempt to be heard. They write letters to the government, newspapers, any one they see as a possible position of power. These letters are usually ignored. They are usually socially awkward anyway, but the repeated refusal to listen, leads them to look for something that can not be ignored. They tend to choose nursery schools, elementary schools… it punishes the public while assuring that there message will be recognized. That need to be heard literally eclipses everything, and they make no plans to elude capture and usually commit suicide at the seen in one form or fashion. While I think the acts are slightly different in recent shootings, I think the motivation is similar. A few tragic shootings capture our society, but fifty years of dehumanization, cruelty for monetary and political agenda, and no one even notices. Even child murderers are awarded constitutional rights and protections. The Criminal Law, in this country is about who we hate the most. You can see this in action with the methods of holding child molesters indefinably, even though the eigth Amendment establishes protection against it and it is a clear violation of their constitutional rights. How did they get around this? a week or so before their time is served, the are commited the state finds that they suffer from a unnamed mental illness which they are denied freedom into they can prove to be cured. Even Congress got into the act by placing themselves in control of this even though the criminal law has always fallen to the state and is a clear violation of their powers. That is how secure the politicians are in the absence of any legal protections for the mentally ill that they use it to secure constitutional violations of those who previously had them, and no one even notices. Now imagine how small that realization makes you feel..

    • Terri Wasilenko says

      I was upset to learn Jared L. could receive the death penalty. What he did was wrong but life in prison with mental health care (if he chooses it) is more humane.

      • It is encouraging to know that others are concerned about the slaughtering of mentally ill people. An avid reader since childhood, newspapers have informed me of the ongoing gassing, hanging, firing squad and electrocution of mentally ill and mentally retarded convicted felons. When I became mentally ill as a teen, I certainly had a strong motivation to stay well, as it was clear one doesn’t get a fair shake when the words mental illness or retardation are attached to you! To this day, each time I learn of a mentally ill or retarded person being executed, I am enraged. It is the ultimate abuse of a sick, needy, and helpless population. The evil need for revenge by both the families of victims and prideful do-gooders exalting themselves for ridding the world of vermin, ensure that stigma, and hate, and revulsion become jiustified and even holy. The media applauds, parties are thrown to celebrate and movies are made to distort the image of crazed serial killer-mass murder types. And the public loves it!

        It takes me several days to recover when I learn of another murder of a mentally ill person. With the rage there is grief, much sadness for the condition of our society, much inner reflection and survivors guilt, By the grace of God, there go I,

        Executing people who can and should be helped by medical treatment is barbarism. Refusing to afford them treatment in the first place, and directly causing them to become sicker and possibly criminal, is evidence of the moral decay in our country. There will never be improvement in mental health care,acceptance of the mentally ill as useful people in society, a matter of-fact attitude toward eveyone’s unique brain condition, and never any social equality to replace stigma – unless – a change of heart occurs. Not laws, not mandates or polite words, or trumped up pseodo-serious acts of compassion.

        To fear, ignore, typecast, shun, refuse to treat, and kill the

        mentally ill – in short, to disrespect them as honorable people as deserving of all of life as any other, are outward actions that begin directly in the human heart.

        You can’t make a bigot love the blacks, and you can’t force a religious zealot to love the gays. And you can’t force anyone to learn about or respect the mentally ill unless they want to!

        The beat goes on – its been 40 years since ! was assigned a Social Security number while in a state hospital and a social worker found me a job, from which I returned each day to sleep in the shared dormitory. I’m still looking for work.

        Unfortunately, stigma is worse now than it was then.

        You can change the laws – but its the human hearts that are etched in stone.

      • Terri Wasilenko says

        I mean James Holmes- Sorry.

  3. advocate4treatment says

    As always. NAMI ignores the elephant in the room. While they mentioned lack of insight (anosognosia) as a reason some people with mental illness do not accept treatment, there is no mention of the benifits of AOT to help them receive the treatment they may need. Shame that NAMI continues to avoid standing up for sensible, timely treatment proven to reduce homelessness, incarceration, violence and victimization.

    • Terri Wasilenko says

      NAMI NYS supports Kendra’s Law (AOT) and has been instrumental in closing loop holes in the law making it a viable treatment option for some individuals with serious, chronic nental illness. I say some individuals because I know of an individual that will not participate in his AOT mandated program. I often think that investing in MORE community-based treatment programs would reduce the need for AOT because an earlier intervention would result in fewer psychotic breaks damaging the brain and taking one farther away from recovery. Just my perspective…..


  4. I’m not sure what ‘research’ was done to come up with a listing of
    reasons for violence among the mentally ill. The number one reason for any and all violence by the mentally ill is stigma. Stigma enrages the mentally ill. Whether its job discrimination, social ostracization, family rejection, or typecasting, humiliating comments from mental health workers, daily exposure to a stigmatizing society causes stress, anxiety, depression and anger. If you hava a serious untreated mental illness, the tendancy is to strike out in violence. If you have a treatable mental illness that you’re responsibly living with, you are just as susceptible to righteous anger as a response to human rights violations via stigma. The mentally ill are not violent – period. They are pushed, like any one else, toward last ditch violent acts. If love and acceptance replaced the fear and hatred which is stigma, there would be no violence.
    Families endure the fringes of stigma – but society both shames and sympathizes with them.They gain support and momentum from other families. Not so with the mentally ill. Ours is an individual curse, a battle with our souls and well-being, a very personal affliction that we must deal with alone, every minute , every hour. The cruel thorns of stigma are ours to deal with, as fingers point at us, people laugh, and we’re told we’re not welcome in certain social circles.If we’re healthy and gainfully employed, its our burden to dispel stigma. We feel obligated to expose our most personal mental illness, and offer explanations and facts so that the stigmatizing public will not fear and shun us. What a life!
    I suggest the NAMI and other advocacy groups enlist all their members to live in a psych ward for 30 days, and then live and work in a community and stay well, non violent, surrounded by stigmatizing people!
    There ought to be a National Day recognizing the many brave, good-hearted mentally ill people who strive to enjoy life in a world so twisted by fear, pride, and stigma.

    • Terri Wasilenko says

      More compassion and empathy are needed for persons working their way through a mental illness. But families don’t always get the supports that you think they get. Not all family members handle stigma constructively. Some families are torn apart by their loved one’s illness further stressing the family unit. Some members are understanding and ‘get it’ while others have no tolerance and just make things worse. Some families don’t rally around each other but split apart. When you are a parent stigma hurts deeply too, So sorry that you have to deal with cruel, ignorant remarks.

      • You are right, Terri. I come from a family where 5% are supportive and the rest close their eyes and run away. I feel sorry for the 5% because, boy, do I lean on them! I have recently endured viscious job discrimination ‘justified’ by people who simply don’t want a person w/ a mental health diagnosis working for them. You can imagine the stress in being forced to disclose one’s most personal health criteria in order to follow through with the state and federal ADA violations reporting procedures. I have no NAMI, no advocacy group, no therapist, no support. Perhaps because my family shunned me at an early age, I learned to manage and recover from my serious mental illness with as few supports as possible. Regardless, I’m going through a rough time, taking notes on who and what is there for me, and as I value my sanity more than life itself, I will make sure that I emerge from this latest bout with stigma, as confident and healthy as ever.
        If there were compassion and empathy in abundance, I would not be writing this blog. Those two invaluable virtues cannot be legislated, cannot be forced on any society. Stigmatization of the mentally ill is a disease of the heart. Every time I encounter it, I remind myself to be empathetic, understanding and forgiving toiward those who are too blind and ignorant, too full of fear, to love their fellow man.
        Thank you for your kind words.

  5. It is announcements like this from NAMI that are leading many to look to start an organization to do what they used to: help people with serious mental illness