Shamefully, The NRA Tries To Link Las Vegas Mass Murders To Mental Illness When Its Solely About Guns

(10-09-17) Even though there is no evidence that Las Vegas mass murderer Stephen Paddock was mentally ill, NRA national spokesperson Dana Loesch was quick to link mental illness with mass murders when she appeared on Fox and Friends shortly after the shooting.

At the 2:46 minute mark of the embedded video above, you can hear Loesch citing the shootings at Virginia Tech University and in Aurora as evidence that “Monsters exist. It’s a scary thing to realize evil is among us. … Our members and millions of innocent Americans just want to know what they can do to protect themselves from those monsters.”

She was joined Sunday by her boss, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre who stated on Face the Nation that a failed mental health system is a major contributor to mass shootings.

I mean, the outrage they’re trying to stir against the N.R.A. they ought to be stirring against the mental health system, which has completely collapsed.

Those two NRA figures were not the only high profile spokesmen tying guns to mental illness.

“Mental-health reform is the critical ingredient to making sure that we can try and prevent some of these things that have happened in the past,” House Speaker Paul Ryan chimed in on Tuesday in response to reporter questions about mass shooters.

And during the last twenty-four hours, stories have been making the rounds that authorities believe Paddock may have had a mental illness – it just wasn’t diagnosed. This appears to be based on a common assumption that no one would commit a mass murder unless they were clearly mentally unstable.

So here we go again. Americans with mental illnesses are being demonized and portrayed as those most responsible for mass murders when that simply is not true.

In an article published in The Atlantic entitled: “Why Better Mental Health Care Wouldn’t Stop Mass Shootings, writer Olga Khazan notes:

The connection between mental illness and mass shootings is weak, at best, because while mentally ill people can sometimes be a danger to themselves or others, very little violence is actually caused by mentally ill people. When the assailants are mentally ill, the anecdotes tend to overshadow the statistics. Both Jared Loughner, who shot and severely injured Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and the Aurora, Colorado, shooter James Holmes, for example, had histories of mood disorders. But a study of convicted murderers in Indiana found that just 18 percent had a serious mental-illness diagnosis. Killers with severe mental illnesses, in that study, were actually less likely to target strangers or use guns as their weapon, and they were no more likely than the mentally healthy to have killed multiple people.

One review paper published in 2014 found that though “a history of childhood abuse, binge drinking, and male gender” are all linked to serious violence, mental illness was not, unless the person was also a drug addict. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, fewer than 5 percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with a mental illness. A 2001 study of teen mass murders found that only one out of four was mentally ill.

Added the Washington Post on Sunday in an article entitled Five Myths About Gun Violence:

National opinion polls show that the majority of Americans believe that mental illness, and the failure of the mental-health system to identify those at risk of dangerous behavior, is an important cause of gun violence. 

Research says otherwise. Only an estimated 4 percent of violence against others is caused by the symptoms of serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Impulsivity, angertraumatic life events such as job loss or divorce, and problematic alcohol use are all stronger risk factors for gun violence . Research also shows that mental-health-care providers are poor predictors of which patients will go on to harm others. Further, most people with mental illness will never become violent, and most gun violence is not caused by mental illness.

But mental illness is a strong risk factor for firearm suicide, which accounts for the majority of gun deaths in the United States. While improving America’s mental-health system would benefit millions of people with mental illness, it would not substantially reduce gun violence against others.

All mental health organizations, except one, have strongly challenged the link between mental illness and violence. On its website, The Treatment Advocacy Center acknowledges that:

  1. Most individuals with serious mental illness are not dangerous.
  2. Most acts of violence are committed by individuals who are not mentally ill.
  3. Individuals with serious mental illness are victimized by violent acts more often than they commit violent acts.

But it notes:

That being said, a small number of individuals with serious mental illnesses commit acts of violence. Individuals who are not being treated commit almost all of these acts; many of them also abusing alcohol or drugs.

TAC’s narrow focus is aimed at supporting Assisted Outpatient Treatment laws and other changes in the law, primarily civil commitment standards, that would allow parents and others to intervene before someone becomes a danger to themselves or others, which is the core criteria for civil commitment.

TAC’s mentioning of violence and using tragedies, such as the murders of Kendra Webdale and Laura Wilcox to pass AOT laws in New York and California respectively, have angered many in the mental health community but are viewed by others as simply being realistic.

In a Huffington Post article entitled: Why The Public Doesn’t Trust Mental Health Advocates, former TAC board member and author/advocate D. J. Jaffe wrote:

Until the mental health establishment openly and honestly admits there is an issue of violence among people with untreated serious mental illness, they simply do not deserve a table at the public debate. And when public officials rely on these advocates for direction, one has to ask, “Who’s crazy?”

For me, statements by the NRA’s Dana Loesch and Wayne LaPierre unfairly promote stigma and serve as a useful NRA dodge. If either of them actually cared about improving access to mental health services, I would have more respect for what they said. But they are simply firing words that hurt innocent people rather than bullets.

At the same time, pretending that a small number of individuals with severe mental illnesses are never dangerous rings hollow to the public.

What is missing from this repetitive debate is that in most mass shootings that do involve individuals such as Jared Loughner, James Holmes, and Sung-Hui Cho, there were ample warning signs that something was wrong, yet for a variety of reasons, the mental health and our legal system failed to stop them.

In the case of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock, there doesn’t appear to have been such advance warnings.

That is why having NRA spokespersons blame individuals with serious mental illnesses and media speculation that Paddock was mentally ill, just no one recognized it, is insulting, counter-productive and ignores the obvious.

In the Las Vegas shooting, the debate has nothing to do with our mental health system. It has everything to do with access to guns.


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.