I Wish Mental Health Had A Lobby As Powerful As The NRA: Polls show Americans favor changing gun laws but politicians are too scared

(2-16-18) Consider item one:  “We are committed to working with state and local leaders to help secure our schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health,” Trump said in brief remarks at the White House  following the Florida school shooting.

Consider item two:

Report: Mass Shootings and Mental Illness

By James L. Knoll IV, M.D. George D. Annas, M.D., M.P.H. Copyright © 2016 American Psychiatric Association Publishing. All Rights Reserved. 

Common Misperceptions

Mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent the most significant relationship between gun violence and mental illness.

People with serious mental illness should be considered dangerous.

Gun laws focusing on people with mental illness or with a psychiatric diagnosis can effectively prevent mass shootings.

Gun laws focusing on people with mental illness or a psychiatric diagnosis are reasonable, even if they add to the stigma already associated with mental illness.

Evidence-Based Facts

Mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent less than 1% of all yearly gun-related homicides. In contrast, deaths by suicide using firearms account for the majority of yearly gun-related deaths.

The overall contribution of people with serious mental illness to violent crimes is only about 3%. When these crimes are examined in detail, an even smaller percentage of them are found to involve firearms. 

The mass shootings at Virginia Tech, in Tucson, in Aurora, in Newtown, and at the Navy Yard were clearly related to untreated mental illnesses. There were abundant warning signs.

Author D. J. Jaffe argues that individuals with untreated serious mental illnesses are, in fact, more dangerous than the average American. He writes, “Denial of a link between violence and untreated serious mental illness serves the needs of neither the ill nor the public.”

So who is correct?

It depends on the choice of your wording.

Persons with serious mental illnesses, who are untreated, can be more dangerous than the general public based on the studies that Jaffe cites.

Mass shootings by persons with serious mental illnesses, however, “represent less than 1% of all yearly gun-related homicides,” as the APA documents, “and 3% of violent crimes.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that during any given year – one in five –  Americans have a diagnosable mental illnesses. Using that number, individuals with mental illnesses are clearly more likely to be victims than they are shooters.

There is one fact, however, about these horrific mass shootings that is impossible to dispute. People who committed mass shootings used firearms.

Finally consider this: a majority of Americans, including gun owners, support stricter gun laws. (See Quinnipiac University poll)

Now imagine if those of us who are fighting for better community mental health services had a Washington lobby as strong as the National Rifle Association which clearly has such impact that our elected leaders are frightened to challenge its wishes even though a majority of Americans support change.

American voters support stricter gun laws 60 – 36 percent, the highest level of support ever, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll. The previous high support was 54 – 42 percent June 28.

Voters also support 73 – 25 percent, including 62 – 34 percent among Republicans and 67 – 29 percent among voters in households where there is a gun, a ban on modifications to make a semi-automatic weapon fire more like an automatic weapon, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University Poll finds.

Consistent with every Quinnipiac University poll since February 2013, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Massacre, American voters support 94 – 5 percent requiring background checks for all gun purchases. Voters in gun households support universal background checks 93 – 6 percent. Support for other nationwide gun measures is:

  • 79 – 19 percent for a mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases;
  • 64 – 32 percent for a ban on the sale of assault weapons;
  • 86 – 12 percent for a ban of the sale of guns to people convicted of a violent crime;
  • 58 – 38 percent for stricter regulations on ammunition sales;
  • 64 – 34 percent for a ban on high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

American voters say 63 – 27 percent that it’s possible to make new gun laws without interfering with gun rights. Republicans voters say 51 – 37 percent that it’s possible to make gun laws that don’t interfere with gun rights and voters in gun households agree 57 – 33 percent.

“The Las Vegas massacre echoes though a survey that shows American voters want stricter gun laws and a ban on high-capacity clips and bump stocks, the device that makes a lethal weapon even more lethal,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

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.