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violence is plaguing the United States of America, seemingly more and more
every day. With these increasing numbers comes even more opponents
to guns, but surprisingly, also more proponents. After every mass shooting or nationally
recognized act of gun violence, one of the first things scrutinized is the
suspect’s mental health history. It is rather evident that the immediate accusing
of mental illness is a diversion from the real problem at hand: lack of
adequate gun control. A multitude of epidemiological studies over
the past twenty years have shown that the majority of people with severe mental
illnesses are not any more likely to be violent or criminal than anyone else.

In fact, people with severe mental disorders are more susceptible and over 10
times more likely to be the victims of violent crimes.

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Only approximately 3 percent to 5 percent of violent doings are attributed to
people living with a serious mental illness, according to the United States
Department of Health and Human Services.1 Along
with this, the United States has a significantly less percentage of mentally
ill citizens compared to Britain, yet 40 times the gun deaths.2 Additionally,
current research suggests that there is a minimal correlation between
psychiatric disorders and violent crimes. Mass shootings by those living with serious
mental illnesses contribute to less than 1 percent of yearly gun-related
killings.3 In
almost every mass shooting in the past 5 years, the acts committed show greater
cultural prejudice and socio-demographic factors, such as race/ethnicity,
politics, and social class. Due to this mistaken notion that there is a
correlation between violence and mental health, stigma has significantly
increased and mental health programs have significantly decreased.

According to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Director
Robert Glover, there is no one area of mental health care that we can target
and expect to prevent tragic events. Instead, states and local municipalities
should aim to provide a full sprectrum of accommodations, including accessible
residential care, inpatient and outpatient care, emergency services and
affordable medication.4 The
purpose of mental health laws is to provide proper treatment to persons with
mental illnesses: not get stuck on the goal of keeping guns out of their hands. There
must be sufficient safeguards in place in addition to adequate health care and increased
accessibility. In this paper, the mass shootings at Sandy Hook, Columbine,
and the most recent Las Vegas shooting will be placed under the microscope to
analyze whether or not mental illness truly played a role and what could have
been done to prevent these catastrophic events. Current mental health care, program budget
cuts, and their consequences will be addressed as well.

It will be argued that significant reform needs to occur within current state
mental health laws to increase funding and provide more accessible and
encompassing programs. There must be significantly better solutions
to reduce gun violence. These measures must be taken immediately as numbers
of gun violence are rising in the United States at a rapid rate.

These processes can and must include increasing and improving accessibility to mental
health care and services, ensuring all mental health care treatment services
and programs are adequate and up-to-date, and attempting to alleviate any
confusion or fear from friends and families of those with mental health issues.

This requires distributing satisfactory resources equally throughout
communities and rewriting gun legislation to focus on treating mental illnesses
properly rather than criminalizing mental health.

December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot
20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lanza
had been diagnosed with Asperger’s, a developmental disorder that affects one’s
ability to socialize and communicate: a high-functioning form of autism.

Unsurprisingly, the media immediately went after autism and Asperger’s as a
violent disorder. There is little evidence to suggest that people with
autism or Asperger’s are any more likely to be violent compared to the rest of
the population. Children with autism have been seen to react
unpredictably, sometimes aggressively, on occasion, but those outbursts are almost
always directed at themselves, says Lauren Elder, a clinical psychologist with
Autism Speaks. These “violent acts” are the result of frustration
stemming from attempts to communicate and not being able to properly convey
their needs or discomfort.5 “To
imply or suggest that some linkage exists is wrong and is harmful to more than
million law-abiding, nonviolent and wonderful individuals who live with autism
every day,” the Autism Society said in a statement following the devastating
attack in Newtown.6 Unfortunately,
ever since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, stigma against not only autism, but
mental health in general, has significantly increased.

In addition to this and cutting back state and local funding, a new study by
the journal of Aggression and Violent Behavior claims to have found a link
between mass violence and autism. The study does indeed discover a small link,
finding that out of 106 mass killers, 28 percent had “definite, probably, or
possible” autism. However, it also concluded that over half of the
surveyed population experienced some sort of “psychological stressor” such as
physical or sexual abuse.7 This
further supports the argument outlined in this research that there is no
significant correlation between mental illness and violence.

It has been found in various studies that the greatest factors leading to
violence are substance abuse and exposure to a psychological stressor or
traumatic experience, such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, or exposure to
violence at an early age. Regardless
of the nature of the mental illness Lanza was struggling with, there is no
excuse for the “armory” he had open access to in his household.

Mental illness would be not linked at all with violence if there were more
precautionary measures taken to prevent guns from ending up in the wrong hands
in the first place.  

teenage boys entered their high school in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999,
killing 15 people: twelve classmates, one teacher, and themselves.

Beyond their meticulously developed plan to shoot their classmates, they also
came prepared with a fire bomb to distract firefighters, 99 explosive devices,
including car bombs and propane oil bombs in the cafeteria.

Immediately after the shooting, media outlets started desperately digging for a
motive, jumping from depression to anxiety to evil, but ultimately landing on
bullying. Several experts in criminology and criminal behavior
have found various physical and situational factors that mass shooters have in
common. Jack Levin, professor of criminology and sociology at
Northeastern University, has affirmed that most of the people who would
hypothetically fit the category of a murder will never actually commit heinous
crimes. 8  More often, the offender has experienced
prolonged strain or frustration. This can include exposure to violence or
sexual assault as a child.  Most
importantly, in relation to the Columbine shooting, offenders were usually
bullied, harassed and ignored during their time in school.9 Bullying
was perhaps the single paramount factor that caused Eric Harris and Dylan
Klebold to materialize one of the deadliest school shootings in America.

The two students were thought to be extremely smart or “gifted,” having
actually attended Challenging High Intellectual Potential Students program.

Studies have shown that approximately two-thirds of “gifted” children
experience some type of bullying, which often leads violent thoughts.10 Chad
Laughlin grew up with Dylan Klebold and considered him and Eric two of his best
friends. He remembers bullying being a primary factor in the
boys’ isolation and outlined one encounter the boys had with bullies.

It involved older boys throwing ketchup-covered tampons at them and calling
them names in the middle of their school commons1112. This
is just one example of the bullying Klebold and Harris were subject to during
their high school years. Undoubtedly, bullying does not justify such a
violent act, especially one as heinous as the Columbine Shooting, but sheds
lights on why they did what they did and gives insight into the minds of the
killers. Comparing and contrasting Columbine to modern-day
shootings, such as Sandy Hook and the Las Vegas shooting, gives an idea of how
different the media reactions were then compared to now. Now,
mental illness is the immediate explanation, even when it is no explanation at

Another example of a shooting where the perpetrator had no mental illness was
the Las Vegas shooter. 64-year-old Stephen Paddock rented a hotel
room and shot at the attendees of a country music festival in Las Vegas,
killing 58 and injuring 500 others. Like all other gun tragedies, most of the
media and gun advocates point to mental health in a reaction response. A
prime example of this and the generalizations surrounding mental health was
evident in Cabinet meeting shortly after the shooting took place.

President Donald Trump told reporters, “I guess a lot of people think they
understand what happened, but he was a demented, sick individual…the wires were
crossed pretty badly in his brain. Extremely badly in his brain.”13
However, Paddock’s autopsy report revealed just the opposite. An
examination of his brain revealed no abnormalities, the Las Vegas sheriff reported
to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.14  Additionally, two Federal Bureau of
Investigation officers said they did not believe Paddock’s mental health had
ever declined enough to perform this act of violence, moving mental health down
on their list of possible explanations. This is all exemplary of the majority of
mass shootings and gun violence: mental health is not a dominantly shared

illnesses are one of the number one scapegoats the media and gun advocates use
after a mass shooting. Yet interestingly enough, current state
mental health laws and national mental health care are receiving less and less
funding. Between 2009 and 2012, local mental health funding was
cut by 4.35 billion.15
Minimizing the accessibility to mental health care and life-saving services
ultimately leads to adverse effects of the patients, their families, and
potentially communities. Not only by increasing stigma and creating
an unsafe environment for those suffering with mental illness to ask for help,
but recent gun legislation blames mental illness for increased gun violence;
yet does nothing to amend current mental health laws or add additional
preventative or treatment programs.16
An example of restrictive gun control legislation that disadvantages those with
mental illnesses is the National Instant Criminal Background Check System
Improvement Amendments Act that President Bush signed into effect in 2008.

The doctrine provided financial rewards to incentivize states to provide the government
information regarding people whom are categorized as a “mentally defective” or
are currently/have been committed to a mental institution.

The act also authorized various grants to further states in upgrading their gun
license background check systems.17 This
type of policy adds to the misguided notions that the mentally ill are
inevitably violent by nature- an assumption that has been proven otherwise. This
inherently creates an extremely misguided stigma towards those suffering with a
mental illness. The majority of those living with mental illness are
law-abiding citizens who have not and will not ever commit a violent crime.

Present-day research has suggested that there is little to no correlation
between psychiatric conditions and violent crimes. Mass shootings by those living with mental health
ailments make up less than 1 percent of yearly gun-related killings.18 The
major determinants of violence are socio-demographic factors, such as being of
lower socio-economic status, having experienced or witnessed violence, homelessness, and most
commonly, substance abuse.19
Those with substance disorders are major contributors to community violence,
accounting for as much as a third of self-reported violent acts, and seven out
of every 10 crimes of violence among mentally disordered offenders. As
aforementioned, those suffering with mental illnesses are more commonly the
victims of violence, despite the public misconception that there is a distinct
correlation between mental health and violence. Reform is greatly needed in the health and
human services fields. States and local municipalities must aim at
providing full ranges of accommodations, including but not limited to
accessible residential care, inpatient and outpatient care, emergency services
and inexpensive medication.20
The purpose of mental health policies and legislation should be to provide
treatment to persons with mental illnesses. Additionally, there must be protections in
place to safeguard those who suffer from mental illness, in addition to sufficient
mental health care and improved accessibility. Lastly, school shootings were less likely to
occur in the states that require mandatory background checks for gun licenses,
purchases, and ammunition. These states also placed more emphasis on
mental health services and early education.21
This is exemplary of the immense impact strengthened gun policies and increased
mental health education would have on states and cities all over the nation.

            Within the United States, there has
been a systematic and rapid growth of mental health stigma and victimization. After the Newtown shooting
at Sandy Hook Elementary School, gun control opponents have chosen to point the
finger at mental illness following every devastating attack on American soil: despite various studies and
surveys supporting the fact that there is no significance correlation between
mental illness and extreme violence. In
fact, those with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence. In the cases that the
person in question is violent, the harm is usually aimed at themselves.22 The
issues contributing to the increase in gun violence are faults in federal,
state, and local gun control laws, including flawed background check processes
and lack of comprehensive training. Improving
our nation’s mental health is becoming less and less of a priority, outshined
by misguided attempts to prevent the mentally ill from acquiring guns. Creating a link between
mental health and violence minimizes the incentive and ability for those
seeking treatment to receive the help they need. Before placing the blame
on the citizens struggling with mental illness, states and local municipalities
must begin educating constituents and place emphasis on preventative measures
that will significantly rude the possibility of crime within communities.23 It
can be seen throughout this paper that the shooting at Sandy Hook acted as a
catalyst towards a sort of fear towards mental illness, making it the go-to
culprit for every mass shooting. The
teenagers who committed the mass shooting at Columbine High School were never
labeled criminally insane and had no reported past of mental illness. Similarly, the Las Vegas
shooter had no history of mental illness and never participated in any
questionable behavior that was reported. As
aforementioned, individuals with serious mental illnesses contribute to less
than 3 percent of all violent crimes.

Additionally, current research suggests that there is an insignificant connection
between mental illnesses and violent crimes. Less
than 1 percent of yearly gun-related killings ass shootings are committed by
citizens with mental illnesses.24 Yet,
despite the numbers, mental illness is continuously used as a scapegoat in
modern America, in an attempt to divert attention away from alarming numbers of
gun violence and unenforced gun restrictions. There
is much that needs reform within gun control legislation and policy-making, but
the most important measures that must be taken are increasing accessibility to
mental health care services and treatment, while ensuring that treatment in
adequate. Rapidly
attempting to find an answer in the aftermath of a tragedy is an expected
response from all parties involved, including the media, political parties, decision
makers, and the general public.

However, this trigger reaction cannot be executed in a way that
disproportionately disadvantages an entire, innocent population of citizens. The stigma and lack of
proper mental health care only leads to less successful treatment and possibly
more detriment to communities throughout the nation.

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