Stop Associating Mental Illness With Gun Violence

Target: Chairman David Wright Clark of the Standing Committee on Gun Violence

Goal: Stop the stigmatization that mentally ill people suffer from being mistakenly associated with gun violence.

With every new report of a mass shooting, discussions of gun control inevitably focus on mental health, throwing around ideas for how we can improve our mental health care system and prevent these tragedies from happening again. Mental health care reform is needed, but this association of mental illness with mass shootings only reinforces the stigma of mentally ill people being violent. In reality, the vast majority of gun violence is committed by people of sound mind.

It’s very easy to see where this mistaken association comes from. What kind of sane person would want to kill so many people in cold blood? The thing is, mental health is not the best indicator of potential violence. Most mentally ill people are never violent towards others, making up only 4% of all firearm homicides. A better indicator of dangerous behaviors is a history of violence and risk-taking, including assault convictions, restraining orders, and multiple DUIs. These are the subjects that background checks need to focus on, not just mental disorder diagnoses. Even if our mental health care system was the best it could possibly be, gun violence would remain virtually unaffected.

The Standing Committee on Gun Violence works to “reduce gun violence through education, activism, and legislation.” If they are to achieve their goal, they need to educate the public on the real causes of this problem. Not only will the discussions be directed in a more constructive manner, but the stigmatization of mentally ill people being violent will be decreased.


Dear Chairman Clark,

As the chairman of a committee that seeks to reduce gun violence, educating people on the causes of gun violence should be a major priority for you. That is why your committee should shift the focus of gun safety discussions away from mental health and towards individuals’ past history of violence and risk-taking instead.

Mentally ill people suffer through the stigma of being perceived as violent. In reality, the great majority of mentally ill people will never harm anyone. Only 4% of gun-related crimes are committed by people with mental disorders. Mental health and gun violence only overlap at the margins; improving mental health care, while necessary, is not a cure-all solution for reducing gun violence. People with a past of dangerous behaviors, such as assault convictions, restraining orders, and multiple DUIs, are much more likely to commit a gun-related homicide than mentally ill people.

The nation should be concerned about our broken mental health care system because many sick people don’t have access to treatments, not because they are potentially violent. Using your resources, you can educate the public and reduce the stigma that mentally ill people face. Only once we have ended the association of gun violence with mentally ill people can we move on to finding a cure to America’s mass shooting epidemic.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Saad Faruque

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