More and more, facts seem to take a back seat to feelings when it comes to what society believes. This is especially true when it comes to things we are afraid of. Currently, there is a lot of discussion about gun violence in America. We see images of dead children, dead parents, and grieving families and it affects us deeply. Because we are scared, we want answers, and, since we can’t find any readily available, we go with how we feel.
Mental Illness is a Gun Violence Scapegoat
Recently, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) expressed his concern about “people with mental illness that are getting guns and are conducting these mass shootings.” But, like most people, he says nothing about the population of people without mental illness doing the same thing (arguably a much larger percentage). And, more disturbingly, doesn’t appear to be looking.
People with mental illness can be violent. That is a fact and not one that I have any interest in disputing. But are they (are we) the sole issue? Not even close. Violence on any level is unpredictable, despite what the media often says and what the average person believes. The real world isn’t like an episode of a TV police drama. Violence is equally represented across the spectrum because it is committed by random people – randomly.
And those people seldom have common traits. One they do share is that they are most often male. Yet, strangely, there is no talk of curbing the “man issue.” Because people aren’t generally afraid of men. They don’t feel all men are dangerous in the same way they feel all mentally ill people are violent.
So the stereotype holds up, even though the facts don’t support it at all.
Mental Illness Advocates Are Aware of Gun Violence
Mental health advocates, like myself, are aware of gun violence within our community. For example, six out of ten shooting deaths are suicides. We sponsor suicide hotlines, education, and trainings to prevent suicide and naturally, that includes suicide by gun.
If you ask any advocate whether they believe a person experiencing psychosis, hallucinations, or erratic behavior should be handed a loaded weapon, we would say no. Because we aren’t stupid. We understand that people who are a danger to themselves or others shouldn’t be handling firearms. That is just common sense.
Even though persons with mental illness are only responsible for 3-5% of all crime in America, we in the mental health community still self-police and promote appropriate and safe standards for handling guns. In order to make any improvement, however, we need the other 95-97% to do their part.
In other words, even if all mentally ill people went away tomorrow, 95% of all the crime – including violence – would remain. Because everyone is looking at people with mental illness to solve this problem, they aren’t looking anywhere else. For what it’s worth, mental health advocates are diligently doing our part to make everyone safer.
Which makes people with mental illness a very responsible group when it comes to guns and violence in America.
Think about that for a moment.
This article previously appeared on Psych Central as Gun Violence vs. Mental Illness: Facts Don’t Matter.