Gun Control: Don’t Fall for the ‘Mental Health’ Diversion

Mental illness is not a significant factor in gun crime
US News • Views: 30,714

Take a look around the right wing blogs and news sites, and watch Fox News, and you may notice that there are suddenly a lot of conservatives arguing that the real problem that leads to gun violence is mental illness — and that the solution is “better mental health care.”

While it’s true that the US does need better mental health care, your first clue that this is a dishonest diversionary tactic instead of a real argument is that the right wingers parroting it are the very same people normally vehemently opposed to any and all government involvement in health care.

There’s a reason why so many right wingers are using the “mental health” excuse - to distract attention away from the real problem: there are more than 290 MILLION guns in America, almost one for every single man, woman, and child. The right is so in love with gun culture that they’ll even make dishonest arguments that contradict their own values, to pull attention away from this issue.

There is no real evidence that mentally ill people are more likely to commit gun crimes. Columbia University psychiatrist Paul Appelbaum has found that less than 3-5% of American crimes are perpetrated by mentally ill people, and for crimes involving guns the percentages are even lower.

In fact, the mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators: Focus on Mental Illness in Gun Debate Is Misleading.

Research by John Brekke and Cathy Prindle at the University of Southern California shows that individuals with schizophrenia are more likely to be assaulted by others than to commit violent crimes themselves, Metzl said.

By blaming people who have mental disorders for violent crime, the threats posed to society by a much larger population - the sane - are overlooked.”The focus on so-called mentally ill crime obfuscates awareness of a far more important set of risk predictors of gun violence: substance abuse and past history of violence,” said Metzl, a professor of psychiatry and sociology. “By blaming people who have mental disorders for violent crime, the threats posed to society by a much larger population - the sane - are overlooked.”

One possible explanation for the tendency to blame mental illness for violent crimes is the fact that the debate around gun control has become so politicized that bringing up mental illness is one of the few ways to even talk about the issue, Metzl said.

To reiterate, better mental health care is an important and worthy cause. But for the right, it has also become a way to confuse and obfuscate the issues in order to hang on to their precious, precious guns.

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