Gun Control: A Misguided Focus on Mental Illness

Don’t fall for the diversion
US News • Views: 25,205

The big push to divert the discussion of guns and gun control into a discussion about mental illness is really beginning in earnest tonight. And unfortunately, many liberals arguing for gun control are falling for the diversion, because yes, mental health care is terrible in America and it does need improvement — but they’re not seeing how the right wing (and watch, this will be a big NRA talking point in their “major press conference”) is using this issue to take the debate in a vague, pointless direction that will end up without touching anyone’s precious guns.

I’ve been watching this “mental illness” talking point gather strength on the right since Friday, and now it looks like the word has been put out to hammer it hard.

For one example out of many, at Breitbart “News:” PSYCHIATRIST: LANZA WAS ‘PSEUDOCOMMANDO’ WITH ‘WOUNDED NARCISSISM’.

The psychiatrist they’re all-caps yelling about is not Adam Lanza’s psychiatrist; it’s another CNN talking head who never met anyone involved in the case, but apparently still considers it ethical to diagnose them on air.

Here’s a good piece on the subject by Richard Friedman, M.D. at the New York Times, that makes the same point I made in this post few days ago: A Misguided Focus on Mental Illness in Gun Control Debate.

Perhaps more significant, we are not very good at predicting who is likely to be dangerous in the future. According to Dr. Michael Stone, professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia and an expert on mass murderers, ‘Most of these killers are young men who are not floridly psychotic. They tend to be paranoid loners who hold a grudge and are full of rage.’

Even though we know from large-scale epidemiologic studies like the E.C.A. study that a young psychotic male who is intoxicated with alcohol and has a history of involuntary commitment is at a high risk of violence, most individuals who fit this profile are harmless.

Jeffery Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University and a leading expert in the epidemiology of violence, said in an e-mail, ‘Can we reliably predict violence? ‘No’ is the short answer. Psychiatrists, using clinical judgment, are not much better than chance at predicting which individual patients will do something violent and which will not.’

It would be even harder to predict a mass shooting, Dr. Swanson said, ‘You can profile the perpetrators after the fact and you’ll get a description of troubled young men, which also matches the description of thousands of other troubled young men who would never do something like this.’

Even if clinicians could predict violence perfectly, keeping guns from people with mental illness is easier said than done. Nearly five years after Congress enacted the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, only about half of the states have submitted more than a tiny proportion of their mental health records.

How effective are laws that prohibit people with mental illness from obtaining guns? According to Dr. Swanson’s recent research, these measures may prevent some violent crime. But, he added, ‘there are a lot of people who are undeterred by these laws.’

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying; yes, mental health care in the United States needs to be improved. But the right wing is using this almost totally unrelated issue as a diversionary tactic to stop us from addressing the ongoing epidemic of gun crime. Dr. Friedman’s article concludes:

All the focus on the small number of people with mental illness who are violent serves to make us feel safer by displacing and limiting the threat of violence to a small, well-defined group. But the sad and frightening truth is that the vast majority of homicides are carried out by outwardly normal people in the grip of all too ordinary human aggression to whom we provide nearly unfettered access to deadly force.

Jump to top

Create a PageThis is the LGF Pages posting bookmarklet. To use it, drag this button to your browser's bookmark bar, and title it 'LGF Pages' (or whatever you like). Then browse to a site you want to post, select some text on the page to use for a quote, click the bookmarklet, and the Pages posting window will appear with the title, text, and any embedded video or audio files already filled in, ready to go.
Or... you can just click this button to open the Pages posting window right away.
Last updated: 2016-01-01 10:29 am PST
LGF User's Guide RSS Feeds

Help support Little Green Footballs!

Subscribe now for ad-free access!Register and sign in to a free LGF account before subscribing, and your ad-free access will be automatically enabled.

Recent PagesClick to refresh
NASA Studies Details of a Greening Arctic NASA scientists used almost 30 years of data from the NASA/U.S. Geological Survey Landsat satellites to track changes in vegetation in Alaska and Canada. Of the more than 4 million square miles, 30 percent had increases in vegetation (greening) ...
Thanos
9 hours, 16 minutes ago
Views: 118 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 3 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Likes: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
Don’t Let Mississippi Establish Anti-Gay Religion The federal law and its many state imitators apply equally to all sincere religious believers and their beliefs. The Mississippi statute doesn't. It begins by singling out three religious beliefs or moral convictions for protection. They are that “marriage ...
Thanos
18 hours, 24 minutes ago
Views: 366 • Comments: 1 • Rating: 2
Tweets: 44 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 1
Likes: 1
Comments: 0
: 2
Brexit in Brussels: Juncker’s Mic Drop and Political Brexploitation The three presidents—Juncker along with Donald Tusk, who heads the European Council, and Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament—said they “expect the United Kingdom government to give effect to this decision of the British people as soon ...
Thanos
1 day, 19 hours ago
Views: 494 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 2
Tweets: 6 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 1
Likes: 0
Comments: 0
: 1
Brexit: EU Spells Out Procedure for UK to Leave The European Union has clarified the way the UK can kickstart formal negotiations to exit the bloc following Thursday's referendum. It says Britain can trigger Article 50, which sets a two-year deadline for a deal, by making a formal ...
Thanos
1 day, 21 hours ago
Views: 374 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 2 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 1
Likes: 0
Comments: 0
: 1
With Donald Trump in Scotland, Hillary Clinton Rails Against His ‘Brexit’ Response Asked about Britain's plummeting currency in a part of the nation which had voted overwhelmingly to stay in the E.U., Trump noted a money-making opportunity: You know, when the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly. ...
Thanos
1 day, 21 hours ago
Views: 316 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 1
Tweets: 0 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Likes: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
Former Kansas Governors Form New Political Action Group to Oppose Brownback Four former Kansas governors and other state leaders have announced an effort to raise money to oppose policies and laws created in recent years by Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Legislature. The Save Kansas Coalition, which sent out ...
Thanos
2 days, 7 hours ago
Views: 651 • Comments: 1 • Rating: 3
Tweets: 49 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 2
Likes: 6
Comments: 0
: 8
Cops Nab 3 ‘Vigilantes’ With Arsenal in Van at Holland Tunnel Last Week's good guys with multiple guns. blockquote>A search turned up five pistols, an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun, four knives, 10 loaded clips of ammunition and a military-grade helmet. Along with Smith, John Cramsey, 50, and Kimberly Arendt, ...
Thanos
2 days, 8 hours ago
Views: 443 • Comments: 1 • Rating: 1
Tweets: 2 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Likes: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
Today’s Good Guy With a Gun Teaches Us How to Open a Door With a Sig Sauer Hey, it only took two magazines to open that door. Neighbour 'Refused Him Sex' So He 'Shot the House 33 Times' Cops suspect that Sparber had become infatuated with his neighbour and after getting drunk he attempted to shoot ...
Thanos
2 days, 14 hours ago
Views: 1,113 • Comments: 3 • Rating: 2
Tweets: 3 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 1
Likes: 0
Comments: 0
: 1
Turkey Guilty Verdict for Depicting Erdogan as Gollum Did you ever notice how thin skinned bullies like to silence and punish their critics? A court in the south-western Antalya province gave Rifat Cetin a suspended one-year jail sentence and stripped him of parental custody rights. He has ...
Thanos
2 days, 15 hours ago
Views: 421 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 2 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Likes: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
Britain Is Leaving the EU. Here’s What That Means. Subscribe to our channel! goo.gl vox.com is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what's really driving the events in the headlines. Check out vox.com to get up to speed on everything from Kurdistan ...
Thanos
2 days, 15 hours ago
Views: 482 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 1
Tweets: 4 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 1
Likes: 0
Comments: 0
: 1