The second amendment of the United States Constitution, which gives Americans the right to bear arms, is arguably one of the greatest debates of our time. Approximately 41 percent of Americans own at least one gun, and 42 states require little to no discretion over issuing carrying permits to law-abiding people. There have been over 133 mass shootings in America during the past seven years, and at least one third of the shooters in these attacks had an untreated mental illness.

 

(Flickr/Bob M)

(Flickr/Bob M)

Statistics show that most people believe that mental illness is one of the largest causes of mass shootings, but when the shooter dies in the attack and there is no definitive evidence proving they had a mental illness, the line becomes a bit more blurry. The 1968 Gun Control Act prohibited anyone who has ever been committed to a mental hospital or deemed mentally ill from purchasing a gun. This law has been followed up by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Improvement Act of 2008 and New York’s Safe Act of 2013 which require more detailed background checks on gun purchasers and the seizing of any guns or carrying permits held by patients of mental health professionals who were deemed “likely to commit a violent act.”

 

These laws are not necessarily as effective as one might hope they would be. A study done by Charles Lidz, a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh, concluded that 53 percent of patients who were declared “likely to commit a violent act” did, yet 36 percent of patients declared non-violent committed a violent act as well.

 

Jeffrey Swanson, a medical sociologist and professor of psychiatry at Duke University, stated that although there is a connection between mental illness and violence, it is not the only factor or even the greatest factor. His research has shown that the correlation between the two is rather small. The only area in which there is a strong correlation between mental illness and violence is with suicide. According to the Center for Disease Control, 44 percent of people who commit suicide have shown signs of mental illness previously and 33 percent have had psychiatric treatment.

 

Although there are many cases of mass shootings in which the shooter had some form of mental illness, the majority had no previous signs. Swanson concluded that the largest factor in committing a violent act is having previously committed one.

 

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