This Is Why People Need To Stop Blaming Mass Shootings On Mental Illness.
It’s a truth no one wants to face — the United States is home to more gun massacres than any other country in the world. With each new horrifying and bloody mass shooting, we collectively wring our hands and ask, “how could someone do something so heinous?”
Unfortunately, the answer most commonly given by the media, politicians, and gun rights activists is that the perpetrators of these violent crimes are mentally ill — and most people agree.
But mental illness has nothing to do with it.
Mental Illness Isn’t The Cause of Mass Shootings
Blaming people who have mental illnesses for mass shootings and violence is both wrong and horribly stigmatizing. It’s also factually inaccurate.
Studies have shown that people with serious mental illnesses are responsible for just 4 percent of interpersonal violence and less than 1 percent of all gun-related homicides in the United States per year. Furthermore, only 14.8 percent of the mass shootings in the U.S. between 1966 and 2015 were committed by someone with a diagnosed mental illness. Finally, the mentally ill are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.
Despite all of these facts, mental illness becomes the scapegoat after every mass shooting.
American society is distrustful and contemptuous of the mentally ill, and sees them as disposable. What’s worse, many people have linked mental illnesses to mass murder as a way to appear morally upright and superior.
People with mental illness are overwhelmingly nonviolent. Not only do they suffer acutely every day of their lives, they have to constantly fight against prejudice and stigma. They deserve kindness and support, not derision and blame.
Where The Problem Really Lies
Though the majority of mass shooters in the past 36 years haven’t been diagnosed with a serious mental illness, the lion’s share of them do have one thing in common — 96 percent of them were men. Of the 98 mass shootings since 1982, only four were committed by women.
There are a variety of factors associated with committing serious violence — including childhood abuse, living in a neighborhood with a high rate of violent crime, substance use disorders, and the availability of firearms — and all correlate more strongly with gun violence than mental illness. However, being a male is often listed as one of the top two predictive risk factors for committing serious violence in peer reviewed studies.
This connection between men and mass shootings is thought to originate in the cultural standards surrounding how men are expected to react to both stress and perceived victimization.
Men tend to externalize frustration, anger, and blame through acts of aggression, whereas women often turn these feelings inward. Many of the men who have commited mass shootings have failed to achieve success in ways considered as being “manly” by our society. Consequently, they employ violence as a way to gain compensation or revenge for being denied what they believed they were owed.
Beyond mass shootings, men are also responsible for the vast majority of gun-associated deaths in the country. Gun violence is directly linked with a history of intimate partner violence — in fact, 54 percent of mass shootings in recent years were actually domestic violence incidents. When it comes to murder-suicides, 89 percent are committed by men, and the victims are most often an unwitting female partner or ex-partner.
What Can Be Done?
It’s only natural to try to slap band-aids over fresh wounds in a weak attempt to end violence, but tightening security and creating registries just isn’t going to cut it in the long run. These shootings are the undeniable result of the injustices we’ve allowed to fester and the poisonous cultural norms we continue to uphold. If we really want to fix this, it’s going to hurt. We have multiple gangrenous limbs to amputate.
If America wants to put a stop to mass shootings, here’s what we have to do:
1. Target Toxic Masculinity
As a society, we have to take a close look at how masculinity is being defined and characterized. Masculinity is not inherently flawed, undesirable, or dangerous — it’s to be as praised and celebrated as femininity. However, there’s a form of toxic masculinity that’s taken root in many western cultures, and there’s nothing natural or beautiful about it
Toxic masculinity is based on believing that the most negative and harmful stereotypes associated with maleness are innate characteristics of the gender. It reduces the idea of “being a man” to being mindless, self centered, emotionally repressed, sexually aggressive, and horrifically violent. Furthermore, it treats intellect, sensitivity, empathy, compassion, emotional awareness, and passivity as feminine traits that should be avoided at all costs.
Unfortunately, getting rid of toxic masculinity is going to take time. We have to raise boys and young men to see emotional intelligence as not just being a masculine trait, but a trait that all human beings should master, regardless of gender. We need to stop the objectification of women in the media and popular culture. All children should be taught proper coping skills for anger as well as peaceful methods for conflict resolution. We must be better role models for young people.
2. Educate Children On Mental Illness
We’ve come a long way in destigmatizing mental illness, but it seems for every step we take forward, we take two giant steps back. Pointing to mental illness as the cause for gun violence only worsens the remaining stigma. Furthermore, it could result in many people ceasing to seek help for fear of persecution. We can’t allow this to happen, it’s imperative that we keep moving forward.
As a proactive measure, we could use the public health model by introducing mental health education into school curriculums. School nurses could teach children about the signs, symptoms, and realities of mental illness. This would not only serve to destigmatize mental illness, it would also provide easily accessible support for at risk children.
3. Put Proper Gun Control Laws Into Place
There are more guns in the U.S. than there are citizens. Let that sink in for a minute. Then, consider how international data shows that countries with higher gun ownership rates have more gun deaths. Even domestically, states with significantly higher rates of gun ownership have higher rates of homicides, suicides, and ‘accidental’ gun deaths.
What more evidence do we need? There are far too many guns available for purchase and our laws have to change. Yes, anyone who wants to commit a violent crime will find a way, but taking the option of guns off the table can help prevent “heat of the moment” killings as well as mass homicides. Proper gun control will save lives, it’s as simple as that.
It’s plain to see that anyone who would commit murder — mass or otherwise — is not mentally healthy. However, that doesn’t mean they have a clinically diagnosable and treatable mental illness. The risk factors for that kind of violence vary from emotional regulation issues to a substance use disorder. Please, the next time you see reports of violence or a mass shooting, don’t jump to blame mental illness. The real problem is far deeper, darker, and harder to remedy.