Donald Trump said Sunday’s mass murder in Texas “isn’t a guns situation” but “is a mental health problem….”
The Texas killer had mental health issues that the Air Force should have scrawled in big red ink across every record that might have been viewed by any gun background checker, but from a public policy perspective, mass shootings are not a mental health problem:
In fact, “there is no real connection between an individual with a mental health diagnosis and mass shootings. That connection according to all experts doesn’t exist,” says Bethany Lilly of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.
“Having all of our attention focused on mental illness is not particularly helpful,” Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore, Md., told NPR Monday [Alison Kodjak, “Texas Shooter’s History Raises Questions About Mental Health and Mass Murder,” NPR: Shots, 2017.11.07].
If mental health issues were predictors of gun deaths, then we would expect to find unusually an high rate of mental illness in the United States that would reflect our unusually high rate of violent gun deaths. Yet a 2013 study found lower rates of depression in the U.S. than in several other countries. We tie Uganda and Rwanda for 48th in suicide rate, a fair indicator of mental illness, yet Sweden, Finland, Belgium, and Hungary all have higher suicide rates but far lower firearm homicide rates.
Mental illness deserves a strong public policy response. So do underfunded schools, crumbling infrastructure, and climate change. But talking about those problems (and talking is all Trump is doing, since this year he’s proposed nothing but cuts to mental health programs and coverage) does not substantively address America’s unique and shameful problem with gun violence.