Although gun violence in America is frequently attributed to the availability of firearms, another relevant factor is our nation’s broken mental health care system. Although most people who suffer from mental health disorders are nonviolent, severe mental health disorders that go untreated can increase the risk for violence. Thus, if we hope to curb gun violence, we must de-stigmatize and treat mental health disorders.
GUN VIOLENCE IN AMERICA
2/3 of all mass killings involve guns.
In America, a mass killing – defined as having 4 victims, not including the killer – occurs once every 2 weeks. There were 156 mass killings from 2006 to 2010; those include 774 victims and of those victims, 161 were children.
GUNS & SUICIDE
There are 31,000 gun-related deaths in the United States every year; 19,000 of those are self-inflicted.
Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States and the third-leading cause of death for people ages 10 – 24 years.
5% of all suicide attempts are by gunshot.
85% of those attempts resulted in death.
In July 2007, a nationwide report indicated that male veterans are twice as likely to die by suicide as compared to their civilian peers.
ACCESS TO GUNS
FEDERAL GUN LAWS CURRENTLY ENACTED INCLUDE:
Prohibition of firearms sales or transfers to those suffering from mental health disorders and others
Prohibition of firearms possession in school zones, unless licensed by that school’s state or if the firearm is unloaded and in a locked container.
Prohibition of children to possess a handgun or ammunition, with exceptions for employment, practice, education and home defense
Federal background checks on firearms purchases from licensed sellers, records of which must legally be destroyed after 24 hours
Prohibition of fully automatic weapon sales to civilians, but gun control is largely dictated by individual states. This creates large discrepancies between states, for example, South Dakota has some of the weakest gun laws and California has some of the strongest.
No law authorizing the reporting of mental health information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System
No state permit required
No firearm registration
No owner license required
No magazine capacity restriction
Handgun open carry permitted and concealed carry issued
Only state to track and disarm registered gun owners if they lose their right to possess firearms
All firearms sales required to be completed through dealer
Handgun purchase requires certificate and proof of residency
Handgun registry required
Magazines restricted to 10 rounds
Jurisdictions may issue concealed carry permits, but out-of-state permits invalid
No open carry
Gun control laws are further weakened by discrepancies in regulations for licensed firearms dealers, which are stricter, and regulations for private sales, which are more lax.
MENTAL HEALTH AND GUN VIOLENCE
Half of US adults will develop a mental illness during their lifetime.
7 million Americans suffer from severe mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, acute depression or bipolar disorder.
The increased risk of violence for most mentally ill people is minimal, but when paired with issues like substance abuse and left untreated, the risk is more than doubled.
People with severe mental illness are roughly twice as likely to commit violent acts in their lifetime.
THE FLOUNDERING MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM
Less than half of Americans with severe mental health issues receive adequate treatment.
$1.6 billion in state mental health services have been cut since 2009.
These cuts led to significant reductions in hospital and community services for those with serious mental illness, including cutbacks to:
One-half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, yet there are long delays – sometimes decades – between the first onset of symptoms and when people seek and receive treatment.
13% of children ages 8 to 15 live with severe mental health disorders, but only 20% of those children receive treatment.
There were 500,000 total beds available in American mental institutions at peak levels in the 1950s; now, there are only 43,000. This shortage of inpatient psychiatric care makes finding appropriate care difficult, if not impossible.
In 2011, 24 states slashed mental health provider reimbursement rates for Medicaid – the most important source of funding of public mental health services.
“We must not only tackle gun control, but we must also fix deficiencies in the US mental health system, gaps that can leave many people with serious mental illness and family members without an easy way to get the treatment and support we know can help avert catastrophes.” — Lynn R. Goldman, pediatrician and dean of the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services
New Assault Weapons Ban
Senator Dianne Feinstein has authored the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, which would ban 157 “military-style” weapons and large-capacity magazines.
Funding Mental Health Care
The recently passed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will expand health care coverage to 30 million Americans and includes requirements to cover mental health care.
Gun Violence Research
On January 16, President Barack Obama signed an executive order instructing the Centers for Disease Control to research causes of gun violence and preventative measures.
Destigmatizing Mental Illness
On February 4, Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced an upcoming national dialog on mental health to address the negative perceptions of mental illness that keep people from seeking care.