Mental Health and Guns

I was thrilled to get the chance to speak at a gun control rally in Farmingdale on Saturday and to offer these words:

With each new shooting, we ask how could this happen (again)?

Invariably the conversation turns to mental illness.

And that stands to reason. As we learn all the tragic details and see the horrifying images, we are left wondering: who in their right mind would do such a thing to other human beings?

But mental illness doesn’t equal gun violence. And when we equate the two, we fuel the stigma associated with mental illness and take our focus off real solutions like reducing access to deadly weapons.

The overwhelming majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent, just like the overwhelming majority of all people are not violent. Only 4 percent of the violence in our country is committed by folks with schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder or depression. If anything, people with mental illnesses are far more likely to take their own lives or to be the victim of a crime.

That’s not to say that the folks who commit these acts aren’t without problems.

We know that social alienation, family dysfunction, resentments and rage all figure prominently in gun violence and that when layered together – and especially when combined with drugs and alcohol – can produce deadly results.

So, if mental illness isn’t a good predictor of gun violence and many people who commit these crimes never get a psychiatric diagnosis, what do we do?

  1. Policies should focus on those individuals whose behaviors identify them as having increased risk for committing gun violence, rather than on broad catergoies such as mental illness or psychiatric diagnoses.

  2. We need to better educate individuals and instiutions about the warning signs associated with violence and empower them to take action and report their concerns.

  3. We need more resources to provide enhanced education beginning in elementary school, with a focus on constructive coping skills for anger and conflict resolution, mental health and wellness education.

  4. And finally, we must make sure it’s easier to get mental health treatment than it is to get a gun.

Mental illness is easy to blame and easy to legislate against in terms of gun ownership, but that doesn’t mean it’s the key to reducing gun violence. The conversation really needs to focus on a broad set of solutions that will make our country a less violent and a safer place. I’m glad to see Long Island’s young people leading that conversation and bringing the sanity, honesty, energy and passion we need in order to save lives. #EnoughisEnough