Trump said mental illness 'pulls the trigger, not the gun,' but a wealth of research shows that's bogus

AP Photo/Andres LeightonChildren of a youth-sports community at a vigil for the victims of the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas.

A weekend of deadly gun violence in the US has left 31 people dead.

In El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, 22 people were shot and killed in an attack that the Justice Department is investigating as domestic terrorism and a federal hate crime that may have targeted immigrants. Hours later, a gunman shot nine people dead outside a bar in Dayton, Ohio, including his own sister.

President Donald Trump spoke about the two shootings on Monday from the White House, hours after a tweet in which he called for “strong background checks.” But his remarks put most of the blame for the recent mass shootings on the mental states of the gunmen, characterising them as “mentally ill monsters.”

“We must recognise the internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds,” Trump said, adding, “mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”

However, research suggests that second point is bogus. Mental-health issues are not predictive of violent outbursts: Although as many as one in five people in the US experience mental illness every year, people with serious mental-health problems account for just 3% of all violent crime.

There’s no connection between mental illness and violence

Psychiatrists and psychologists have been looking at the data on this for a long time, and there’s just no evidence of a connection between mental illness and violence. Instead, researchers have discovered that people with major mental illnesses are 2.5 times more likely to be the victims of violent outbursts than the general public.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, less than 5% of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the US between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness. Only 1% of discharged psychiatric patients commit violence against strangers using a gun, according to a study from the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health’s online database.

In 2015, the psychiatrist Michael Stone catalogued a comprehensive database of more than 235 mass murders in the US (most of them shootings) and found that attackers were very likely to be men (by a ratio of 24 to one), and that often they are seeking “acts of revenge or retribution for perceived slights and wrongs.” Stone said that many mass shooters tend to have “paranoid personality configurations,” which can be associated with feelings of unfairness and disgruntlement, but so do roughly one in 10 Americans.

Stone said many people assume that because someone has committed a deadly act, that must mean they’re crazy. But that’s not true.

More access to guns is linked to higher rates of gun deaths

Dayton mass shooting end gun violence AP Photo/John MinchilloA vigil at the scene of a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio.

In a statement on Sunday, American Psychological Association (APA) President Rosie Phillips Davis said that while racism may be partially to blame for the shooting deaths in El Paso (authorities are investigating whether a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto that circulated online in the hours before the attack was authored by the shooter), mental-health issues are being wrongly villainized once again.

“Routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing,” Davis said. “The rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them.”

A study published in the journal Preventive Medicine earlier this year examined the relationship between mental health and gun violence among 663 young adults in Texas.

“The link between mental illness and gun violence is not there,” lead study author Yu Lu said in a release.

However, a different factor was found to be linked with gun violence: access to guns. The researchers found that people who had access to a gun were at least 18 times more likely than others to have threatened someone with a gun, regardless of their mental-health status.

Other studies have shown that in places where gun laws have been strengthened around the world (Australia, South Africa, and Brazil), gun deaths have fallen.

“The combination of easy access to assault weapons and hateful rhetoric is toxic,” Davis said. “It is clearer than ever that we are facing a public-health crisis of gun violence fuelled by racism, bigotry, and hatred.”

Young men are responsible for many of the mass shootings in the US

There is another troubling and well-established pattern among mass shootings: They’re typically perpetrated by angry young men.

The forensic psychiatrist Liza Gold teaches at Georgetown and edited the book “Gun Violence and Mental Illness.” She told Business Insider in 2017 that mass shooters tend to be “impulsive and angry about a lot of different things” and said many have a history with law enforcement or violence, especially around domestic violence.

A 2017 report from the US Department of Homeland Security on mass attacks showed that more than 70% of attackers had prior criminal records “beyond minor traffic violations,” and a third had “histories related to domestic violence.”

People who’ve been convicted of domestic violence are not allowed to own guns under US federal law. Still, many of the deadliest shooters in the country have had violent histories as perpetrators of domestic abuse. The shooter who killed 26 people in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017 was kicked out of the Air Force for “bad conduct” that included assaulting his wife and child. And Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando in 2016, had beaten his wife and called her the Afghan word for “slut,” according to The New York Times.

“Until we do something different than we’re doing now, we’re not going to be able to stop this,” Gold previously told Business Insider.

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