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Guns & Mental Illness: What Has Been Done? What Should Be Done?

by Countable | 2.19.18

What’s the story?

Following the mass shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 dead, President Donald Trump tweeted:

A day after the shooting, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) also spoke about mental health, calling it "a big problem underlying these tragedies."

"We have a system to prevent people who aren't supposed to get guns from getting guns," Ryan said. “And if there are gaps there then we need to look at those gaps."

What is the system Ryan is referring to?

Federal law bans anyone who "has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution" from purchasing a gun. And as the New York Times explained, “a majority of states have laws requiring them to report mental health information to the national background check system.”

What are some of the "gaps in the system"?

  • Only 18 states require a background check to buy a gun from private sellers.

  • Not everyone with a mental illness has been committed or labeled a "mental defective."

  • Mental health records are not always accessible.

Didn’t Trump roll back some regulation involving guns and the mentally ill?

Almost a year ago, on February 28, 2017, the president signed a law ending the Social Security Administration’s requirement to enter the names of people who receive mental health benefits into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Both the National Rifle Association (NRA) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opposed the rule.

How does Trump’s budget address mental health?

The White House requested $8.6 billion for mental health services at the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, the budget also proposed slashing funding to the National Institute of Mental Health by 30 percent.

What about the Affordable Care Act?

Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) noted that the same Republicans blaming mental illness for gun violence tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), which provides Americans mental health care.

Is mental illness related to mass shootings?

According to the 2016 book "Gun Violence and Mental Illness" published by the American Psychiatric Association, mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent 1 percent of all gun homicides each year

What do you think?

Are mass shootings a mental health issue or gun issue? And if "mental health is often a big problem underlying these tragedies," what should America be doing about it? Hit Take Action and tell your reps, then share your thoughts below.

—Josh Herman

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(Photo Credit: bubaone / iStock)

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(259)
  • Andy1
    02/19/2018
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    I know to the right facts don’t matter anymore, but... the truth is mental illness is a convenient scapegoat in these debates, but very few of these shooting are committed by individuals previously identified with a mental illness that would / should have disqualified them from buying a gun legally. The difference between the US and places with fewer guns deaths per capita ( basically everyone) isn’t mental health policy it’s common sense gun legislation.

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  • Robert
    02/19/2018
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    Military grade weapons should not be sold to civilians. Extensive background checks as well as weapons proficiency test. Getting tired of hearing if a teacher had a weapon, how good of a shot do you need to be to hit one dangerous individual in a crowd.

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  • Fred
    02/19/2018
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    Mental health problems exist globally. In Australia then enacted strict gun laws. Mass shootings disappeared. They didn’t change how they deal with mental health. So how is changing how we deal with mental health going to affect things in America? My thought is very very slowly because it takes time to implement a healthcare system to deal with serious mental health problems. It would be an overnight fix if we enacted strict gun laws

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  • Judi
    02/19/2018
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    The American Psychiatric Association has formally and publicly stated that only a tiny percentage of the mentally ill are responsible for violent crimes. I realize there are those who say anyone who would kill people, especially in a mass murder setting can’t be sane, but the fact is that, unless you consider extreme rage and desperate attempts to feel powerful mental illness, it’s just not true that the majority of these acts are carried out by the mentally ill. We have statistics that show that the ban on assault weapons decreased mass shootings by 37%. that ban was lifted (I believe by George W, but not sure) and we’ve seen a 183% increase. As an aside, the ad slogan perpetrated by the NRA “guns don’t kill people” should end with “people who use guns kill people”. Yes, murder can be committed without a gun but I don’t think many would argue that guns make it pretty damn easy.

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  • Clint
    02/19/2018
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    In 1996, the Republican-majority Congress threatened to strip funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unless it stopped funding research into firearm injuries and deaths. The National Rifle Association accused the CDC of promoting gun control. As a result, the CDC stopped funding gun-control research — which had a chilling effect far beyond the agency, drying up money for almost all public health studies of the issue nationwide. https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/news/wonk/wp/2017/10/04/gun-violence-research-has-been-shut-down-for-20-years/

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  • operaman
    02/20/2018
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    Let’s take care of the Mental Illness part and go from there. I personally have never seen a handgun or long gun discharge without human input. Never have seen a long gun running into a school either.

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  • Phillip
    02/19/2018
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    40 years ago almost every pickup truck that was parked at high school had a rifle in the rear window. What changed.

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  • Gerald
    02/20/2018
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    How tragic that the reasonable position to remove military weapons from the civilian population generates such resistance. You can not be rational to think this weaponry benefits us in some manner. These weapons have killed thousands of innocents. Enough is enough. We have a right to be protected by our government, not endangered by it in order to receive NRA donations and support. The time for compromise and “polite progress” dealing with background checks is over. Rip these damn weapons out of the hands of wanna be soldiers pretending to be patriots. They are all mentally ill in my opinion to think they need them to be safe or that the 2nd amendment gives them the right to put us all in danger. Don’t settle for anything less than a total ban on assault weapons or you are not addressing what any rational person knows is the root cause of these mass killings.

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  • Phil
    02/19/2018
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    One month into the Hairpiece Heretic’s presidency, our orange president signed a bill that repealed an Obama era order to add names of known, mentally unstable people to the rolls of the FBI list for uses of gun background checks. So that happened. The bill’s author was SENATOR CHUCK GRASSLEY. Just one more reason Iowa is useless in their role determining our federal leadership.

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  • Bernie
    02/19/2018
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    AR-15s are little more than a slightly upcaliber .22 rifle.They are semi automatic meaning you must pull the trigger for each shot. Some can be modified to full auto but this is not a simple process. The army no longer uses full auto on its M16 and hasn’t since the early 80’s. To compare this to any fully automatic “ machine gun” is disingenuous.

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  • Mindful
    02/19/2018
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    Take each, mental health & guns in separate but joint discussions based on reliable facts pertinent to each. More importantly, focus more effort on establishing gun safety usage. The same manner we have safety guidelines in exercise of 1st Amendment - Free Speech. Antonin Scalia recognized this fact as applied to guns. SCOTUS has already admitted that with the 2nd Amendment we have the right to protect ourself in our home...with a gun. SCOTUS has not directly expounded on our right to walk our 2018 streets-our neighborhood with a gun holstered to our leg—-ie, away from our home. “Well regulated militia”...is another category to better define in 2018 milieu. If you believe our Constitution is a dynamic document, can we honestly ignore this reality? Look how far we have come as a Nation among Nations. Among them all, we are the only Nation that claims singular distinction of wallowing in Mass Killing of our own citizens. Make yourself proud! MAGA?

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  • Flynn
    02/19/2018
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    Banning over 300 million guns is impossible. More gun control isn’t going to solve the problem. Stop comparing us to England and Australia where our population is 6-15 times greater. We have more people on antidepressants in this country than England’s entire population! HUGE PROBLEM. Keep the kids off Prozac and allow teachers to conceal. That’s the only precautionary I can think of. You’ll never get the guns. Confiscation would start a civil war the state would absolutely loose.

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  • I.Got.an.Idea...
    02/19/2018
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    What’s important to note, is even before the news is out, and anyone understands the details, Republicans are already going to Media and staying that the Gun man or Gun persons are mentally ill and using that to protect gun rights and ownership. Then they are quick to say to anyone who suggests Gun Control Legislation now, as “turning something political while the bodies are still warm”. It should be noted that Republicans have made this political and controversial and continue to do so every time, they declare someone mentally ill, without even knowing the details. They are quick to deflect and defer and to own the the talk and control what is being said in the media. And they know if they repeat their message over and over again, their followers believe it to be truth. Disgusting, unethical, immoral behavior on the right. They are the people are truly mentally ill. You have to be, if you put profits and death before safety and honor and protecting innocence.

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  • Eric
    02/19/2018
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    Stop being distracted! By asking this question you are following the latest GOP shiny object to distract you from our problem: WE GLORIFY GUNS AND WE THINK GUNS ARE PROBLEM SOLVING TOOLS! Stop looking wherever the GOP points. Only notice that they are pointing AWAY from guns! Stop being distracted, and dammit, stop feeding the distraction. Don't engage in a debate on the distractions. Stay focused on changing the gun culture! Guns do not solve problems. Other problems can be faced and resolved on their own track; in their own right. Do not allow them to seep into discussions on changing our gun culture. If you want to save lives, work to end our love affair with guns. If you want to save lives, end our gun fetish. If you want to save lives, end the myth that guns are problem solving tools. If you want to save lives, vote out ANYONE who takes NRA blood money!

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  • Kim
    02/19/2018
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    what has to be done? are you kidding? let’s start off with mental illness and/or gun control. whether you believe guns should all be taken away or guns should be given out like candy - you must agree that it should not be ok for a CHILD to get a rifle gun, that was made for killing, legally.

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  • Donna
    02/20/2018
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    The alleged perpetrator of this crime was visited multiple times by Florida agencies and interviewed. In each case, they did not find any credible reason to have him hospitalized for treatment. There is no law in this country that allows any law enforcement officer to arrest and imprison a citizen without due cause. This young man obviously had anger management issues. Are anger issues now going to be added to the list of mental health issues? Not everyone who takes a military-style assault rifle and shoots up a school or a concert venue or a movie theater or a church is 'mentally ill'. Some of them are just lost or angry and not provided with the right coping skills to deal with these feelings. What this young man has allegedly done is horrific. What our society fails to provide our citizens regarding tools required to survive is inexcusable. Allowing military-style assault weapons and large-capacity magazine clips to be sold to average American citizens is indefensible. The fact that none of our government leaders will even begin discussions around these issues is completely unconscionable.

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  • Ellie
    02/19/2018
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    Please add greater restrictions on guns, support gun control and protect our future generations from living in fear of dying at school. Mental illness is difficult, but it does not have to be deadly. If guns are not available to those with homicidal thoughts- the will not be able to kill nearly as many deaths. Please, more gun control!

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  • BeStrong
    02/20/2018
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    Have you head the talking heads today? CHANGE is coming. These are, in fact, 2 separate AND equal issues.....PUBLIC SUPPORT for: ...Assault rifle ban, semi automatic handgun ban, ban of convicted stalkers and spousal abusers, 3 day waiting period / cooling off period, testing/licensing of gun owners, national gun AND owner registry, 21 years of age minimum age mandate for any gun purchase, NO transfer of gun sale, zero tolerance for unreported gun sale, zero tolerance for gun lobbying, NO sale to anyone under going mental health care (12 months since last visit), PUBLIC welfare takes PRECEDENCE over all. MENTAL ILLNESS: free consultation, scaled service costs for needed care. “And a child shall lead them”. see our kids doing what we won’t ... March For Our Lives. Our future is calling us out.

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  • Joshua
    02/20/2018
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    Two separate issues. Mental health and education are critical issues that drum up press but have zero follow through. Gun violence is symptom of a deeper problem in this country. It is unhealthy and inhumane how we treat people and this is our punishment.

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  • Sheryl
    02/20/2018
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    If I suspected my son was mentally disturbed and called the cops they would ask him a cursory set of questions and if he denied wanting to harm himself or someone else that would be the end of it. And he could go out the very same day, buy an AR-15 and murder dozens of school children. THAT is the way things are in America.

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