Following [mass shootings], the national conversation quickly shifts to discuss mental illness as the culprit. Policymakers discuss the need for more mental health services and programs that keep “dangerous people with mental illness” off the streets. But these talking points perpetuate a false narrative and play on the fears and anxiety of the public. The data tells a much different story. People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence, not perpetrators, and severe mental illness can only be attributed to 3 to 5 percent of violent acts in communities.
Mental health conditions are common around the globe, yet no other country comes close to the level of gun violence our country experiences. Americans kill each other with guns at 25 times the rate of other high-income countries. It is not because we have 25 times the proportion of people with mental illness.
Scapegoating mental illness takes us further away from finding solutions to the gun violence crisis. While it’s true that our country is in the midst of a mental health crisis and a gun violence crisis, those are not the same issues. We must stop conflating these public health crises and instead use research and data to understand what is causing harm to our communities.
Most gun deaths are not the result of mass violence but are the result of suicide. Gun suicides account for over half of all gun deaths in the U.S. each year, contributing to suicides becoming a leading cause of death in America. Suicide rates reached a record high in 2022, with about 49,500 suicide deaths — more than half (26,993) the result of firearms. This number represents the majority of all gun deaths.
Tragically, it is also a record high for gun-related suicides. Suicide doesn’t just affect the person who dies; it shatters families and devastates communities. Instead of perpetuating the stigma around mental illness, we must do all we can to protect those most vulnerable to gun suicide. The solutions to gun violence, like its causes, must be driven by facts, not perception and ideology. …
Mental health is not the cause of gun violence in America, and we must stop viewing it as the root of this crisis. Together, if we shift our culture and amend our understanding of the relationship between mental health and guns, we can save lives.
— Kris Brown and Daniel H. Gillison, Jr. in Act on the Facts About Mental Health and Gun Violence