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By Dr. Robert B. Young

In “Who Are the Mass Murderers?” we reviewed the characteristics of mass murderers, insofar as there are any common ones. (Executive summary: they’re an infinitesimal, unpredictable fraction of the population). We need to keep the “infinitesimal” attribute in mind. According to a new Congressional Research Study, only 0.004 percent of all deaths, or 0.66 percent of murder victims, are the result of mass shootings. That’s less than two percent of all non-firearm murder victims. Overall, the odds against being killed in a mass shooting in the United States are roughly . . .

517,000 to 1. And let’s remember that statistics don’t account for shooting attempts interrupted by legal gun owners.  In those, people are far less likely to be shot at all; and when they are, the numbers of victims don’t rise to the 4 casualties that define “mass shooting.”

It can also be useful to turn the question around: Who isn’t likely to be a shooter?  It’s important to be clear on who are not likely murderers, mass or single, and indeed with any weapon, so as to avoid unfair restriction of civil rights. Licensed concealed carriers of handguns are certainly not potential killers; they are “extremely law-abiding”.

The latest unconstitutional, broad-brush attack on Second Amendment rights by the Obama administration has come from a Presidential Memorandum to all federal departments to report people with “subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease” to the National Instant Check System (NICS). This has already been implemented by the Veterans’ Administration (VA) disallowing the possession of guns by any veteran who has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or who has even voluntarily been designated incompetent to manage his or her own finances, 177,000 of them so far.

Perhaps needless to say, there are no due process or appeal safeguards built into the decision making. It is amazing how efficiently the VA acts to deprive veterans of basic constitutional rights when it has been so ineffective at fixing its own corruption and providing timely medical services to the same veterans who depend on them.

Next, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has stepped up to review as many as 4.2 million beneficiaries likewise using representative payees for prohibition in the NICS.  Other agencies will not be far behind. The directive also named the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation, and “such other agencies or offices as the Chair may designate.”

On behalf of veterans, Congress is deliberating the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act. Just last week, Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced S.2002, the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act with NRA support. This bill would enhance mental illness treatment resources and would eliminate the possibility of labelling someone “mentally defective” through a bureaucratic process and require true adjudication by a court, with the requirement of participatory due process. It would require notification of veterans who have already been so labelled because they do not manage their own financial affairs, with ready review of that decision.

It would also establish avenues of appeal for anyone who should no longer qualify for NICS prohibition on strict mental illness grounds that must include potential dangerousness. At the same time, it incentivizes states to fully report their data on prohibited persons to the NICS in order to improve its accuracy in identifying those who should not be allowed to pass the check.

It’s a pity that steps like these should be necessary, but we’re fortunate that many legislators still recognize the importance of rule by law to ensure the rights of Americans. NICS reporting should be consistent and complete by all states, even while there are many false positives in the checks which need to be eliminated. Gun Violence Restraining Orders prohibiting firearm possession when acute concerns arise can be appropriate, applied with due process and the right to ready appeal. According primacy to individual rights while strengthening the safeguards in place is the right way.

Worry about people who have major mental illnesses (paranoid schizophrenia, major depression, severe combat PTSD) and have violent ideation who are not treated or who are treated inadequately. Worry about people who are actively using or addicted to abusable drugs and alcohol. Worry about people who commit domestic violence. Worry about people with records of violent crime, gun-related or not.

Don’t fear people suffering any mental illness, even those who have sometime required commitment to a hospital. And those in treatment are even less liable to violence (see here regarding antipsychotic medicines, here about antidepressants). People who’ve been convicted of non-violent offenses years ago are not particular risks and should not be prohibited. And there is certainly no reason to fear those who just need help managing their money.

There are no excuses for infringing the rights of the vast majority of Americans.  And that vast majority of Americans are the same ones who should be trusted.


Robert B. Young, MD is a psychiatrist practicing in Pittsford, NY, an associate clinical professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. 

This article originally appeared at and is reprinted here with permission.

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  1. Both of my Senators should be barred from gun ownership. One thinks she’s Pocahontas and the other couldn’t blow his nose if brains were gunpowder.

  2. “unpredictable”

    See – that right there is reason enough for the antis! “YOU CANNOT PREDICT THIS, SO ALL GUNS MUST BE BANNED! IF IT SAVES JUST ONE LIFE, IT’S WORTH IT
    !” they’ll cry.

    And so it goes. 🙁

  3. As long as the human populace can produce concious thought and imagination, it will continue to devise and create new methods by which to do harm. As long as humans can build, we can destroy. Taking away some methods will just leave those determined to do harm with more dangerous ways to commit crime. Even if somehow every single form of chaos is rendered inaccessible, it still leaves the most dangerous weapon of all: the human body. Take all things away and humans will continue to pummel, strike, and kick each other to destruction, as we have been since we have existed.

    • Having said the same many times myself, I most heartily agree. We can find traces of maybe 10 to 15 thousand years of history-and it is full of weapons and wars. Even the history we cannot trace shows evidence of knives, spears and clubs–it is inconceivable that our inherent genetic survival skill of using tools to kill did not extend to killing each other. No known “stone age” society in modern history were peaceful or free of violence. Mayans, Aztecs, Incas, North American Indian tribes, the list is endless. And none of them had guns until the 17th century.

  4. Let’s put this in context: This is about the same (or slightly better) than the odds of being killed in a natural disaster in the US (flood, lightning, etc.).

  5. “0.004 percent of all deaths ….are the result of mass shootings”

    – Someone ought to tell the ‘Phobes that. If you listen to their hysterical rantings, you’d think that this is the biggest immediate danger facing us all (meanwhile 90+ people are killed in car accidents every day in the US)

  6. “…all federal departments to report people with “subnormal intelligence,…”

    That is, literally, half the population.

    (The other half are gun owners. 🙂 )

  7. “Overall, the odds against being killed in a mass shooting in the United States are roughly . . .

    517,000 to 1. ”

    The overall odds would probably be 1,000,000 to 1 or greater, if and individual stays out of the liberal plantations. The majority of mass shooters are minorities, and are tolerated by those who live in large cities, every weekend.

    The facts of the situations do not require more gun control on the law abiding, nor is it necessary to appease the media’s racist propaganda of mass shooters being evil, white, and couple cards shy of a full deck.

  8. It’s also NOT the OFWGs from the NRA who are doing most of the shooting and killing in the inner cities, or anywhere else. Wrong demographic to blame.

  9. Anyone with a history of mental illness should not be able to own a gun. Just as a person with a history of violent crime should not be allowed to own a firearm. That’s the criteria that’s been widely used for 100 years. I see no reason to try and decide which mentally ill persons may go off their meds at any given time, or not, for purposes of allowing them another avenue to a deadly weapon. Once a person is pre-disposed to a mental illness episode, one cannot positively know when another may occur. Thanks to Ronald Reagan when he was governor of California, all state-run mental health facilities were shuttered, with most other states following suit. Until there are sufficient mental health facilities to diagnose the present state of those that identify with PTSD, or any other mental illness I feel the current reasons to disallow possession of firearms to be sufficient.

    • If you are too dangerous to own a gun, you are too dangerous to be in society. Mental illness is vastly over diagnosed, and the majority of people diagnosed are non-violent. This is very easily exploited by governments that wish to dismantle freedom. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, nut job induced mass murders are anomalous compared with rogue government induced murder. I’ll take my chances with the handful of true crazies out there.

      • Bingo.
        This BTW is exactly why the state run mental health institutions were shuttered. They were rife with abuse and basically imprisoned people without due process.
        I’ve met several former residents now living in community based treatment centers, they have scars, burns and disfigurements from the staff who was supposed to care for them.
        Others were not mentally ill at all, just inconvenient to someone well-connected.

  10. One thing is for sure , they are to stupid to figure out what five gallons of gas and a match could do . Do any of the tragic night club fires in the past 100 years come to mind ?
    So can we make one conclusion about most of them . ……………………….THEY’RE STUPID .

  11. “subnormal intelligence”? Nowhere in the memorandum does it mention that, according to my search.

    What is the source?

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