Mental Health and U.S. Mass Shootings

Kenneth Cole

Kenneth Cole


The recent shooting at a small town Texas Church has brought national attention to the discussion of mental health in relation to gun violence.  Over the past decade, multiple mass shootings have occurred associated with those who have severe mental illnesses.  President Donald Trump describes the Texas shooting as a “mental health problem at the highest level.”  Trump’s statement on the recent tragedy reflects his past view of mental health being an important issue to address, in terms of gun violence, but he is not willing to tighten gun laws.  


Recent psychological studies illustrate that individuals who have severe mental illnesses, such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, tend to be no more likely to be violent than anyone else.  According to these studies, people with these mental disorders are 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crimes.  According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 3-5% of violent crimes are conducted by individuals with mental health issues.  Although, it is later stated that those statistics do not take into account the mass shootings that have occurred numerous times in America over the years.  


A controversial billboard was produced years ago, by Kenneth Cole, involving the association of mental health and gun violence.  The board says, “Over 40M Americans suffer from MENTAL ILLNESS. Some can access care. … All can access guns.”  The billboard stressed the importance of gun control, but it also implied that those who suffer with mental health issues tend to act violently.  Many psychiatrists and mental health sufferers found this sign to be widely offensive and untrue.  Interestingly enough, individuals with mental health issues are much more of a threat to themselves rather than others.  In fact, most public health officials agree that people with various mental disorders should not be able to buy guns more so because they are a threat to themselves.


In addition, it is evident that mental illness specialists and psychiatrists must carefully monitor those who are a danger to themselves and others.  On June 12th, 2012, James Holmes opened fire on a movie theatre of people during the midnight premiere of the Dark Knight Rises.  James Holmes was one of the mass shooters who also suffered from mental illness.  In the months leading to the tragic shooting, Holmes frequently visited psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton.  During the trial, Fenton shared that Holmes had thoughts of homicide 3-4 times per day.  He was “an anxious, antisocial oddball who thought obsessively about killing people” said Fenton.  Although Holmes showed multiple signs of wanting to inflict harm among others, he was not specific about his plans.  Because of this, Fenton suggested that she was unable to place him under psychiatric hold.  Right before Holmes went to open fire on the Colorado theatre, he mailed Fenton a detailed sketch of the movie theatre.  Fenton also received specific information about Holmes’ motives.  The information that Fenton knew and withheld illustrates how psychiatrists must pay closer attention to their clients’ thoughts and possible plans to commit homicides.


Pentucket teacher, Mrs. Beaton says, “I think there must be a stronger vetting process for an individual to get a gun, first and foremost.  If one is able to acquire a gun, then he or she is responsible for his or her actions.  Individuals that have mental health issues shouldn’t have guns, I mean we’ve got to find a way to not put guns in their hands.”


Gun violence and mental illness are associated based on recent mass shootings, however, these people tend to be no more violent than other criminals.  Gun regulations must be more thorough for all people in society, and those who are a threat to themselves or others must have strict regulations of gun possession.  However, people in society cannot make generalizations nor discriminate against individuals with mental illness because they are no more likely to use guns than any other individual.  Overall, based on the evidence, strict gun control laws are necessary in today’s society to create a safer environment for all.