A week ago, September 16th, the nation was struck by yet another deadly shooting when Aaron Alexis walked into the US Navy Yard in Washington D.C. and killed 12 people. The tragic incident has sparked discussion yet again about gun control in the United States, and while it is a valid conversation, it may be missing the point. Instead, we should really be talking about the lack of resources available to those with mental health and the connection between mental health and gun violence.
It should be noted that many studies have shown the largest predictor of violent tendencies is drug or alcohol addiction, but when combined with mental health issues these issues create an especially deadly combination. The 10 worst mass shootings in US history have resulted in the deaths of 332 people according to Dr. Matthew Stanford, PhD, and only one of those events involved someone who wasn’t suffering from mental health problems. It is unclear if Alexis abused any substances, but others who have committed some of these mass killings such as James Holmes had a history of drug and alcohol abuse.
It is obvious the availability of high powered assault rifles certainly contributed to these deadly events and high death tolls, but mental health was also a significant factor in every case except that of the religious extremist Maj. Nidal Hasan who killed 18 individuals at Ft. Hood.
The mentally ill are statistically no more violent than your average person. Mental health problems are however a common link between nearly every major shooting. When someone under extreme mental or psychological distress, access to high power military weapons simply can not lead to a good ending. As Stanford says, “guns are a problem, but comprehensive mental health reform is the answer.”