Sunday, June 25, 2023
Despite the fact that most mass shootings are carried out by people without a diagnosed mental illness, it is still commonly used as a defense for these deadly massacres.
Not only is it a misconception that mental health is a primary factor in most of these violent crimes, but these claims demonize the 57.8 million Americans who suffer from one or more mental illnesses. (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness#:~:text=Mental%20illnesses%20are%20common%20in,mild%20to%20moderate%20to%20severe)
A prime example is the convicted murderer Nikolas Cruz, who shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018. According to a report by CNN, he will not be subjected to the death penalty due to his defense painting him as mentally disturbed, despite mental health experts who evaluated him that testified that this was not the case. (https://www.cnn.com/2022/10/14/us/nikolas-cruz-defense-life-prison/index.html)
Dr. Robert Denney, a clinical psychologist, testified, "He is grossly exaggerating severe mental illness," he continued to say “ [he was] grossly exaggerating severe psychiatric problems as well as semantic concerns, body concerns, cognitive concerns and memory complaints." (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/crime/nikolas-cruz-mental-illness-parkland-trial-b2195457.html)
However, according to CNN, Melisa McNeill, Cruz’s public defender, continued to argue that he was not in the mental capacity to receive the death penalty. “And in a civilized humane society, do we kill brain damaged, mentally ill, broken people?” McNeill said. “Do we? I hope not.” (https://www.cnn.com/2022/10/14/us/nikolas-cruz-defense-life-prison/index.html) Following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Parkland came together as a community to create the national March for Our Lives movement in order to speak out against the gun violence epidemic across the United States. They have made an enormous difference on both a state and national level.
According to a study conducted at Columbia University, only 8% of mass shootings are committed by people diagnosed with severe mental illnesses involving psychosis. Mass murderers with psychotic symptoms are actually less likely to use a firearm to carry out the offense, yet mental health continues to be entered into the discussion every time a mass shooting occurs. It is a popular belief that someone who commits a crime so heinous must be mentally disturbed in some way. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33595428)
Many political leaders share this sentiment such as Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who following the Uvalde school shooting said, "We, as a state, we, as a society, need to do a better job with mental health … Anybody who shoots somebody else has a mental health challenge, period." >(https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/gop-blaming-mental-health-not-guns-mass-shootings-win-win-democrats-rcna32168)
It’s true that there need to be better mental health resources and accessibility in the U.S., but it seems that this issue is only ever brought up as a response to gun violence instead of the actual problem at hand: a lack of gun regulation. The United States has more mass shootings than every other country in the world. (https://time.com/6182186/countries-banned-guns-mass-shooting) (https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/mass-shootings-by-country)
However, the U.S. is not the only country where people suffer from a variety of mental illnesses. So what is the common denominator?
Not just proportionately, but in absolute numbers, the U.S. has more guns than any other country in the world, yet they do not have strict gun laws and regulations. For example, in dealing with the civilian use of semi-automatic weapons such as the AR-15, countries such as Norway, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Australia banned these weapons after just one deadly mass shooting within their borders. (https://time.com/6182186/countries-banned-guns-mass-shooting)
Although the data speaks for itself, congressional leaders, especially in the GOP still insist that mental health is the driving factor of gun violence in America. Critics also argue that gun laws and regulations are useless because these criminals will just purchase guns illegally. However, statistics show that banning semi-automatic weapons such as the AR-15 can significantly decrease the number of mass shootings. In 1994 President Bill Clinton signed into law a 10-year ban on semi-automatic firearms. According to the American Public Health Association, while the ban was in place from 1994 to 2004 there were an average of 8.9 mass shooting deaths per year. However, while the ban was repealed in 2004 to 2017 the average of mass shooting deaths increased over four-fold to 39.6 per year. (https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/10.2105/AJPH.2019.305311)
It’s time that members of Congress swallow their pride, recognize the power of parents and students fighting for school safety and start caring about people over guns. The first step when children are shot and killed in their elementary school classrooms is not to start political discourse on Twitter or flaunt rifle pins at congressional hearings. Americans are tired of hearing “thoughts and prayers” and the recycled second amendment argument which was established during the era of musket balls and single-shot rifles.
Robert Weiner was a spokesman for the Clinton and Bush White Houses, the House Government Operations Committee under Chairman Rep. John Conyers, and senior staff for U.S. Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Rep. Claude Pepper, Rep. Ed Koch and Sen. Ted Kennedy. Kat Smith is a policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change.
MORE SOURCES: https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/second_amendment#:~:text=In%20the%202008%20case%20District,%2Ddefense%20within%20the%20home.%22 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/02/15/its-time-to-bring-back-the-assault-weapons-ban-gun-violence-experts-say/?noredirect=on https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/crime/nikolas-cruz-mental-illness-parkland-trial-b2195457.html https://www.lawinfo.com/resources/criminal-defense/not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity.html#:~:text=The%20Reality%20of%20Insanity%20Pleas,-TV%20shows%20and&text=One%20study%20found%20that%20the,not%20guilty%20because%20of%20insanity. https://time.com/6182186/countries-banned-guns-mass-shooting/ https://www.cnn.com/2015/08/27/health/u-s-most-mass-shootings/index.html https://wisevoter.com/country-rankings/mass-shootings-by-country> https://wisevoter.com/country-rankings/mass-shootings-by-country https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness#:~:text=Mental%20illnesses%20are%20common%20in,mild%20to%20moderate%20to%20severe https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness#:~:text=Mental%20illnesses%20are%20common%20in,mild%20to%20moderate%20to%20severe https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-05-25/how-many-guns-in-the-us-buying-spree-bolsters-lead-as-most-armed-country > https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-05-25/how-many-guns-in-the-us-buying-spree-bolsters-lead-as-most-armed-country