It is interesting that every time there is a mass shooting in America, one go-to response focuses on mental health and popular culture.
Those political talking points usually result in something everyone already knows — guns don’t kill people, people kill people. That seems to be a default position for many elected leaders when commenting on the latest massacre. That and the problem of mental health, violent films and video games in our society.
Mental illness does play a major role in this nation’s gun violence, but perhaps not in the way politicians are saying, or what you might personally believe. Here’s a fact to keep in mind: Less that 5 percent of America’s mass shootings are carried out by people with a diagnosed, or even suspected mental illness. Mental illness’ biggest role in gun violence is suicides by those suffering with such illnesses.
It’s safe to say, and painfully obvious, that anyone who sprays bullets into a crowded store or large public gathering is somehow unhinged. But another fact is that the overwhelming majority of mass shooters are just angry at the world, their relatives, those who bully them, mad at all manner of things — and simply evil.
Responding to the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, President Trump spoke to the nation, saying “Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger. Not the gun.”
Very clever, and technically true. But disingenuous in a potentially dangerous way.
The majority of studies of mass shooters find only a fraction have identifiable mental health issues. Researchers have identified a litany of factors that are stronger predictors of someone becoming a mass shooter — an overpowering sense of resentment, desire for fame, the urge to copy other shooters, infamous mass shooters, domestic violence, narcissism and easy access to guns.
California Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy last week blamed violent video games for fueling mass shootings.
There is no statistical link between playing violent video games and shooting people, according to Jonathan Metzl, director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University. A recent study by the Secret Service and the U.S. Education Department found that only 12 percent of perpetrators in more than three dozen school shootings displayed an interest in violent video games.
Despite a continuing lack of a statistical linkage between mass shootings and mental health and/or violent video games, lawmakers and public figures continue to blame the nation’s handling of mental-health problems, or targeting the video gaming industry.
Experts lay this off to elected officials being too eager to place blame, and end up “looking for answers in the wrong place.”
Still, the pressure to place blame is real, and relentless.
Following the Columbine high shooting 20 years ago, a Gallup poll found that 62 percent of U.S. adults believed entertainment was the major catalyst for the tragedy, and 83 percent supported restrictions on the sale of violent media to children. In 2018, a Post-ABC poll on mass shootings found that 57 percent of people believed shootings were a reflection of failures to identify and treat people with mental health problems, while just 28 percent blamed inadequate gun-control laws.
That makes it clear why so many politicians use mental health and violent entertainment content as scapegoats after mass shootings. Public opinion is what drives voting patterns and habits.
It is true this nation does too little to help people with mental health problems, and while watching violent videos may be a matter of personal choice, it’s still violence.
As a united nation, we must do better.