Tag Archives: shootings

yes, there are things to do about gun violence

In 2015, I ran a series on gun violence in America on this blog. I consolidated the series into one extensive article in the November 2015 Eagle Peak Quarterly. The piece analyzed much available data from a variety of sources and excerpted salient points. It presented some facts, offered conclusions and recommendations for reducing those deaths. Little has changed since, except more deaths by guns. Those conclusions and recommendations remain as valid today as they did then. I remain hopeful that change for the better CAN happen. If you believe all is hopeless or are angry that nothing has, the first step in making change happen is to be well-informed and not be swayed by rhetoric, emotion or myths.

There are many myths out there about gun violence, much of it driven by political ideology. So let’s clear the fog of emotion and politics that has arisen after the most recent mass shooting at the Parkland school in Florida.

Here are the conclusions of the November 2015 article. About the only things that have changed are the numbers–more mass shootings. That and the repeal of a law that made it more difficult for those with mental illness to purchase a gun (which may not matter greatly anyway, as you will see in the bullet points below).

  • The USA leads the world in gun ownership and deaths by guns (other than a very few outliers with ongoing conflicts and/or other severe problems)
  • The substantial majority (over 60% of gun deaths) are suicides
  • Police kill more people than police are killed by others –at least by 20 to 1 and probably more
  • Of those killed by police, 25% are mentally ill or are disproportionately non-white (most often black, who are 7 times more likely than whites to be killed while unarmed)
  • Police are seldom charged in shootings and far less often actually convicted of a criminal offense for shooting even an unarmed person
  • Mass shooting (theaters, malls, schools) and “active shooter” (disgruntled employees, etc.) incidents are becoming more common but are still a tiny percentage of all gun deaths
  • Mentally disturbed individuals are NOT responsible for most gun deaths, including mass shootings or active shooter incidents (less than 5% of them)
  • Domestic violence accounts for a significant, but not a substantial percentage of deaths. People living in homes with guns were three times more likely than those in homes without them to lose lives by guns
  • Gang-related violence amounts to as much as 11-12% of gun deaths but those deaths are overwhelmingly gang members killing members of other gangs and are seldom related to drugs
  • States with more guns had more gun deaths. States with stronger gun controls had less deaths
  • Terrorism isn’t a big part of the issue, newsworthy as it may be 


Here’s what we suggested in that 2015 article should be done politically/legally with qualifiers on whether it could be done. None of it has been done since then but it still can and should be done. One thing left out of those recommendations is universal background checks–probably desired by a substantial percentage of the public but also the most politically untenable change. 

  • Reinstate the automatic weapons ban—i.e. the sale, trade or possession of such weapons with substantial added penalties for use in a crime. Rationale: Hunters don’t need them. Militia (or extremist) groups want them but shouldn’t have them. Recreational shooters could rent and shoot them at licensed gun ranges if they simply must fire them for fun. Politically, this will be difficult at best in the current pro-gun Congress with its fear of and financial support from the NRA and their friends.
  • Prohibit sale to the public of highcapacity magazines—if you have to reload, you can’t kill as many people. Again, difficult in the current political climate
  • Prohibit sale to the public of armorpiercing rounds—they have been banned for handguns since 1986 but the bullets that are used in AR-15s can be used in handguns. The Obama administration caved to NRA and gun organizations to pull an ATF proposal to do this this year. So that tells you the political reality. Armor-piercing rounds can penetrate police body armor. Since deer and other game don’t wear body armor, it’s difficult to see how such bullets are needed for sportsmen.
  • Destroy every weapon seized in a crime once forensics and trials are completed—evidence rooms are supposed to be secure, but they aren’t always. Some percentage of the guns on the street come from ones stolen from police or sold by corrupt officers. This should be doable. Goes along with turn-in programs periodically run in some jurisdictions. Otherwise, the same guns are used in crime after crime.
  • Better secure federal, state and local armories—some percentage of the guns on the street come from theft or corrupt sales from military bases, national guard armories, police departments, etc. Could cost a little money on the security side, but since some of the weapons are used against law enforcement, at least they should support it. Prosecute more harshly those employed there who sell such weapons from inventory.
  • Reduce militarization of state and local law enforcement—current law allows the federal government (especially the military) to offer surplus equipment at little or no cost to locals in ostensible support of anti-terrorism, drug-enforcement and other programs. Since there really are few genuine terrorist incidents, the main use of armored vehicles, military grade weapons and the like is in urban protest situations (see Ferguson, Missouri for example). This exacerbates problems between law enforcement and the local populace. Urban and suburban enclaves in America are NOT similar to war zones around the world; military weapons are NOT appropriate here.
  • Provide more and better mental health services—including PTSD treatment for veterans, in conjunction with better shelters. Although mentally disturbed people are not responsible for most shootings, they are responsible for some and they need the help. Following the deinstitutionalization movement of the 70s and 80s, the community mental health services that were supposed to be available have become less so after budget cuts. A majority of homeless people suffer from mental illness; likewise incarcerated people.
Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2018 John Maberry

Who’s Shooting Who–Part 4

In this fourth part of the series on shootings in America we look at the issue of mental illness–both with who is doing the shooting and who is the person shot.

Are mentally ill individuals a big part of the gun deaths in America?

  • News media, politicians, grieving families of victims, the NRA and the public at large seem to believe or at least speak as if they have reason to believe that many gun deaths come as a result of deranged (mentally ill) individuals. Especially in the case of mass shootings and active shooter incidents.
  • Despite the divergence of opinions on gun control otherwise, they seem to agree that keeping weapons from those with psychiatric issues is not only a good idea but will reduce gun deaths.
  • While it may be somewhat more likely that specific incidents like those above involve subjects with mental conditions, those incidents are a tiny fraction of gun violence in America.
  • Even if every single one could have been prevented by better mental health treatment or keeping guns out of their hands, it would do little to make America safer. Let’s look at some numbers and analyses from a number of sources.

Most shootings are not committed by mentally ill individuals

Statistical analyses by professional organizations, FBI reports and in-depth news features show that while the mentally ill may get and use guns, they do so far less often than the media and others would have us believe.

From the American Journal of Public Health , February 2015,  “Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms”

  • [S]urprisingly little population-level evidence supports the notion that individuals diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit gun crimes. According to Appelbaum, 25less than 3% to 5% of US crimes involve people with mental illness, and the percentages of crimes that involve guns are lower than the national average for persons not diagnosed with mental illness. Databases that track gun homicides, such as the National Center for Health Statistics, similarly show that fewer than 5% of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness.26
  • Four assumptions frequently arise in the aftermath of mass shootings in the United States: (1) that mental illness causes gun violence, (2) that psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun crime, (3) that shootings represent the deranged acts of mentally ill loners, and (4) that gun control “won’t prevent” another Newtown (Connecticut school mass shooting).”
  • “[T]he US media diagnosed shooter Adam Lanza with schizophrenia in the days following the tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012. “Was Adam Lanza an undiagnosed schizophrenic?” asked Psychology Today.1“Lanza’s acts of slaughter . . . strongly suggest undiagnosed schizophrenia” added the New York Times.2 Conservative commentator Anne Coulter provocatively proclaimed that “Guns don’t kill people—the mentally ill do.3
  • “Similar themes permeated political responses to Newtown as well. In a contentious press conference, National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre blamed “delusional killers” for violence in the United States, while calling for a “national registry” of persons with mental illness. 4

 For more commentary, see an article by Arthur Chu in the June 18, 2015 Salon.com site, “It’s not about mental illness: The big lie that always follows mass shootings by white males” For example, Chu says this,

  • “We do have statistics showing that the vast majority of people who commit acts of violence do not have a diagnosis of mental illness and, conversely, people who have mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.
  • “[T]he stigma of people who suffer from mental illness as scary, dangerous potential murderers hurts people every single day — it costs people relationships and jobs, it scares people away from seeking help who need it, it brings shame and fear down on the heads of people who already have it bad enough.”

The University of Washington School of Social Work site: Mental Health Reporting, says this:

“Fact 1: The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent.

Fact 2: The public is misinformed about the link between mental illness and violence.

Fact 3: Inaccurate beliefs about mental illness and violence lead to widespread stigma and discrimination:

Fact 4: The link between mental illness and violence is promoted by the entertainment and news media.”

Once more from the American Journal of Public Health article noted above,

“[T]he risk is exponentially greater that individuals diagnosed with serious mental illness will be assaulted by others, rather than the other way around . . .  extensive surveys of police incident reports demonstrate that, far from posing threats to others, people diagnosed with schizophrenia have victimization rates 65% to 130% higher than those of the general public.”

Mentally ill people are disproportionately killed by police

From the Washington Post, June 30, 2015 “Distraught People, Deadly Results”

  • “Through June 2015, 124 of 462 people shot and killed by police were mentally ill” [updated numbers on the website are now 174 of 662, maintaining the 25% ratio of mentally ill to the total number shot]
  • “The vast majority were armed, but in most cases, the police officers who shot them were . . . called by relatives, neighbors or other bystanders worried that a mentally fragile person was behaving erratically, reports show. More than 50 people were explicitly suicidal.” [So the officers assisted, apparently legally, in suicides. This is the famous “suicide by cop” phenomenon. This in turn can lead to stress and guilt on the part of at least some of the officers. See Kimberly Kindy comments below from an NPR interview on this story].
  • “More than half the killings involved police agencies that have not provided their officers with state-of-the-art training to deal with the mentally ill. . . . according to a recent survey by the Police Executive Research Forum, [recruits] receive only eight hours of training to de-escalate tense situations and eight hours learning strategies for handling the mentally ill.”
  • “[Y]elling and pointing guns is ‘like pouring gasoline on a fire when you do that with the mentally ill,’ said Ron Honberg, policy director with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.”

On July 4, 2015, NPR interviewed one of the Post reporters who wrote the article, “Distraught People, Deadly Results” who said this:

“There are so many of [these stories]; one in particular, though, is Lavall Hall, a schizophrenic young man. His mother called for help because he went outside in the really chilly, cold air. He was out there in his underwear swinging a broomstick. The police show up, and within minutes, he’s gunned down. And the mother said, ‘I wish I would’ve never called them.’ It’s just heartbreaking because, case after case, you’re talking about family members and friends who call for help, and the person ends up dead. …

What’s also heartbreaking is I think the police officers — their lives are changed forever when they take the life of somebody like this. They deserve a chance at knowing how to handle these situations and many of them are not given that chance by being given the proper training.”

Finally there is this, from an article in the Atlantic, Atlantic, March 25, 2015,  Methods that Police Use on the Mentally Ill are Madness:

“Eugene Robinson once pointed out that U.S. police officers shoot somewhere between 500 and 1,000 people per year, whereas “there were no fatal police shootings in Great Britain last year. [2013] Not one. In Germany, there have been eight police killings over the past two years. In Canada—a country with its own frontier ethos and no great aversion to firearms—police shootings average about a dozen a year.” He added that this is partly because the U.S. is a gun-filled culture, but that something else was going on too. Since every developed country has both mentally ill people and screwdrivers, this case is a data point in support of that contention. “

Miraculously either there are fewer mentally ill in Great Britain, Germany or Canada OR, police are able to bring those threatening violence under control without shooting them.

Coming next week—we wrap up the series with a recap of the statistics and realities of shooting in America along with some analysis of what could be done to make things better. For example, where and how some forms of gun control may help and when they may not.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2015 John Maberry