In the wake of yet another school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee with the death of three children and three adults, our nation re-addresses an all to familiar question: Why does this keep happening? 

While there are many opinions on gun violence, gun control, and 2nd amendment rights, there is one factor that frequently takes the blame for this issue and that is mental illness. It is common to hear news anchors and politicians, after these repeated mass shootings, state that this isn’t a gun issue, its a mental health issue, but is that really the case? 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) the vast majority of violence is not committed by people with mental illness. In fact, a study done by Annals of Epidemiology shows that mental illness only accounts for about 4% of interpersonal violence in our country. Additionally, the United States has similar rates of mental illness to other countries, but has much higher rates of gun violence. 

According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, people with mental illness are significantly more likely to be victims of interpersonal violence than perpetrators. Josh Horowitz (director of the Center for Gun Violence Solutions) states the following: “The terms we hear from both sides of the aisle, such as ‘the dangerously mentally ill’ are misleading, damaging to the mental health community, end not based on evidence. The gun lobby, politicians, and ill-informed media have conditioned us to associate mental illness with violence. The idea that mentally ill means violent is an alternative fact. Period.”

Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children in the United States. Despite this, congress has repeatedly been unable to pass meaningful legislation to stop the increase in gun violence in our country. Statistics continuously show that countries with more strict gun regulations have significantly lower rates of gun related killings. The CDC shows that in 2020 79% of homicides in the United States were gun related killings, while this same statistic was only 4% in the UK, 37% in Canada, and 13% in Australia. While statistics like this strongly suggest that stricter gun control laws mitigate gun violence and deaths, several states are loosening gun regulations and making guns easier to purchase, easier to carry and more difficult to track. 

Despite the loosening of gun laws in the United States, the majority of citizen are in favor of more strict gun laws. According to polling by Gallup, 57% of Americans surveyed stated that they were in favor of stricter gun laws. 

The solution to gun violence in the United States is a very controversial topic and falls largely along political party lines. Despite this, it is clear that blaming gun violence on mental illness is serving as a distraction to the real issues at hand and is continuously detrimental to those seeking mental health services in our country. 

Ellen Spiese, LMFT.