I’m a mental illness advocate, but quite frankly, if I wasn’t, I could be an anti-gun advocate. I’m not a fan of guns. Not in the least. Pieces of metal designed to kill strike me as being archaic and barbaric and speak to the basest nature of humanity and are not particularly enlightened. This is not to suggest I would ban guns (if anyone cares) but there are types of guns I would ban and laws I would enact to limit access to weapons.
So now that you know my political leanings I say this: you cannot take away a person’s (legal) access to guns just because they have a mental illness. It’s wrong and it fundamentally violates their rights.
People with a Mental Illness are Violent
People with a mental illness are not more violent than the rest of the population en masse. People with a mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.
The idea that people with a mental illness are violent has to do with media portrayals as it seems that killers can rarely be constructed on TV shows without them being given a mental illness.
But real life isn’t like that. Most people with a mental illness are more like me: I have never hurt another person, physically, and I can never see myself doing so.
Subsections of the Population that Are Violent
Now, as it happens, there is a subset of the mentally ill population that is known to be violent – those with a substance abuse problem. Would you like to know who else is known to be violent? Anyone with a substance abuse problem, whether they have another mental illness or not. This is a rather large group of people.
There is another subsection of the mentally ill population that also tends to be violent: those with a serious mental illness who are untreated. For example, people in psychosis can be violent when not in treatment, particularly if they also suffer from anosognosia. This is a tiny group of people. In fact, only 3-5% of violent acts are attributable to people with a serious mental illness and most of those do not involve guns.
Who Should be Denied Guns?
So who should be denied guns? Everyone with a mental illness just because a tiny portion of them may be violent? Or maybe people with a substance abuse problem because they are a much greater problem due to their numbers?
Should we keep a database of everyone who has ever been to an AA meeting or sought drug counselling? Just like tarring a person with a mental illness for life, should we keep people on this list forever?
Just as dumb as a keeping a big list of people with a mental illness. Who decides which mental illnesses should be included on this big list? What about people with multiple diagnoses? What about people whose diagnosis has changed over time?
And what about all the people who are successfully treated and living exactly the same type of life as everyone else?
Who Should Be Denied Guns
If you want to know who should be denied guns, I’m happy to tell you: people with a history of violence. Because if you want to know who may be violent then I suggest you look at their history. People who beat their wives, for example. Could we maybe deny them guns? People who abuse their children. People who beat up gays. People who beat up anyone. How about denying those people guns? (And yes, some people with a history of violence would have a mental illness, but the point is that they wouldn’t be judged on their illness, they would be judged on their actions.)
Denying People with a Mental Illness Guns is a Violation of Rights
Because mental illness is an illness – a medical illness – like any other. People with a mental illness haven’t done anything wrong and cannot be scarlet-lettered for a diagnosis which isn’t their fault and that they didn’t ask for. It’s penalizing people with an illness. That is not fair; that is not right; and quite frankly, it doesn’t even pass the sniff test. It’s like suggesting the people with cancer can’t own poodles in order to avoid poodle-violence. It’s stupid.
People Want to Protect Themselves from Violence
Yup, I get that people want to protect others (and themselves) from violence. That makes perfect sense. What does not make perfect sense is a knee-jerk reaction that blames a group of people who are, essentially, just like everyone else. Is my brain a mess? Yes it is. Does that mean I’m violent? No it doesn’t. And if I want to own a legal weapon, that is my right and denying it because I have a medical diagnosis is wrong. Period.
Studies on Mental Illness and Violence
Things you might like to read:
- People with a mental illness are more likely to be victims of domestic violence
- People with mental illness and substance abuse problems may also be more likely victims of violence too
- People with a mental illness who murder, “had extensive histories of substance abuse and criminal activity before their murder conviction. . .”
- Mania is not associated with severe violence
- Of people with a serious mental illness: “A large majority recognize that they are mentally ill, and they are treatment adherent, often able to work, and do not have major problems with substance abuse and violence. However, a substantial minority exists who receive little attention in the literature. They may not believe that they are mentally ill (the possible result of anosognosia), are nonadherent to psychiatric treatment, may have acute psychotic symptoms and serious substance abuse problems, may become violent when stressed. . .“
- “. . . variables other than schizophrenia are stronger predictors of violent behavior, wherein substance abuse and psychopathy were the most prominent predictors of violent behavior. . .”
- “Offenders [of severe violence] with psychosis were typically non-adherent to treatment, had co-morbid substance use and prior criminal convictions.”
And that represents about the last two years of research. I could go on and on but the crux of the matter is, we know who is violent, and it’s not the average person with a mental illness.
About Natasha Tracy
Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.