PsychRights’ Letter to the President’s Task Force on Gun Violence


I am flattered and pleased to have been asked by MadInAmerica to post here the letter PsychRights wrote Monday to Vice President Biden regarding the misguided, counterproductive and very dangerous focus on identifying and forcing “treatment” on people diagnosed with mental illness as any part of the solution to gun violence in the United States.

Law Project for Psychiatric Rights (PsychRights)





January 7, 2013

The Honorable Joseph Biden
Vice President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC  20501


Re: Gun Violence Task Force


Dear Mr. Vice President:

In the wake of the unimaginable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there has been an understandable assumption that increased use of mental health services and a mental registry is part of the solution.  Understandable, but wrong.

This reaction is wrong because of two basic facts: (1) there is no reliable way to predict who will commit such a terrible act, and (2) the pervasive use of psychiatric drugs, which is the mainstay of mental health treatment, increases rather than decreases extreme violence.

With respect to the former, there is a recent Washington Post article (attached)[1] that goes through violence research, and includes the following observations:

  • “There is no instrument that is specifically useful or validated for identifying potential school shooters or mass murderers.”
  • “The best-known attempt to measure violence in mental patients found that mental illness by itself didn’t predict an above-average risk of being violent.”
  • “[S]tudies have shown that psychiatrists’ accuracy in identifying patients who would become violent was slightly better than chance.”
  • “[T]he presence of a mental disorder [is] only a small contributor to risk, outweighed by other factors such as age, previous violent acts, alcohol use, impulsivity, gang membership and lack of family support.”

In short, as logical as it might appear, trying to identify potential mass murderers in advance by focusing on people diagnosed with mental illness simply won’t work.

With respect to (2), the propensity of psychiatric drugs to cause violence, attached is the Statement on the Connection Between Psychotropic Drugs and Mass Murder recently issued by the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry (ISEPP), demonstrating the clear link between psychiatric drugs and violence.  As the ISEPP Statement points out:

  • Christopher Pittman was on antidepressants when he killed his grandparents.
  • Eric Harris, one of the gunmen in the Columbine school shooting, was taking Luvox and Dylan Klebold, his partner, had taken Zoloft and Paxil.
  • Doug Williams, who killed five and wounded nine of his fellow Lockheed Martin employees, was on Zoloft and Celexa.
  • Michael McDermott was on three antidepressants when he fired off 37 rounds and killed seven of his fellow employees in the Massachusetts Wakefield massacre.
  • Kip Kinkel was on Prozac when he killed his parents and then killed 2 children and wounded 25 at a nearby school.
  • In fourteen recent school shoots, the acts were committed by persons taking or withdrawing from psychiatric drugs, resulting in over 100 wounded and 58 killed.
  • In other school shootings, information about the shooter’s prescription drug use and other medical history were kept from public records.

This last point is very important—the involvement of psychiatric drugs in many mass shootings is being withheld from the public.  There have been reports that Adam Lanza was on psychiatric drugs, but that has not been confirmed to my knowledge.  It is essential that the involvement of psychiatric drugs in these tragedies be investigated and reported to the public.

What is clear, is that the involvement of the mental health system and mental health professionals does not prevent these horrors and being diagnosed with a mental illness is not a reliable predictor of violence.  In this regard, if one were to analyze the small correlation between a diagnosis of mental illness and violence that the Washington Post story reports, one would find (a) that the violence causing properties of psychiatric drugs is not taken into account, (b) much of the violence by people diagnosed with mental illness was provoked by the traumatic actions of the mental health system, which is often physical violence itself (or being threatened with such action),[2] and (c) what is classified as violence often does not involve serious harm.

The bottom line is that while focusing on people diagnosed with mental illness might give one the feeling that something is being done to address the problem, the fact is that it will not.  Frankly, it would just be scapegoating.

Focusing on having more coercive mental health interventions and a mental health registry is doomed to failure. The National Empowerment Center, headed by Daniel Fisher, MD, has issued a very insightful statement of what will be truly helpful (attached).  I understand Dr. Fisher has been asked to contribute to the Task Force’s work and I hope the Task Force pays close attention to what he has to say.

Yours truly,

James B. (Jim) Gottstein, Esq.


cc:  Daniel Fisher, MD


[1] In the interest of full disclosure, I am quoted at the very end.

[2] There was at least one unconfirmed report that Adam Lanza was being threatened with involuntary commitment just before his rampage.

ISEPP calls for a Federal Investigation into the link between Psychotropic Drugs and Mass Murder


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  1. Thank you for this. I agree with much but think there were some things left out.
    I would not be afraid to bring up Mental Health treatment as a talking subject. The whole system is in array. Though gun violence is not the best entry point for a national discussion on Mental Health treatment and everything in the Mental Health world,it might be our best chance.
    I am glad you delineated the problems with psychotrophic medications but the discussion of proper and best practice treatment options is vital.

    Respite homes that allow a person to safely try to withdraw from medication and a peer counselor on every psych unit and treatment facility are just as important.

    How many concerned parents have heard their adolescent would like to go off meds? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to say it’s worth a try here is a place that can help you see if this is a possibility for you.

    What if “The Gathering Place ” which offers free alternative therapies, support groups, and a a library with a liberian would not be just those facing Cancer. What if there were a place for those with all sorts of chronic illness?

    What if there were college and medical school scholarships for those American students interested in going into psychiatry, those with excellent academic qualifications? What if there were fellowships and grants for them after they start up practice so they don’t need to be beholden to Big Pharma money? What if the Koch Brothers or others would actually create funding for nonmedical professionals in the same way?

    A true dialogue needs to take place where people from all sides of the issues forget their talking points and listen, really listen even to the folks they strongly disagree with. I think if we can bring this all down to a individual and small group level things will begin to change. I think of the Abolitionist movement and the current PBS special episodes. It took years and many decades before Emancipation and we still have rampant racism in our society. Fear is our worse enemy. And I know for me shame is mine.

    Please try for this. In our culture where we have the television shows “American Horror Story’ and then “Homeland” and “Enlightenment” all getting high ratings it is apparent we have a cultural,social, educational divide. With a national database “Carrie” the CIA agent would be black listed for weapons. So we all have some talking to do with each other.

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  2. The work of Jim Gottstein… the countless lives he’s touched, and the many lives he’s saved with his work will be long-remembered.

    Words cannot express my gratitude, so I choose these:

    “We gave up many times, but he always lifted our spirits … Schindler tried to help people however he could. That is what we remember.” – Helen Beck, Schindler Survivor

    Thank you, sir.


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  3. I almost would want to say that, although it says there is no instrument specifically usefully to determine who might become a school shooter; you can determine that the mental health system, and it’s treatment of people, and the administering of psychiatric drugs correlates heavily with such results. In fact, you didn’t have school shootings in the news at regular intervals until they started selling the new wave of serotonin re-uptake inhibiting anti-depressants.
    But then, would anyone dare to point this out, instead of it becoming clear that it’s the treatment or rather “treatments” people receive from the mental health system that’s the cause; they might decide that anyone anywhere who has ever received a mental illness diagnosis should be shipped into outer space, institutionalized, or forcibly injected with “medications” whichever makes more profits.
    A friend of mine told me that a family member of her’s had mentioned that Adam Lanza was bipolar; and that anyone who is bipolar should be put in a tank somewhere and isolated from the general population. And really this was because my friend has a diagnosis of “bipolar,” and her family member wanted to attack her for it. Adam Lanza hasn’t even been reported to be bipolar that I’ve heard. But suddenly, anyone with any kind of diagnosis is fodder for hatred, hysteria and people becoming reactionary in downright superstitious ways. Thanks to the fact that we have seen this tragic school shooting on the news 24/7 for a period of time, although more children are killed EACH DAY with landmines, and there are regular drone attacks which have killed many times more innocent civilians than all the school shootings, along with other things I’m too tired of and sick of to mention.
    And the correlation with people who perpetrated school shootings and those being treated by the mental health system with “medications” that can make one violent, this you can’t ignore. So, of course, you don’t hear about it in corporate media. And the administration of the “medications” was for “therapeutic” purposes. And they call it “medical” treatment. So, when it doesn’t work, they’re going to give the people administering what didn’t work more power to treat others, lest anyone get the notion it’s not working.
    The only answer might be to not fight fire with fire and to not stereotype all the people advocating the administration of such “help,” but to realize that there are always people that truly want to listen; and they’ll see the truth, and change things.

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    • and… Adam Lanza learned to use this heinous weapon — to increase his self confidence and mitigate the suffering he experienced from social –anxiety? phobia?!!!

      I think this is a good time to revisit the first ever White house Conference on Mental Health–1999– Clinton administration following the Columbine tragedy. Begin with accountability- Dr. Harold Koplewicz– and the erroneous ‘biological psychiatry’ model that laid the foundation for the ‘hell’ we are in now!

      Bob Whitaker’s latest video-lecture here is what I believe should be viewed by VP Biden’s committee! A good solid history lesson– that closes with an arrow: “You are here”… like the ones on the wall outside elevators. Clear, concise— the facts and the map!

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  4. If I had a pipeline to VP Biden’s committee, I would insist they revisit the White House Conference on Mental Health that was convened in the wake of the Columbine tragedy. All of the errors regarding mental health care/treatment were established then! In addition to learning from this egregious mistaken solution for school shootings, Peter Breggin’s book, “Reclaiming Our Children”, a plan for a nation in crisis, is excellent an excellent analysis of this scourge.

    The point being, that ‘gun control’ issues really speak to a mental illness that is rampant in our society. Tongue in cheek, I’d say that wanting or needing to own and shoot assault weapons should have been included in the DSM V — IF the goal is to provide mental health care as a screening tool for “would-be shooters”.

    Seriously, I hope that this administration does a better job studying factual information and looking at how damaging the last Presidential task force was– in terms of listening to quacks like Harold Koplewicz !

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