Restricting Access to Guns by People With Mental Illness Will Not Reduce Gun Homicides (Study)


A study in The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology finds that a relatively small proportion of convicted murderers have a diagnosis of severe mental illness (SMI). The presence of SMI was, rather, associated with “reduced likelihood of targeting a stranger and was not associated with having multiple-victims or firearm use. Focusing on access to firearms exclusively by individuals with SMI will have little impact on multiple-victim or firearm-related homicides.”

Matejkowskia, J., Fairfax-Columbob, J., Cullenc, S., Marcusd, S., & Solomonc, P.; Exploring the potential of stricter gun restrictions for people with serious mental illness to reduce homicide in the United States. The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology. Online April 22, 2014 DOI: 10.1080/14789949.2014.909868


This study explores the potential that current efforts to limit access to firearms for individuals with serious mental illness (SMI) have for reducing overall rates of murder by firearm in the United States. Official arrest, court and health records provided data on personal and offense characteristics of 95 individuals with SMI and 423 without, all of whom had been convicted of murder in the State of Indiana between 1990 and 2002. Bivariate analyses examined differences between the two groups and logistic regression models examined the relationship between SMI and offense characteristics. Compared to those without, a relatively small proportion of convicted murderers had a diagnosis indicating SMI. The presence of SMI was associated with reduced likelihood of targeting a stranger and was not associated with having multiple-victims or firearm use. Focusing on access to firearms exclusively by individuals with SMI will have little impact on multiple-victim or firearm-related homicides.

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. People bent on mass murder will find other ways,

    The Happy Land fire was an arson fire that killed 87 people trapped in an unlicensed social club named “Happy Land”, at 1959 Southern Boulevard in the West Farms section of the Bronx in New York City on March 25, 1990. Most of the victims were young Hondurans celebrating Carnival.[1] Unemployed Cuban refugee Julio González, whose former girlfriend was employed at the club, was arrested soon afterward and ultimately convicted of arson and murder.

    Before the blaze, Happy Land was ordered closed for building code violations during November 1988. Violations included lack of fire exits, alarms or sprinkler system. No follow-up by the fire department was documented.

    The evening of the fire, González had argued with his former girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano, a coat check girl at the club, urging her to quit. She claimed that she had had enough of him and did not want anything to do with him anymore. González tried to fight back into the club but was ejected by the bouncer. He was heard to scream drunken threats in the process. González had recently lost his job at a lamp factory, was impoverished, and had virtually no companions González returned to the establishment with a plastic container of gasoline. He spread the fuel on a staircase, the only access into the club, and then ignited the gasoline.

    Even if this guy came back with the “best” assault rifle money can buy or 10 of them no way would he have killed 87 people.

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    • It is saying that specifically removing guns from “mentally ill” individuals will not have a significant effect on the homicide rate, as the number of such crimes committed by the “mentally ill” is so tiny. It is not an argument against gun control, just against singling out the “mentally ill” as being more dangerous than the rest of the population.

      —- steve

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      • Yes, I appreciate that but one could make an argument that anybody who kills another without justification (e.g. to defend himself) is at least temporarily suffering from a mental disorder. To me, any measure that reduces the number of guns has my support. And if somebody is fantasizing about killing schoolchildren (as that fellow in Orange County was), that is definitely not somebody that should have access to a gun.

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