The Connections Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence are Very Weak


The links between gun violence, mass shootings and mental illness are very weak, argue two Vanderbilt University researchers in the American Journal of Public Health. “After synthesizing decades of research in psychiatry, psychology, sociology, and journalism, they argue that popular opinion about the links between mental illness and gun violence is often misguided, and, if extrapolated into policy change, even harmful to public health overall,” reports Pacific Standard, in an article which includes an interview with one of the authors.

Authors Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish analyzed data and literature from the past 40 years. “Fewer than 5 percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness,” they write. “Our research finds that across the board the mentally ill are 60 to 120 percent more likely than the average person to be the victims of violent crime rather than the perpetrators.”

A press release about the paper states that, “Their research uncovered four central myths that arise in the aftermath of mass shootings: (1) Mental illness causes gun violence, (2) Psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun crime before it happens, (3) U.S. mass-shootings “prove” that we should fear mentally ill loners, (4) Because of the complex psychiatric histories of mass-shooters, gun control “won’t prevent” mass shootings.

The authors call these “incorrect, though understandable assumptions.”

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence (Pacific Standard, December 18, 2014)

(Abstract) (Full text) Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms (Metzl, Jonathan M. and MacLeish, Kenneth T. American Journal of Public Health. Published online ahead of print December 2014. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302242)

Mental Illness Is the Wrong Scapegoat After Mass Shootings (Vanderbilt University Press Release on Newswise, December 11, 2014)


  1. I bet the relationship between gun violence and mental distress however is quite large. I tentaively suggest that exploring if there is a causitive relationship to being a victim or witness to gun violence and a subsequent increase in mental health diagnosis is worth investigating.

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    • I also think that most of people who are “diagnosed” with mental illness and commit violence are in fact an example of circular reasoning – because violence is a symptom of many “disorders” so no wonder people who have violent tendencies will be diagnosed as “ill”.

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  2. Btw, the biggest “risk factor” for being a mass shooter is to be an adolescent or young adult white male. Maybe we should start profiling them or putting them in closed institutions and give them sedatives against their will. You know, some of them may be dangerous…

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  3. This is an important article and the full text is available online without paying a subscription. I suggest all activists copy it and send it (or send a link in an email) to their mayors, legislators (state and federal) and local county m.h. services.

    If we don’t get active and help ourselves you know, we’ll never achieve the parity that the LGBTQ community has achieved. They did it themselves, in the face of hatred and stigma.

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