01 April 2019

Gun Violence and Mental Health

Welcome back. Given my earlier posts on gun violence (Gun Research, Gun Research Revisited), I suppose this post could be considered my annual call for research. Of the gun violence research I could have reviewed to illustrate the need, I chose a study related to mental health, a common scapegoat.

I thought about adding “The Missing Link” to the blog post title. Despite evidence and earlier studies to the contrary, way too many people and politicians still think having a mental illness makes a person more likely to commit gun violence.

In 2016, John Oliver pointed out how foolish it is to blame gun violence on mental illness. (from www.pulseheadlines.com/mental-illness-violence-media-shows/34111/)
Texas Study
The limited research linking gun violence and mental health has usually rated mental illness among individuals arrested for violent crimes or focused on violence between individuals with severe mental illness. Researchers affiliated with the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston took a different approach.

They surveyed 663 young adults (average age 22 years; 62% female; self-identified as 34% Hispanic, 26% white, 27% Black, 13% other) in a long-term study about gun possession and use as well as mental health symptoms (anxiety, depression, stress, posttraumatic stress disorder, hostility, impulsivity, borderline personality disorder), mental health treatment and other demographic details.

Gun Violence Tied to Gun Access Not Mental Health
Their analysis found no link between the associations of gun violence and most mental health symptoms. Instead, access to guns stood out as the principal indicator of gun violence.

After controlling for a number of demographic factors and prior mental health treatment, individuals who had gun access were over 18 times more likely to have threatened someone with a gun than individuals with no gun access. Of mental health symptoms, high hostility individuals were about 3.5 times more likely to have threatened someone.

Wrap Up
The study sample was limited and relatively small for broad pronouncements; however, the findings were clear: There’s essentially no link between gun violence and the great majority of individuals exhibiting mental health symptoms.

Further, the finding that gun access is the key factor in gun violence is in line with other studies. That includes the 1993 study that found, rather than providing protection, keeping a gun in the home was strongly and independently associated with an increased risk of homicide. Virtually all of the risk involved homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance.

That study, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), precipitated the NRA-lobbied Congress to remove funding for gun violence research by the CDC, prohibit the CDC from spending funds “to advocate or promote gun control” and later apply the same funding constraint on the National Institutes of Health (see Gun Research).

The call for research on gun violence. (from Union of Concerned Scientists, blog.ucsusa.org/yogin-kothari/gun-violence-research-filibuster)
Two decades have passed and perhaps change is coming. In agency instructions attached to the recently approved government spending bill, the CDC is given the authority to conduct research on causes of gun violence. Although the measure did not address gun control or provide funding, the measure is a welcome step in the right direction. Maybe this will be my last call for gun research. Thanks for stopping by.

P.S.
Texas study of gun violence and mental health in Preventive Medicine journal: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743519300143
Press release and example articles on study:
www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-02/uotm-min020619.php
www.sciencealert.com/new-study-shows-why-we-really-need-to-stop-blaming-mental-illness-for-gun-violence
www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6683581/Mental-illness-isnt-blame-gun-violence-access-guns-study-finds.html
1993 study of guns in the home in New England Jour. of Medicine: www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199310073291506
Example articles on CDC gun research legislation:
www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2018/03/23/hey-marchers-heres-what-congress-just-did-on-guns-and-what-it-probably-wont-do-anytime-soon/
www.nytimes.com/2018/03/12/health/gun-violence-research-cdc.html
www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/03/23/596413510/proposed-budget-allows-cdc-to-study-gun-violence-researchers-skeptical

A version of this blog post appeared earlier on www.warrensnotice.com.

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