Policy Issue

Policy Watch: What the Research Tells Us About Mass Shootings & Mental Illness

June 15, 2022

The recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Buffalo and Tulsa have once again revived calls for stricter gun control laws - increase the age to purchase; require background checks; ban assault-style weapons and implement red flag laws. Several states, including Massachusetts, have implemented many of these strategies with success. Yet, as these recent shootings have demonstrated, those opposed to stronger gun control laws are quick to put the focus on mental illness rather than on gun control efforts.

Yes, someone who commits mass murder is clearly emotionally unstable, but a study by the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit of 63 active shooters found that only a quarter of those had a diagnosis of mental illness. Other studies have found that mass shooters are not acting out of impulse but have deep grievances and anger that drive their actions. We also know from other research that having a diagnosed mental illness is not a predictor of violent behavior, but rather someone with a mental illness is more likely to be victim of violence.

There is much work to be done to improve gun laws and access to mental health services in this country. But, we should not add to the stigma of behavioral health issues by saying these horrific acts are merely the result of a mental illness gone unchecked or untreated.

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