In every mass shooting's wake, the murderer's motives monopolize national attention. Why would someone, in such calculated fashion, commit mass murder? It's too facile to blame school shootings on misguided anger and narcissism within a socially awkward young man. Our curiosity leads us to transfer blame from the perpetrator to a 'greater evil': bullying, accessibility of assault weapons, and the link between mental illness and gun violence.
Indeed, the lunacy of America's gun control policies is a greater evil that deserves condemnation. There is no question about that. But the other 'evil' - the purported prevalence of violence among people with mental illness - has no basis in fact and yet has become a central topic in the shooting's aftermath. The news that Adam Lanza struggled with Asperger's Syndrome has raised questions about the predatory nature of people with autism - and people with other mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Arguing against stricter gun-control measures, Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers said, “What the more realistic discussion is, ‘How do we target people with mental illness who use firearms?'”
If Rogers delves deep into this discussion, he will find overwhelming evidence that the "vast majority of people with psychiatric disorders do not commit violent acts," the New York Times stated.
*Only 4 percent of violence in the United States can be attributed to people with mental illness, according to a 2006 study by the American Journal of Psychiatry.
*The lifetime prevalence of violence among people with serious mental illness — like schizophrenia andbipolar disorder — was 16 percent, compared with 7 percent among people without any mental disorder, among 18,000 subjects in a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health’s Epidemiologic Catchment Data.
*That same study showed that people who abused alcohol and drugs were seven times more likely to commit a violent act than non-abusers.
On a personal level, I am deeply concerned about the growing stigma against people with mental illness. I work at a mental health agency, Thresholds, that serves more than 6,000 people with severe mental illness. In 2012, only 12 were incarcerated. 99.8% of Thresholds members are law-abiding citizens who simply want stability in their lives - housing, employment, therapy, medication management, and the ultimate goal of financial and spiritual independence.
Don't get me wrong. I believe that, as long as firearms remain legal on some level, people with mental illness should not possess them. Having said that, they should not become the scapegoat for a larger issue.
"All the focus on the small number of people with mental illness who are violent serves to make us feel safer by displacing and limiting the threat of violence to a small, well-defined group. But the sad and frightening truth is that the vast majority of homicides are carried out by outwardly normal people in the grip of all too ordinary human aggression to whom we provide nearly unfettered access to deadly force," The New York Times said.
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