Gun Violence is not Synonymous with Mental Illness

By Meghan Park, Hawkeye Staff

With the talk of gun control heating up after the most recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, many people have targeted mental illness as the main problem. However, talk of mental illness, especially talk of people being “insane” or “crazy” should not overshadow gun control awareness. Regardless, people who should not have access to guns or those who pose a threat to others or themselves, still have access to guns and that is the main concern.

The concern of gun control shouldn’t only revolve around the topic of whether or not people with mental illness should have legal access to guns, the concern should focus on the general public. Any average Joe shouldn’t be able to walk in a store with cash and easily walk out having purchased a gun. When the blame is placed on mental illness, not the gun, the conversation is shifted to one that does not invoke much change in the system.  

In the USA there is a general screening done before a person may obtain a gun. One must  answer questions like, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony,” “Have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any other depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance,” as well as others according to the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). With this screening, you’d assume that more people would be weeded out and denied access to a gun. However, according to the FBI website, denials are rare and occur less than 1% of the time. Meaning out of more than 100 million checks only about 700,000 have been denied.

To be mentally ill is a battle within itself. If someone is struggling with “crazy” thoughts, then they should not have a gun. Although mass shootings have been the main focus, they aren’t the only events in which guns take lives. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014 there were about 42,800 deaths by suicide, about 50% of which were by a gun. Mentally ill people should not have a gun, I agree with this, however, when anyone can buy a gun it creates the same problem — lives being lost. A 2015 analysis of 235 mass shootings found that only 22% of the shooters were considered mentally ill. So, although mentally ill people should not have guns, mental illness isn’t the common factor in mass shootings. We should be focusing on the weapons the criminals have in their hands. Furthermore, the U.S. isn’t proven to have higher rates of mental illness or violent behavior and yet from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a constantly maintained database, it states the U.S. has the 31st highest rate of gun death in the world, about eight times higher than Canada and 27 times higher than Denmark, one of the countries with fewer occurrences of gun violence.

With all the deaths that have happened because of guns, why do we continue to focus on possible factors in contributing to the problem like mental health? Perhaps we want something about the person to blame, and I do agree it is part of the issue, but we need to start holding the tools used responsible. It is not just that people have access to guns, it’s that many may not realize how dangerous they truly are. To drive a vehicle, something that has the power to take lives easily, one has to go through an extensive process and waiting period along with upholding many regulation to maintain a license, because we acknowledge how dangerous cars are. However, we don’t have this kind of process for obtaining guns. Furthermore, the Washington Post concluded as laws regarding driving have become more intricate, the number of deaths due to vehicles has gone down. Meanwhile, gun laws remain erratic with high death rate.

Should we really be standing by idly as more lives are lost because of our inability to realize how dangerous the guns we hold are? How many lives will it take for us to realize we need change and we need it now? Are we to stand by as mental health is wrongly put as the target of the talk as the cold killer stands behind it? Guns should be what we attack, not the brains of people, which should be treated, not barred. We must take action against the guns and we must do it now.