As we debate the steps to reducing gun violence in the society a couple points need to be understood: 1. The link between violent crime and mental illness is weak, and 2. Mental health professionals are poor at predicting anyone’s propensity for any specific behavior, including homicide.
Although it is mass shootings, particularly the massacre of school children in Newtown, that capture our attention and have accelerated the current discussion, Americans for the most part kill each other with guns in ones and twos. Of the total number of gun deaths in this country, around 30,000 a year, the majority are not the result of mental illness, but of ordinary human emotions like anger, hate, greed, and despair. In fact, about half of all shootings are suicides.
It is certainly true that our mental health system is in critical need of improvement, specifically in the area of funding. Twenty-eight states and D.C. reduced their mental health funding by a total of $1.6 billion between 2009 and 2012. With the "deinstitutionalization" movement of the ’60s and ’70s, many inpatient facilities were closed or reduced in size. It was assumed that a network of outpatient mental health clinics would take care of those previously hospitalized. This assumption has proven to be unattainable, largely because of inadequate public funding; instead many of the mentally ill are now on our streets or in our jails. (A 2010 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center found that there are more people with severe mental illness in prisons than in hospitals.) Inhumane and scandalous though that may be, few of them present a danger to public safety.
Photos courtesy of and copyright PhotoPin, http://photopin.com/