April 08, 2015
2 min read

Nearly 9% of Americans report angry, impulsive behavior, gun ownership

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Analysis of nationally representative data indicate that 8.9% of the U.S. population report impulsive angry behavior patterns and also possess firearms at home and 1.5% report impulsive anger and carry firearms outside the home.

“Impulsive angry behavior conveys inherent risk of aggressive or violent acts which can become lethal when combined with access to firearms,” study researcher Jeffrey W. Swanson, PhD, of Duke University School of Medicine, and colleagues wrote. “There is also evidence that anger can mediate the relationship between symptoms of mental illness and violent behavior. But what proportion of the angry people in the population who own or carry guns have a diagnosable mental illness?”

Jeffrey Swanson

Jeffrey W. Swanson

To answer this question, researchers assessed data from the National Comorbidity Study Replication, a nationally representative household survey, for 5,653 respondents aged 18 years and older. Data was collected between February 2001 and April 2003. Gun possession and carrying and impulsive angry behavior were determined via self-reporting, while mental illness was determined using DSM-5 criteria.

Overall, 36.5% of study participants reported having one or more firearms in working condition in their homes.

Some participants reported having tantrums or anger outbursts (19.1%) and 25% reported at least one anger item (tantrums, angry outbursts, breaking/smashing things in anger, losing temper or engaging in physical fights). Neither of these measures was significantly associated with having firearms in the home or the number of firearms in the home.

Reports of losing temper and fighting (6% overall) was positively and significantly associated with the number of firearms (P = .018).

Men were significantly more likely to report all firearm outcomes (guns in home, carries gun, guns in home/has angry behaviors and carries gun/has angry behavior).

“Persons with impulsive angry behavior who carried guns were significantly more likely to meet diagnostic criteria for a wide range of mental disorders, including depression, bipolar and anxiety disorders, [post-traumatic stress disorder], intermittent explosive disorder, pathological gambling, eating disorder, alcohol and illicit drug use disorders and a range of personality disorders,” the researchers wrote.

Study participants with pathological gambling disorder were the most likely to have a firearm in the home and to carry a firearm, while participants with intermittent explosive disorder had the highest rates of reporting firearms in the home and impulsive angry behavior and carrying a firearm and impulsive angry behavior.

“Despite evidence of considerable psychopathology in many of the respondents with impulsive angry behavior combined with gun access, only a very small proportion (8%–10%) of these individual were ever hospitalized for a mental health problem,” Swanson and colleagues wrote. “Because a minority of psychiatric hospitalizations are involuntary, only a small fraction of these respondents could have a potentially gun-disqualifying involuntary commitment.”

“Laws that allow preemptive removal of firearms from high-risk individuals, such as Connecticut’s and Indiana’s ‘dangerous persons’ gun seizure laws or California’s newly enacted ‘gun violence restraining order’ law, may provide an additional avenue for limiting access to lethal means in the case of individuals who pose a danger to others due to a pattern of impulsive angry behavior,” they concluded. – by Amanda Oldt

Disclosure: Healio.com/Psychiatry was unable to confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.