Researchers found that contrary to public beliefs, most mental health symptoms were not tied to gun violence; instead, easy firearm access was the primary cause.
“News media coverage on gun violence tended to implicate mental illness as the cause of gun violence and frequently proposed gun restrictions for people with mental illnesses as a solution,” Yu Lu, PhD, and Jeff R. Temple, PhD, of the University of Texas Medical Branch, wrote. “This narrative likely contributed to a general public perception that people with mental illness are the cause of gun violence and potentially have influenced policymaking.”
According to Lu and Temple, there’s not enough evidence indicating the effectiveness of restricting gun ownership based on mental illness.
Therefore, they examined the temporal connections between gun violence and mental illness as well as the cross-sectional associations with gun access and ownership in 663 young adults who responded to questions about firearms using data from wave 6 (spring 2015) and wave 8 (spring 2017) of an ongoing longitudinal U.S. study. Mental illnesses examined included anxiety, depression, stress, PTSD, hostility, impulsivity and borderline personality disorder.
"What we found is that the link between mental illness and gun violence is not there,” Lu said in a press release.
Analysis revealed no significant temporal associations with carrying a gun and anxiety, stress, depression, PTSD, hostility and borderline personality disorder after controlling for previous gun-related variables and mental health treatment.
Instead, analysis showed that individuals who had access to a gun in 2017 were 4.74 times (95% CI; 2.01-11.16) more likely to carry a gun outside of their home that year and those who reported owning a gun were 5.22 times (95% CI; 2.31-11.77) more likely to carry a gun outside of the house. Lu and Temple observed that only higher impulsivity was associated with gun carrying (OR = 1.91; 95% CI; 1.25-2.93).
The researchers also found that receiving past-year mental health treatment predicted threatening someone with a gun after controlling for demographic characteristics (adjusted OR = 3.68; 95% CI, 1.17-11.54); however, after including other mental health variables in the model, the association was nonsignificant.
When adjusting for demographic factors, Lu and Temple found that individuals with gun access were 18.15 times (95% CI; 2.52-130.48) more likely to have threatened someone with a gun. Only hostility was associated with threatening someone with a gun (OR = 3.51; 95% CI; 1.27-9.71), according to the results.
“Despite the public, political, and media narrative that mental health is at the root of gun violence (especially mass shootings), this study did not find it to be the case,” Lu and Temple wrote in the full study published in Preventive Medicine.
"Taking all this information together, limiting access to guns, regardless of any other mental health status, demographics or prior mental health treatments, is the key to reducing gun violence," Temple said in the release. – by Savannah Demko
Disclosure: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.