Gun violence and mental illness

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 29, 2013 

We have a serious gun violence problem in America. This problem is documented by the statistics that approximately 30 people die each day from guns and more Americans have died by domestic gun violence since 1968 than have been killed in all American wars combined. To solve the gun violence problem a recent letter to the editor asserted that we need to get the "crazy people" off the street. Ann Coulter stated that: "Guns don't kill people, the mentally ill do."

I believe this tact is a red herring to detract from the real causes of gun violence. The epidemiologic facts are that only about four percent of all such violence in the U.S. is attributable to mental illness, leaving about 96 percent to "normal" people, yet the mentally ill get the headlines. Further, the mentally ill are several times more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence and much of their violence is self directed as they are disproportionately represented among the 35,000 suicides each year.

Scapegoating the mentally ill is both factually wrong and potentially hazardous in that it diverts attention from the many factors that contribute to the vast majority of violent acts, including easy gun access, alcohol/drug abuse, dysfunctional families, and poverty. Getting more and better treatment for our mentally ill is an important goal but it is not the solution to the problem of gun violence in America.

Ronald Kleinknecht

Bellingham

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