On Monday, Donald Trump addressed the nation on the most recent mass shootings, which have so far claimed 32 lives. Among his comments was the observation that “mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.” Thus began the usual tug-of-war between the Left and Right over how to reduce incidents of gun violence, with the Left arguing that the only solution is tighter gun control.
On Sunday, Rosie Phillips Davis, president of the American Psychological Association, released a statement in which she claimed that “blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing. Research has shown that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness.” Perhaps it depends on how you define very small percentage, but according to Psychology Today, “Studies show that about 20-25% of mass shooters (defined as killing three or more in one incident) suffered from this type of mental illness,” referring to “schizophrenia, in which the person is out of touch with reality and has hallucinations and/or delusions.”
An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, provides a more in-depth look at mass shootings and their causation. The authors, a psychologist and professor of criminal justice, write:
For two years, we’ve been studying the life histories of mass shooters in the United States for a project funded by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. We’ve built a database dating back to 1966 of every mass shooter who shot and killed four or more people in a public place, and every shooting incident at schools, workplaces, and places of worship since 1999. We’ve interviewed incarcerated perpetrators and their families, shooting survivors and first responders. We’ve read media and social media, manifestos, suicide notes, trial transcripts and medical records.
Their findings, which are summarized below in four bullet points, are particularly illuminating:
- The vast majority of mass shooters experienced early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age. The nature of their exposure included parental suicide, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and/or severe bullying.
- Practically every mass shooter had reached an identifiable crisis point in the weeks or months leading up to the shooting.
- Most of the shooters had studied the actions of other shooters and sought validation for their motives.
- The shooters all had the means to carry out their plans. Once someone decides life is no longer worth living and that murdering others would be a proper revenge, only means and opportunity stand in the way of another mass shooting. Is an appropriate shooting site accessible? Can the would-be shooter obtain firearms? In 80% of school shootings, perpetrators got their weapons from family members, according to our data. Workplace shooters tended to use handguns they legally owned. Other public shooters were more likely to acquire them illegally.
In this last point, we see a vital difference between the El Paso and Dayton shooters and a Florida man who threatened to “shoot up” Walmart in Tampa after being “intrigued” by the other two shootings but owned no firearm.
It is only after Democratic lawmakers abandon the fantasy of scoring political points with its base by passing more draconian gun laws that we as a nation can begin moving toward a solution.