Why Improving the Mental Health System Is the Only True Solution to Prevent Mass Shootings

On May 18, 1927, Andrew Kehoe murdered 38 school children in Bath Township, Michigan, using explosives in the worst school massacre ever in the United States.
On May 18, 1927, Andrew Kehoe murdered 38 school children in Bath Township, Michigan, using explosives in the worst school massacre ever in the United States.

I have many friends who are very vocal these days about the need for gun control and the necessity of banning "assault weapons" and large capacity clips. Some are even saying all guns need to be banned, though these folks are a pretty small minority. But many are calling for things like more intensive background checks to be sure that guns are not getting into the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, limits on the number of guns a person can own or how much ammunition they can buy, and stricter restrictions on where guns can be carried and how they must be stored in the home. This, they assure me, is the only way to protect ourselves and our children from lunatics and madmen.

On the other hand, I have many friends who are telling me that just the opposite is true. They say the only way to stop criminals and crazy people determined to do us harm is with armed guards to protect us and our families. Some say that we all should carry guns and arm every teacher, preacher, shop foreman, store manager, etc. to be sure that when the "bad guy" shows up, we can gun him down before he does any damage, But these people are also a very small minority. But many do say that we need to keep guns in the hands of honest upstanding citizens to protect ourselves from home invaders, armed robbers, psychopaths intent on murder and, of course, the possibility that someday we may have to defend ourselves against a government run amok.

What Effect Will a Gun Ban Have?

Some people believe banning certain types of guns -- usually those considered to be assault weapons -- is the solution that will stop mass killings, but there are several problems with this idea. To begin with, a ban on guns will not take away the guns that are already out there. And it will not stop criminals who will continue to find the guns they wish to obtain somewhere, usually illegally and not easily tracked. Furthermore, a ban on any type of gun will likely be circumvented by the gun industry who will simply find a way around the ban by designing a new weapon that slips through a loophole in the ban. Finally, history has taught us that banning "assault weapons" has little to no effect on gun violence.

When the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act was passed as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, there were about 1.5 million "assault weapons" already in the hands of American citizens. During the ten years that the ban was in effect, despite significant decreases in violent crime, the ban had no measurable effect on the number of gunshot victimizations according to an independent study commissioned by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the United States Justice Department.

University of Pennsylvania professor Christopher Koper wrote in the 2004 report, “We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence." The report went on to say that were the ban renewed, any benefit would be "small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement." Ultimately, the ban was not renewed causing gun control advocates to warn of a coming rise in gun violence. However, there has been no significant increase in gun violence with 2010 having the lowest murder rate involving guns since 1988.

What Effect Will Arming the Common Man Have?

In 1982, the city of Kennesaw, Georgia, passed a city ordinance stating "every head of household residing in the city limits is required to maintain a firearm, together with ammunition therefore." The law made exceptions for the mentally ill, physically impaired, felons, conscientious objectors and those who cannot afford to maintain a firearm. After the law went into effect, Kennesaw's violent crime rate dropped dramatically and has remained low, averaging less than half the national average. This, some say is evidence that arming the populace works to reduce violence.

On the surface, this may be true. But there are some things that those calling for arming teachers and store employees are failing to consider. First, Kennesaw is not a major city or even in a metropolitan area. The city has a population of around 30,000 in a county of less than 700,000. Compare this to the more than 4 million people living in the Detroit metro area or the 750.000 living in the city of Charlotte alone and a reasonable person will see that Kennesaw may not be a reliable example for every city in the United States. Atlanta is less than an hour away from Kennesaw, but would anyone really consider putting guns into the hands of every citizen in Atlanta?

Also, while Kennesaw does indeed have a lower crime rate, they do not do as well when it comes to things like accidental shootings and suicides by firearm. Nor does Kennesaw require guns at schools or places of employment and even if they did, there is no reason to believe a determined attacker wearing body armor with an automatic weapon would not be able to circumvent any distribution of weapons to school personnel. Furthermore, the latest reports from the Sandy Hook shooting indicate the assailant chose the school based on it being the easiest target where a large number of people were gathered. Short of turning every public place into a fortress, how can we thwart this type of mentality?

So What Is the Solution?

So if the answer is not more guns and the answer is not fewer guns, what are we to do about the madmen that seem to be around every corner? Quite simply, the only way to get handguns out of the hands of the mentally unstable is to take care of the mental illness problem in America. It is time to look at all the cutbacks and reductions in mental health care from the past years and fix this problem we have created. Today, we take mentally unstable first time violent offenders and place them in a prison system that only teaches them how to be better criminals while doing very little to face the core problems that led them to prison in the first place.

It is time that we as a nation wake up and see what we are doing to our fellow citizens who suffer from varying degrees and types of mental issues. The vast majority of these individuals are not dangerous. They deal with issues ranging from depression and anxiety to personality disorders and phobias. Each and every one of them deserves compassion and understanding, and when we give those individuals the help and resources they need, we will find those who are truly disturbed to the point that they may harm themselves and others around them.

Will this completely stop mass murder through the use of firearms? Probably not. But it will certainly make much stronger strides in that direction than anything that we can do concerning gun legislation, whether it be legislation to take guns away from law abiding citizens or legislation to force guns into the hands of our fellow Americans. Without steps to address the mental illness issues, we will continue to see deranged individuals attacking our children and our loved ones whether it be with guns, bombs, fire or whatever other weapon they may find at hand.

What are your feelings on gun violence in America?

  • We need to ban all guns.
  • We need to ban certain guns and/or increase gun regulation.
  • We need to put more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens and/or decrease gun regulation.
  • We need to focus on mental health issues.
  • We need to leave things as they are.
  • We need a combination of solutions.
See results without voting

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Comments 9 comments

Larry Fields profile image

Larry Fields 3 years ago from Northern California

Hi DarkSinistar,

You've written a balanced hub on a controversial topic. Voted up and shared.

One small step that we can take in the mental health arena is to outlaw the prescription of antidepressant medications for anyone under the age of 18. These meds were the common denominator for most school shooters over the past 25 years.

Instead, we should increase resources for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other kinds of non-pharmaceutical treatments for youths suffering from clinical depression.


DarkSinistar profile image

DarkSinistar 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks for the comment, Larry. I do not know if I would agree with a complete ban on antidepressant medications for those under 18, but I would definitely say that they should be a last resort if all other options have been tried and failed. We are definitely too quick these days to look to medication for a "quick fix" when getting to the roots of things early should be the priority.


Justin Earick profile image

Justin Earick 3 years ago from Tacoma, WA

There are countries that have already found a solution, and the problem is not with mental health - there is no law that can stop crazy anyways. Besides, they are far more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violence.

Look at Japan, look at Australia, look at England, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, Poland, Netherlands, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, India... each have less than 1.5 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people - problem solved.

Hint... it's the guns.


DarkSinistar profile image

DarkSinistar 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Justin, first let me say thanks for the comment. But that is an excellent way to use a single statistic to make a predetermined point. What is the murder rate not involving guns in those places? How do their mental health practices compare to the United States? How do you explain that their gun related death rate is drastically higher than Kennesaw where the law requires people to be armed? How restrictive are the governments of those places and how much freedom do individuals enjoy?

Using the logic of your argument, the murder rate should be higher in the US where guns are easiest to obtain than anywhere else in the world. But that is simply not the case. Homicide rates are affected by a number of factors including but not limited to other crime in the area, government stability and the general well-being of the population. To try and boil it down simply to "it's the guns" based on comparisons to a few places with lower gun related deaths without further studying those places is to overlook a mass of information and data that clearly must have some affect on things.


Justin Earick profile image

Justin Earick 3 years ago from Tacoma, WA

"Clearly must have some affect on things"?

Well, thanks for following your own advice and offering a study to back up your opinion. Oh, wait. You only had a single anecdotal reference (wtf is Kennesaw anyways? It certainly is not a country, and thus not even close to a valid comparison to actual countries like the US and Japan.)

Your assertion that the "only solution" to gun violence is mental health is laughable and patently false.

Granted, if no one had any sort of mental issue, then the propensity of violence on a whole would be greatly reduced - but what is your plan to rid the planet of the crazy? It's not possible to eliminate the mentally ill, it's not even fathomable or humane by any means.

What is possible? Look at Australia, Germany, Japan, UK, Italy, S Korea, Spain, Poland... I don't see any communists or dictatorships in that list. These are free countries.

We have the most guns of any developed nation (Yemen doesn't count). Among developed OECD nations, we have by far the highest gun-related death rate (along with Mexico, and they get their guns here in the US).

Jamaica, Brazil, El Salvador, Columbia, South Africa? Those are not developed nations. Are you seriously comparing the US to El Salvador and South Africa?

What was your point again?


cheaptrick profile image

cheaptrick 3 years ago from the bridge of sighs

I like the idea that mental illness is the real root of the problem.What alarms me is the exponential growth of mental illness diagnosis during the last half century.Seems to have been a marriage between Psychologists and Big Pharma...not a good mix.

You see a commercial for the 'New' drug for the 'New' illness...Three months later you see a commercial by the law firm that's suing over the negative side effects big pharma didn't know [or care] about when they released it.I actually saw a commercial that offered a new medication for dry mouth...Really!?


DarkSinistar profile image

DarkSinistar 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Justin, it would seem that now you wish to ignore the article and focus only on the comment I made when discussing your point. I did more than simply compare a few countries to Kennesaw though statistically speaking it is a large enough population to be meaningful in the discussion. In fact, it would be more to my advantage to ignore Kennesaw as it actually works against my assertion that mental health reform is the best solution, but I prefer to not pick and choose my data so therefore I cannot ignore its pertinence. If you can, then more power to you as it will help you keep a closed mind outlook on the situation and convince yourself that the evidence supports your position without really having to think it through and keep things limited to a nice, simple pro-gun versus anti-gun mentality.

The study I offered to back up my opinion was conducted by the National Institute of Justice to determine the effectiveness of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 as mentioned in the article. How would you respond to their conclusion that a ban on guns would not significantly reduce the homicide rate? And by the way, your study of the issue was by whom again?

As far as comparing the US to other countries, freedom does not mean the same in every country. The policies and living conditions vary in all the nations you mentioned. You mention India, for example, as a place with fewer than 1.5 gun-related deaths per 100,000. But you fail to note their intentional homicide rate by any method is 3.5 per 100,000. This is lower than the US's 4.8 per 100,000 but not significantly lower. Why is this important? Because if we are going to kill each other with a different weapon when we take away a certain weapon then the answer is not changing the weapon but changing the motivation. Proper mental health care is one way to do that. That would be my plan, and what could be more humane than that?


DarkSinistar profile image

DarkSinistar 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Cheaptrick, thanks for the comment. I would agree there is definitely a problem where mental health care meets the pharmaceutical industry and everything needs to begin with an open discussion in America about the mentally ill and how to best treat them. As Larry Fields mentioned in an earlier comment, we need to apply resources to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and work to reduce medicinal dependence especially in younger victims of these diseases. Pharmaceutical options will obviously be part of any long term solution and in some cases are unavoidable, but they definitely should not be the first line of treatment and should be used as sparingly as possible.


Ausseye 3 years ago

Hi DarkSinisterBestFreshSolution

Now wouldn't that cause a national crisis? President O saying hey guys we got a mental health issue in the big A and we need to put some money into it rather than make Law and Order movies....think Congress would go for it. I know here in Oz same problem, we wouldn't, sorry excuse for political inaction based on whats best fro those in power!!!

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