Fox News' Martha MacCallum exaggerated the relationship between mental health and gun violence by suggesting advocates for stronger gun laws focus on the few individuals with mental health conditions who commit mass killings instead of the widely available weapons that they used.
On the February 5 edition of America's Newsroom, MacCallum pushed the debunked myth that mental health is a common variable among violent criminals by listing recent mass shooters. MacCallum highlighted four perpetrators of mass shootings, and said, "You look at the people who've carried out these heinous crimes and killed so many innocent children. ... All of these have mental health issues." MacCallum went on to criticize President Obama for focusing on stronger gun laws rather than mental health in his policy response to the Newtown, CT, mass shooting.
By limiting her sample to just a few high-profile criminals, MacCallum ignored that those with mental health conditions represent a small percentage of perpetrators of violent crimes. In fact, studies have shown that people with mental health conditions are more often the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators.
According to the National Journal, "96 percent of violent crimes -- defined by the FBI as murders, robberies, rapes, and aggravated assaults -- are committed by people without any mental-health problems at all." From the National Journal:
Although people with serious mental illness have committed a large percentage of high-profile crimes, the mentally ill represent a very small percentage of the perpetrators of violent crime overall. Researchers estimate that if mental illness could be eliminated as a factor in violent crime, the overall rate would be reduced by only 4 percent. That means 96 percent of violent crimes -- defined by the FBI as murders, robberies, rapes, and aggravated assaults -- are committed by people without any mental-health problems at all. Solutions that focus on reducing crimes by the mentally ill will make only a small dent in the nation's rate of gun-related murders, ranging from mass killings to shootings that claim a single victim.
Paul Appelbaum, a psychiatrist and the director of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons' Division of Law, Ethics and Psychiatry, has said that "most gun violence is just not committed by people with mental illness." Likewise, Dr. Richard A. Friedman, writing in The New York Times, noted that "there is overwhelming epidemiological evidence that the vast majority of people with psychiatric disorders do not commit violent acts."
On the February 4 edition of Fox News' Hannity, guest Ann Coulter made a similar argument to MacCallum's, listing the recent Alabama kidnapping by Jim Lee Dykes and the slaying of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle before blaming gun violence on "the ACLU and the liberals who will not do anything about the mentally ill." Coulter then went on to misrepresent the scope and efficacy of universal background checks, claiming "everything they are telling you they can do about guns is a lie."
President Obama's plan to protect communities from gun violence approached the issue from multiple angles, including increasing mental health services, improving support for those at high risk for mental illness, and training additional mental health professionals.