It is categorically wrong to blame mental illness for mass shootings. Here's why.
After back-to-back mass shootings over the weekend, conservative media and pundits immediately pivoted to blaming mental illness for the violence despite an abundance of research that says otherwise.
On August 3, a 21-year-old gunman reportedly armed with an assault rifle opened fire inside a Walmart store in El Paso, TX, killing at least 20 and injuring 26 before surrendering to law enforcement. The alleged gunman reportedly posted a four-page document filled with “white nationalist” language and “racist hatred toward immigrants and Hispanics” to the online message board 8chan just minutes before the massacre took place.
Less than 24 hours later in Dayton, OH, a 24-year-old gunman armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle opened fire in the downtown “Oregon District,” killing nine people and injuring 31 more. The gunman was reportedly engaged and killed by law enforcement “within thirty seconds” after he began firing. Police do not currently have a motive but have said a “preliminary assessment” does not indicate any racial or political reason for the shooting.
Predictably, conservative media pivoted to blaming mental health in an effort to avoid talking about gun safety legislation after the weekend’s massacres, even though research shows that those suffering from mental illness are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime. People with severe mental illness do have an increased risk of violence, according to Vox’s Dylan Matthews, but the risk is not high -- being male or having substance abuse issues are both bigger risk factors. In fact, Duke University professor Jeffrey Swanson estimates that based on a study from 1980-1984 by the National Institute of Mental Health, even if you managed to wipe out serious mental illness -- schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder -- violence would fall by only about 4%. In reality, the biggest risk of firearms in the hands of someone suffering from mental illness is suicide, which accounts for two-thirds of all gun deaths in the United States.
Yet right-wing pundits and TV show hosts insisted gun violence is a “mental health issue” caused by “overmedication” and said it requires a “mental health solution”:
Fox News co-host Pete Hegseth repeatedly said on the August 5 edition of Fox & Friends that the Ohio gunman had “shown the signs of mental illness quite early,” and co-host Steve Doocy added that “there were these warning signs that something was just wrong with” the El Paso gunman.
CNN contributor and lobbyist David Urban called for “mental health background checks” and said “you shouldn’t be able to get a weapon if you’re being treated for some sort of mental health issue.”
Former NRATV host Cam Edwards, now the editor of the pro-gun blog Bearing Arms, tweeted that gun safety laws aimed at taking firearms out of the hands of dangerous people do “nothing to ensure any sort of mental health treatment” and are “a gun control solution to a mental health issue.”
In a since-deleted tweet, conservative radio host Bill Mitchell called mass shooters ““kids who were bullied in school for being different and perhaps the internalized pain grew into a violent psychosis” before calling for “a mental health solution.”
Fox News contributor Sara Carter tweeted that “mental health and hate is a national emergency in our country” in response to a tweet by presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).
One America News Network host and conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec tweeted that it’s “time for America’s mental health system to be rebuilt.”
Conservative podcast host Candace Owens tweeted that you have to have a mental health issue to “pick up a gun and slaughter 20 people.”
A pro-Trump meme maker known as Carpe Donktum tweeted, “If your reaction to a tragedy is to push some idea or policy OTHER THAN addressing the Mental Health Crisis in this country… You don’t care one bit about the victims.”
White supremacist Stefan Molyneux claimed, “Millions of mentally ill people got dumped into society by the collapse of the American mental health system.”
Far-right conspiracy theorist and Infowars favorite Mike Cernovich called mental health “a national security issue.”
Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren blamed the shootings on a “youth mental health crisis” caused by “over-medication, absentee parents, and a culture that glorifies infamy and notoriety above God, family and community.”