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Letter: Focusing only on mental health won’t eliminate gun violence

Focusing only on mental health won’t eliminate gun violence

As a mental health practitioner, I am concerned that the current debate on national gun policy, stimulated by the latest school shooting tragedy, will become misdirected by a focus on mental illness.

While it is hard to argue with the idea that there should be greater access to mental health treatment, the public should not be lulled into a belief that specialists in that field have some magical ability to predict, with certainty, future violence. Such predictions are notoriously unreliable.

Unless we are willing to live with an unacceptably high rate of false positives (erroneously concluding that someone is likely to be violent when he or she is not), an increased emphasis on the mental health of prospective or current gun owners will do little to save us from the horrors we have been witnessing.

The members of the gun lobby and their followers would, no doubt, have us think differently; but I believe they are gravely mistaken. Indeed, I am rather skeptical of their newfound concern for the emotional well-being of our citizens. What is truly needed is a national ban on civilian possession of the kind of weapon that gives a shooter, mentally well or not, the potential to cause mass casualties in a short period of time. Simply put, other than for law enforcement and the military, so called assault-rifles and their high-capacity, semiautomatic handgun cousins have to go.

Russell Shefrin, Ph.D.


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