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Letter: Blaming mental illness for gun violence is wrong

In his Aug. 24 Another Voice, Rep. Tom Reed indicates that psychotic mental illness is the cause of the plague of gun violence in our society.

To the contrary, the National Council for Behavioral Health estimates that individuals with mental illnesses are responsible for less than 4% of all violent crimes in the United States and less than a third of people who commit mass shootings have a diagnosable mental illness (Science, volume 365, page 623, 2019).

Other possible causes of mass shootings include, but are not limited to, hate, employee disgruntlement or being disaffected with society or disappointed with one’s life. Because they have not been studied systematically we don’t know if these purported causes apply, let alone what to do with them if true.

Congress in 1996, through the passage of the so-called Dickey Amendment essentially prohibited support for any scientific studies related to firearms.

I suggest that Reed and other members of Congress restore public funding for the scientific study of gun violence so that we can determine its real causes and most effective remedies.

Stop scapegoating people who suffer from mental illnesses and get on with determining the real causes of mass shootings.

Richard Swank, Ph.D.


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