Monday, November 30, 2015

Untreated Mental Illness Plus Guns

After Aurora, a Colorado Springs reporter wrote, "James Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 at an Aurora movie theater, was seeing a psychiatrist at the time of the July 20 attack. If he’d been in Colorado Springs, chances are he wouldn’t have gotten even that much help."

After an October incident in Colorado Springs where a guy with a rifle and gas cans opened fire on civilians in the street, the local gun-nut mag noted that someone with an open-carry gun plus gas cans might be worrisome and require some level of serious response even as they applauded the mayor of Colorado Springs for not budging on the open-carry law.

Now that same mayor says about the most recent mass killing in Colorado Springs, the second in a month, that "one of the things we don’t do very well is identify these people, sometimes with mental health problems, and prevent their access to weapons."

Well, yes. We don't identify them, we don't treat them, and we don't prevent their access to weapons.

Adam Lankford at the U of Alabama has done the most interesting recent work on mass killings. He used a definition of four or more kills, meaning that the recent Colorado Springs shootings wouldn't even appear on his radar. (The FBI uses three or more.) Nevertheless, he found that the US accounted for 31 percent of mass shootings, and that the only real predictive correlation with any meaning was our firearm ownership rate.

So many people, the mayor of Colorado Springs included, attribute these shootings to mental health issues that I thought I'd look at a comparison. So I chose a few countries at random across the spectrum of mental illness and looked at their gun ownership rates as well. Numbers are pulled from WHO and from Small Arms Survey. Note that Nigeria has plenty of mass shootings involving Boko Haram, and Mexico beats the US in murder by gun thanks to drug wars, but until two weeks ago in Paris, almost no one on this list offered much that would rise to the FBI's definition of an "active shooter situation." In the US, "70 percent of the incidents" occur in either a commercial or educational setting.

We have more people with serious mental illnesses than any other nation on my list—2.8 percent more than the next closest country, which is Lebanon. But we have a boatload more guns. It's a lethal combination.

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