Mental Illness Is The Root of Gun Deaths In The United States

It has been made clear time and time again that Americans are strongly against the revoking or restricting of an individual’s right to bear arms, and with only one Democratic branch of government held, it would be pretty hard to pass broad, sweeping restrictions of firearms on a federal level to help lessen the number of mass shootings in the U.S. So far, there have been at least 295 mass shootings in 2018, with another happening just last night.

I have always been a strong proponent for rational gun control legislation, however even with a Democratic House, it seems unlikely. Gun violence, however, is really only a symptom of a more deeply entrenched and complicated issue: mental health. Any “solution” for aiding over 40 million Americans with mental illnesses would have to be broad, inclusive, and multi-faceted, for the problem with mental health is a combination of issues that have pushed the nation to this point.

In terms of gun deaths, mental health plays a sad role in the majority of cases, as “the United States has 4.3% of the world’s population, but suicide by gun there represented 35.3% of all firearm suicides in the world in 2016. By comparison, there were twice as many firearm suicides as gun-related homicides in 2016 in the US” (Christensen). How can the U.S. have such a low population, but have over 35% of all firearm suicides in the world? In addition, a study conducted in 2016 in the American Journal of Public Health suggests a strong link between the rate of suicide by firearm and the amount of guns in a state. If the presence and easy access to guns cause more people to commit suicide, then clearly you can conclude that if people are given more convenient means of killing themselves, then they are more likely to actually do it.

These problems are not known only to the U.S, as other countries have been struggling with gun violence and a high rate of suicide. However, the U.S. has been a significant outlier in the amount of mass shootings and suicides by firearm, signaling that the very mentally ill are choosing to either commit suicide or stage mass murders with firearms. It is hard to talk about a comprehensive solution without being partisan or potentially angering either side, however there is some common ground that I think most rational people may consider. Here are some possible measures that a Mental Health and Gun Violence Reform Act might have:

Mental Health Package

  1. Require that insurance companies reimburse psychiatric evidence-based diagnoses for more money than diagnoses without evidence.
  2. Require all states to adopt involuntary patient commitment laws.
  3. Provide more federal funding to the construction, development, and maintenance of psychiatric wards and mental health care facilities.
  4. Give either a funded or unfunded mandate that all prisoners have access to mental health facilities.
  5. Give increased protections to those with a diagnosed mental illness in the workplace and in school, so that more of those suffering on the borderline may be able to function in the real world.
  6. Allocate more funding to suicide hotlines, talk hotlines for the mentally ill, community groups, and research into mental health.
  7. Provide jobs and/or programs for the severely mentally ill so that they may be able to hold and maintain a job.

Gun Control Package

  1. Require all future gun purchasers to obtain a license to purchase firearms that includes a decent training program, a mental health evaluation, and a registry of all gun purchases made by that individual.
  2. Restrict right-to-carry laws to individuals who have obtained a secondary license in addition to their primary license, which includes a more extensive training course that focuses on concealed carry.
  3. Require that states make no law restricting doctors’ ability to communicate with their patients about guns in the home and gun safety.
  4. Allocate funding to non-partisan gun violence and gun control studies that is appropriate for the amount of deaths (currently only receives 5.3% of the funding that motor-vehicle accident studies receive, though the numbers are close).
  5. Repeal/replace the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which shields gun manufacturers and sellers from civil claims brought by victims of gun violence.
  6. Make private sales illegal without conducting a background check sanctioned by licensed arms store.
  7. Give families the ability to petition a court for extreme-risk protection orders, which would temporarily prohibit an at-risk person from purchasing or possessing any firearms.
  8. Hold gun manufacturers accountable for gross misuse of their products, with limits on the number of deaths per company until a civil suit can be opened.
  9. Raise the minimum age to buy guns from 18 to at least 25.

Yes, although mental illness is the cause, some restrictions on guns and common sense policies would help attack the problem from a few more angles. These ideas may not all be equal in terms of effectiveness, but their combined effects should produce an eventual decrease in gun-related deaths and, more importantly, suicide by firearm.

The need for comprehensive mental health and gun control reform has been made clear over the past couple years, and now it is Congress’ time to act.


Christensen, Jen. “Gun-Related Homicides, Suicides Kill More People than War, Study Says.” CNN, Cable News Network, 28 Aug. 2018,