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Houston Matters

UTMB Study Debunks Link Between Mental Illness And Gun Violence

Researchers found that anger and easy access to fire arms are far better predictors of gun violence than poor mental health.

Photo via Twitter @liuba4congress

A new study from UTMB in Galveston found no link between mental health and the risk of gun violence, debunking the idea that mental illness is the leading cause of shootings.

Psychologist Jeff Temple, who co-authored the study, told Houston Matters that garden-variety anger and, above all, easy access to firearms are far better predictors of gun violence than mental illness.

"If you look at all the gun-related killings in the United States, less than 5 percent of them were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness," Temple said. "So it's not the mentally ill that we need to be worried about with respect to gun violence. It's the sane."

That's with a highly visible exception: 50 to 60 percent of mass school shootings involve someone who is mentally ill. Temple said that as common as such shootings seem, they are very rare compared to ordinary gun-related murders and suicides.

"As a society, we really shouldn't be threatened by people with psychological problems," he said. "We don't want to stigmatize these folks any further. In fact, they're substantially more likely to be harmed because of their mental illness as opposed to harm anyone else from their mental illness."

In conducting the study, Temple and his co-author, Yu Lu, tracked behaviors symptomatic of illnesses such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. They also accounted for demographic factors such as race, gender and age.

The one element that stood out as a major predictor of gun violence was access to firearms. They found people with current access to a gun were 18 times more likely to have threatened someone with a gun in the past than those without.


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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media's business reporter, covering the oil...

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