Is mental illness really the cause of mass shootings?

Is mental illness really the cause of mass shootings?

A common theme when trying to explain mass violence, but I have my doubts.

It has become the norm to associate anyone who commits acts of violence against a crowd of others with mental illness, but is the disorder being blamed unnecessarily in some cases?
Certainly it would seem on the surface that anyone that would fire a weapon into a crowd of people would be suffering from some type of mental disability. I mean, how could a normal person do such a thing? But it’s not that cut and dried.

The media certainly has seized on the opportunity to blame mental illness. A recent study of 400 random news articles covering some aspect of mental illness between 1994 and 2014 found the most frequently mentioned topic was violence. The same study noted a significant increase in the reporting of mass shootings by individuals with mental illness from the second 10 years of the study period, as compared to the first decade. That despite the number of mass shootings remained steady during the period.

We, and I mean us as a society, have to blame someone or something for everything that happens, good or bad. The old adage of “Stuff Happens,” or a version of that statement, is unacceptable in today’s world. Having something to blame means we have the ability to do something about it and we can prevent it from ever happening again.

Unfortunately, that just isn’t true. Whether it actually is mental illness, arguably a very broad catch-all for a number of problems, or good old-fashioned racist hatred, there is no way to determine where the next random act of violence will occur.

There may be a number of signals that would indicate a person or group is planning to commit some violent act, but without confirmation, how can we do anything to prevent it from happening? You can’t arrest and detain someone who talks about hating some group or speaking about committing a violent act. Because the vast majority will never take any action. It’s easy to be vocal about another race, or people with a different political view, or sexual orientation, but it is another major step from talking to mass shootings.

If it weren’t, we would have violent terrorist attacks every day, all across the nation. But, in fact, there are very few committed. In the Orlando shooting, 49 innocent people were killed by a shooter. In the city of Chicago in 2015, ten times that many homicides were reported. Knowing that information does not make either statistic less tragic, and even the loss of one life to violence is unacceptable.

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