Mental illness, gun violence, and prevention among teens
The United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, with an estimated one third of households owning at least one firearm (Hemenway, Miller, & Weitzman, 2000). In addition, the U.S. also has the highest rate of gun violence, with over 30,000 deaths due to firearms each year ( Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2013). Though there are many factors that contribute to gun violence, mental illness is often cited as one of the main causes.
Mental illness is a broad term that can refer to a variety of disorders, but is most commonly used to describe those that affect a person’s mood, thinking, and behavior. Some common mental illnesses include depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. It is estimated that one in five adults in the U.S. suffers from some form of mental illness ( National Alliance on Mental Illness [NAMI], 2016).
Teens are also a high-risk group for gun violence. Though they make up only a small percentage of the population, teens account for a disproportionately large amount of gun violence. In fact, according to the CDC, homicide is the second leading cause of death for teens aged 15-19 ( CDC, 2016).
The link between mental illness and gun violence is a complex and often controversial one. There are those who believe that mental illness is the main cause of gun violence, while others believe that other factors such as poverty or access to firearms are more to blame. In this paper, I will be exploring the relationship between mental illness and gun violence among teens. I will be looking at both sides of the argument and examining the evidence that supports each viewpoint. Ultimately, I will be concluding that though mental illness does play a role in gun violence, it is not the sole cause. There are many other factors that must be taken into account when trying to prevent gun violence in this population.
2. Mental illness and guns
There are a number of laws in place that are designed to prevent those with mental illness from purchasing or owning firearms. The most widely known of these is the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968 which states that it is unlawful for any person “who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to any mental institution” to purchase or possess a firearm ( 18 U.S.C., s 922[d]). In addition, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act requires all firearms dealers to perform background checks on potential buyers through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) ( 18 U.S.C., s 922[t]). Those who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or have been found to be mentally incompetent by a court are prohibited from purchasing firearms through this system ( ATF, 2016).
Despite these laws, it is estimated that 20-25% of guns in the U.S. are purchased without a background check (Hemenway et al., 2000). This means that there are still many people with mental illness who are able to obtain firearms legally. In addition, there are also those who illegally purchase guns through unregulated channels such as private sales or straw man purchases (when someone buys a gun on behalf of someone else who is not legally allowed to do so themselves) (ATF, 2016).
3. Teens and guns
As mentioned previously, teens are a high-risk group for gun violence. In fact, according to the CDC, homicide is the second leading cause of death for teens aged 15-19 ( CDC, 2016). There are a number of reasons why teens are more likely to be involved in gun violence. One of the most commonly cited reasons is that they are more likely to be involved in risky or impulsive behavior (Nelson, Simonoff, & Feder, 2007).
In addition, research has shown that there is a strong link between exposure to violence and perpetration of violence (Freedman, Adler, & Brandt, 1997). This means that teens who have been exposed to violence either through personal experience or through the media are more likely to commit acts of violence themselves. This is especially true for those who have already been involved in other forms of violence such as fighting or bullying (Freedman et al., 1997).
Another factor that contributes to teen gun violence is access to firearms. In a study of 476 inner-city adolescents, it was found that those who had easy access to guns were 5.7 times more likely to be involved in gun violence than those who did not have access to firearms (Cook & Ludwig, 1997). This is not surprising considering that the majority of teens who commit gun violence do so with guns that they obtained from their homes or from friends and family members (ATF, 2016).
4. The link between mental illness and gun violence
As mentioned previously, mental illness is often cited as one of the main causes of gun violence. There are a number of studies that have looked at the link between mental illness and gun violence and many of them have found that there is a strong correlation between the two. In one study of 548 patients with serious mental illness, it was found that those who were treated with outpatient care were four times more likely to commit a violent act than those who were not receiving treatment (Swartz et al., 1998).
In addition, a number of studies have found that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of gun violence than those without mental illness (Fagan & Zawitz, 2007; Klonsky & Matoza, 2008). One study found that people with mental illness were 11 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than those without mental illness (Fagan & Zawitz, 2007). This suggests that people with mental illness are more likely to come into contact with guns and are also more likely to be involved in violent situations.
There are a number of explanations for why there is such a strong link between mental illness and gun violence. One theory is that people with mental illness are more likely to act impulsively and therefore may be more likely to use guns in a violent way (Swartz et al., 1998). Another explanation is that people with mental illness are more likely to be isolated and therefore may be more likely to resort to violence as a way to cope with their feelings (Klonsky & Matoza, 2008).
5. Preventing gun violence among teens with mental illness
Though the link between mental illness and gun violence is clear, it is important to note that not all people with mental illness are violent and not all acts of gun violence are committed by people with mental illness. In fact, most people with mental illness are not violent and the vast majority of gun violence is committed by people who do not have mental illness (Fagan & Zawitz, 2007).
So how can we prevent gun violence among teens with mental illness? There are a number of steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of gun violence in this population. The first and most important step is to ensure that those who are at risk for mental illness receive early intervention and treatment. This can be done through screening programs at schools and doctor’s offices, as well as public education campaigns about the signs and symptoms of mental illness.
In addition, it is important to make sure that those who do have mental illness have access to proper treatment. This includes both medication and counseling. It is also important to provide support for family and friends who are close to someone with mental illness. This can help to reduce the stress and isolation that often comes with mental illness and can make it easier for people to get the help they need.
Another important step in preventing gun violence among teens with mental illness is to limit their access to firearms. This can be done through background checks and waiting periods for gun purchases, as well as safe storage practices such as locking up guns and keeping them unloaded. It is also important to educate teens about responsible gun ownership and the dangers of gun violence.
In conclusion, mental illness does play a role in gun violence, but it is not the sole cause. There are many other factors that must be taken into account when trying to prevent gun violence in this population. Some of these factors include exposure to violence, access to firearms, and impulsive behavior. By taking a comprehensive approach to gun violence prevention that includes early intervention and treatment for mental illness, as well as responsible gun ownership practices, we can make a difference in the lives of teens with mental illness and help to prevent gun violence in our communities.
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