Tens of thousands of gun-loving Americans gathered in Nashville, Tennessee, this past weekend for the National Rifle Association’s annual convention. Despite early headlines that claimed attendees would have to leave their guns at home, convention goers were able to bear arms in the conference center—and almost in the city’s public parks. In a nation with nearly as many privately owned guns as there are citizens, even NRA members support laws that block patients with histories of psychiatric commitments from owning guns. But a new study shows that curbing gun violence will require more comprehensive policies than just keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill.
A team of researchers from Duke, Harvard, and Columbia universities report that while nearly nine percent of Americans have both a history of anger problems and access to guns, most of them would not be barred from owning weapons under current laws.
Roughly 8,865 per 100,000 Americans—usually young, white males living on the edges of urban areas—have both guns and anger issues, and 1,488 of those people like to carry those guns around with them.
The researchers looked at data collected from 5,563 adults interviewed between 2001 and 2003 as part of the National Comorbidity Study Replication—a national survey of mental disorders. The survey assessed respondents’ history of mental illness and anger issues, such as their tendencies toward angry outbursts, smashing things, and physical fights. The subjects also reported how many guns they owned and how often they carried a firearm outside the home.
The study, published last week in Behavioral Sciences and the Law, found that roughly 8,865 per 100,000 Americans—usually young, white males living on the edges of urban areas—have both guns and anger issues, and 1,488 of those people like to carry those guns around with them in public. But few of those angry gun owners had serious psychiatric diagnoses.
"Gun violence and mental illness are complex but different public health problems that intersect only at their edges," the researchers write. People with guns and anger issues were slightly more likely to have common and generally non-violent psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. The researchers found that fewer than 10 percent of gun owners with anger issues had been admitted to a hospital for psychiatric treatment. So even though impulsive, angry behavior is often associated with violence, current gun laws would not prevent them from owning weapons, according to the authors.
The authors suggest that rather than screening potential gun owners based on their mental health history, “gun restrictions based on criminal records of misdemeanor violence, DUI/DWIs, controlled substance crimes, and temporary domestic violence restraining orders could be a more effective—and politically more palatable—means of limiting gun access in this high-risk group.”
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