Mental illness, mass shootings, and the politics of American firearms

Am J Public Health. 2015 Feb;105(2):240-9. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302242.


Four assumptions frequently arise in the aftermath of mass shootings in the United States: (1) that mental illness causes gun violence, (2) that psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun crime, (3) that shootings represent the deranged acts of mentally ill loners, and (4) that gun control "won't prevent" another Newtown (Connecticut school mass shooting). Each of these statements is certainly true in particular instances. Yet, as we show, notions of mental illness that emerge in relation to mass shootings frequently reflect larger cultural stereotypes and anxieties about matters such as race/ethnicity, social class, and politics. These issues become obscured when mass shootings come to stand in for all gun crime, and when "mentally ill" ceases to be a medical designation and becomes a sign of violent threat.

MeSH terms

  • Firearms* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Mass Casualty Incidents* / prevention & control
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Politics*
  • United States
  • Violence / prevention & control
  • Violence / psychology