Gun violence kills about ninety people every day in the United States, a toll measured in wasted and ruined lives and with an annual economic price tag exceeding $200 billion. Some policy makers suggest that reforming mental health care systems and improving point-of-purchase background checks to keep guns from mentally disturbed people will address the problem. Epidemiological research shows that serious mental illness contributes little to the risk of interpersonal violence but is a strong factor in suicide, which accounts for most firearm fatalities. Meanwhile, the effectiveness of gun restrictions focused on mental illness remains poorly understood. This article examines gun-related suicide and violent crime in people with serious mental illnesses, and whether legal restrictions on firearm sales to people with a history of mental health adjudication are effective in preventing gun violence. Among the study population in two large Florida counties, we found that 62 percent of violent gun crime arrests and 28 percent of gun suicides involved individuals not legally permitted to have a gun at the time. Suggested policy reforms include enacting risk-based gun removal laws and prohibiting guns from people involuntarily detained in short-term psychiatric hospitalizations.
Keywords: firearms; law; serious mental illness; suicide; violent behavior.
Project HOPE—The People-to-People Health Foundation, Inc.