Mental Health and Mass Shootings
by Capital Tonight Staff October 9, 2015
It’s difficult to understand why anyone would carry out a mass shooting like the one we saw in Oregon earlier this month. Some advocates say people should have less access to firearms, while others say it’s not the gun – it’s the person. A shooter’s mental health is often singled out as a contributing factor to an attack, but some say that maybe we shouldn’t be thinking that way. Harvey Rosenthal is the Executive Director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services. He joined us to discuss
Gun Control Discussions Heat Up In Aftermath Of Oregon Tragedy
Mental Health Weekly October 13, 2015
When a gunman opened fire on students at Umpqua Community College in Oregon on October 1, killing nine of them, including himself, the reaction predictably was focused on mental illness but even more so on the need for gun control.
The executive director of a New York–based advocacy organization says that this time there appears to be a more “balanced approach,” when talking about both issues. “Each tragedy turns the blame on people with mental illness,” Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, told MHW. “I’m gratified that there is so much focus on gun control.”
People with mental illness are scapegoated, in part by the National Rifle Association and gun control opponents, said Rosenthal. “The issue is deferred to mental illness. They’re much more interested in looking at mental health–related issues,” he said.
President Obama talked about gun control in his remarks following the Oregon shooting. “We see mass shootings every few months,” Obama said during a press conference. “It cannot be this easy for someone who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.…Congress explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?”
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) in June experienced another failed attempt to include an amendment that would have reversed a nearly 20-year-old ban on funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research on gun violence.
“Gun violence is one of the leading causes of death of Americans, and yet Congress indefensibly prohibits our public health researchers from studying this public health crisis,” Matt Dennis, communications director for the House Appropriations Committee — Democrats, told MHW. “How many more tragedies will it take before Congress catches up with the American public and realizes commonsense gun safety measures — like allowing research on gun violence causes and prevention
strategies — are critical to keeping the American people safe?”
The Huffington Post on October 6 carried an interview with Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.), who authored the 1996 amendment restricting funding for gun violence research and said he wishes Congress would change it.
“I wish we had started the proper research and kept it going all this time,” Dickey said. “I have regrets.”
Rosenthal pointed out eerie similarities between the shooter in Oregon and Adam Lanza, the shooter in the Newtown tragedy. Both (were alleged to have) …Asperger’s syndrome and were raised by mothers who shared an interest in guns, he said. The New York Times reported that Laurel Harper, mother
of the gunman, Christopher Harper-Mercer, said she and her son struggled with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. She also noted that she and her son shared an interest in guns and that several firearms were kept in the home.
“There has to be a distinction between a mental health condition and a greatly wounded person with the desire to kill,” said Rosenthal. “While a common reaction has been to say ‘you’d have to be crazy to do that,’ it doesn’t mean that the person has a mental illness. That’s not the definition of mental illness, which are a series of more formal, prescribed conditions. People are looking for a quick fix. The answers are more complex.”