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Research Proposal on Mass Shootings

7 pages
1830 words
Carnegie Mellon University
Type of paper: 
Research proposal
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The Prospectus

America has one of the highest rates of gun violence in the world. It has about six times as many firearms-related homicides in Canada and almost sixteen times as many as Germany. It also has one of the highest cases of mass shootings in the world. There is no definite definition of the term mass shooting, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation describes it as an incident which at least four people are murdered by a gun. In the last five years, America has had at least 1518 mass shootings that have led to the deaths of over 1715 people, while a further 6089 people have been left wounded.

Several reasons have been brought to explain the high prevalence of gun violence in America. One of them is the high number of guns owned by Americans. Statistics say that almost half of civilian-owned guns in the world are owned by Americans even though their total population only accounts for 4.4% of the worlds population. That is mainly due to the fact that America has very relaxed legislation on gun ownership. It is one of the very few countries that constitutionally protects ones right to bear arms.

Most importantly, the other reason often cited for the high rate of mass shootings is mental illness. Mass shootings have become one of the significant driving factors in policy debates and discussions concerning mental illnesses. The higher majority of the public have been shaped to believe that most mass shootings result from a state of mental illness and therefore offering better mental health services would alleviate the problem. However, this paper seeks to rubbish this misconception using a combination of statistics and other literature and bring clarity to the matter. The paper seeks to answer whether mental illnesses are the major cause of mass shootings and whether better mental care facilities can really stop mass shootings. This paper is meant to guide policymakers in developing policies that will actually lead to a reduction and eventual stop to mass shootings. By bringing to light the real causes behind mass shootings, it is believed that more suitable policies will be developed to combat the malaise which is mass shootings.


Annotated Bibliography

Rosenberg, J., Rosenberg, S., Ellefson, S., & Corrigan, P. (2015). Public Mental Health Stigma and Mass Shootings. SAJ Forensic Science, 1(1), 1.

Rosenberg et al. (2015) conducted a study to examine the effects of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting on the perception of the public regarding mentally ill persons. The study was meant to deliver a specific examination of respondents on whether they believed people with mental illnesses were dangerous. It was also meant to examine whether the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting increased their fear of mentally ill persons, and also whether it had a significant influence on public health stigma.

The research was conducted on 219 college students. The results revealed that the shooting at Sunday Hooke Elementary indeed resulted in a strengthening of mental health stigma of the public. After the shooting, gun laws were enacted, but the authors believe that this is likely to have no effect on the reduction of gun violence. The authors also observed that even though the restriction of gun ownership for the mentally ill may seem like an appropriate measure, it was based on unproven premises that linked gun violence to mental illness and therefore was likely to be ineffective. Consequently, they concluded that the issue of gun violence and mass shooting could be best addressed by implementing policies on the basis of evidence and research rather than political and media hype.

Metzl, J. M., & MacLeish, K. T. (2015). Mental illness, mass shootings, and the politics of American firearms. Journal Information, 105(2).

Metzl and MacLeish (2015) put forward four assumptions are commonly made after the occurrence mass shooting incidents. These assumptions include the assumption that mental illnesses cause violent actions involving guns, psychiatric diagnosis have the capability of predicting gun crimes, shootings are the actions of loners who are mentally ill, and that gun control will not stop any other mass shooting from occurring. The article provides a critical review of each of these assumptions and concludes that each of them is only true for particular circumstances. However, these assumptions are themselves filled with problematic assumptions based on larger stereotypical notions and beliefs about matters such as politics, social class, and ethnicity. The authors, therefore, note that the mental health notions that emerge in relation to mass shootings commonly provide a reflection of larger cultural issues which become overshadowed when mass shootings represent all gun violence crimes and when the mental illness stops being a medical condition and instead becomes violent threat signals.

Gold, L. H. (Ed.). (2015). Gun violence and mental illness. American Psychiatric Pub.

Gold (2015) also outlines some common misperceptions regarding mass shootings and mental illness alongside evidence-based facts that help support her case. These common misperceptions are the misperception that mass shootings by mentally ill people are the most significant relationship between mental illness and gun violence, mentally ill people should be considered dangerous, gun laws focusing on the mentally ill is an efficient way of preventing mass shootings, and gun laws focusing on the mentally ill are reasonable even if they add to their stigmatization.

The evidenced-based facts presented by Gold (2015) to counteract the misperceptions include the statistic that only 1% of all gun-related homicides are committed by people with mental illness each year. Similarly, only 3% of violent crimes can be attributed to people with mental illnesses. As a result, gun laws focussed on mentally ill people are likely to be ineffective and therefore a waste of resources. The laws also continue the perpetuation of the misconception that mental illness leads to gun violence and that the two are strongly linked.


The house speaker, Paul Ryan, once remarked that mental health reforms were the most critical ingredients to ensure the prevention of mass shootings. A similar stance was also once proposed by former President Obama in response to a mass shooting in 2012. Better mental facilities are not exactly a bad thing since most Americans would benefit from it anyway. However, researchers who study mass shootings have expressed doubts concerning the effectiveness of better health facilities in reducing health facilities. In fact, they commonly agree that mental illness is not usually the reason for mass shootings. Research work shows that people who commit mass shootings are usually not mentally ill or do not recognize themselves as being mentally ill. Additionally, mass murderers and potential mass murderers are more likely to resist therapies because they blame the outside world for their problems.

The aim of this paper is to expose the weak link between mass shootings and mental illness thereby answering the question why better mental facilities will not stop mass shootings. The paper will also try to establish whether or not there exists a concrete connection between mental illness and predisposition to violent behavior or mass shootings. The structure of the discussion will include a literature survey section which will feature the research and opinions of researchers in psychology and mass shootings. A discussion section will discuss both sides of the argument, and the conclusion will outline the general stand of this article and determine if the main question has been answered fully.

Literature Survey

Rosenberg et al. (2015) are of the opinion that mass shootings are very rare occurrences even though they exert very strong influences on public policies as well as public perceptions. The rarity of mass shootings has not prevented it from becoming one of the most significant driving forces in policy debates about gun control and mental illness. Mass shootings have also played a very big role in shaping the views of the public regarding mental illness.

According to Rosenberg et al. (2015), media coverage of mass shootings is responsible for the shaping the negative attitude of the public towards mental illness in connection to mass murders by constantly using diminishing language about mental illness. Studies also show that mass shootings further aggravate the already developing stigmatization of mentally ill persons. The shootings also open opportunities for the passing of mental health laws. An example given is the NICS Improvement Amendment Act of 2007 that proceeded the Virginia Tech Shooting. The Act was intended to increase the reporting of mental records to the National Instant Criminal Background Checking System (NCIS). The FBI uses the NCIS to run background checks on applicants for gun licenses.

Mass shootings have also played major political roles especially in strengthening political support for mental health laws. For instance, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary led to the implementation of new mental health laws in sixteen states. Rosenberg et al. (2015) define mental health laws as any piece of legislation that pertains to persons who may have a diagnosed mental illness, to mental health professionals, and to mental health treatment (p.1). Most of the newly implemented mental health laws concentrated mainly on efforts at gun control. Most of them expanded the directives requiring reporting of mental health records to the NICS. One significant case is the state of New York which passed a law that requires physicians, psychologists, registered nurses, and licensed clinical workers to report any patient for whom they are providing mental health treatment to local authorities regardless of setting and regardless of status, that they consider at risk of harming themselves or others, ( Rosenberg et al. 2015, p.1). This information is mean to be used as cross-reference material during gun license applications.

However, mental health advocates maintain that these mental health laws and policies that provide a link between gun violence and mental illness are more destructive than beneficial. That is because such laws and policies have a very low likelihood of reducing gun violence due to the fact that the majority of mentally ill persons are not dangerous. Secondly, these policies run the risk of deterring affected persons from seeking medical treatments and recovery options due to the reinforcement of stigmatizing perceptions.

Statistics from an analysis conducted by a national coalition of mayors revealed that only 10% of shootings involved mental illnesses compared to 57% of cases which involved family or domestic violence. Similarly, research reveals that violence among people suffering from mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia is very rare, accounting for between 4% and 5% of violent acts. These statistics, combined with demographic trends that show that the major determinants for violence are usually age, gender, and socioeconomic status, further contribute to the argument that gun control efforts based on public mental health are inappropriate.

Rosenberg et al. (2015), further insist that the persistence with the idea that mentally ill persons are a danger to the society and should, therefore, be avoided is the main reason for the increase in public mental health stigma. Moreover, it also leads to the formation of misguided public policies which fail to protect the public against mass shootings and gun-related violent actions. The mental health laws aimed at gun control are also likely to be less effective due to the fact that they are developed based on media hype and poli...

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