Mentally Ill versus Prone to Violence

The recent debate in the US about gun violence is exposing some raw nerves. The most obvious raw nerve is that American policy makers have been in the pocket of the gun lobby for way, way too long. And their inability to enact any reasonable gun regulation is astonishing.

But that is not the only raw nerve. The mass shootings, and at least some of the daily gun violence, are performed by persons who suffer from mental problems. Bernie Sanders has pointed this out again and again and argued that the US needs to improve how it cares for persons with mental illness.

This may sound reasonable, but there is a problem. The figures show that mentally ill people are far more likely to be the victims of gun violence than to cause it.

we will increasingly need to consider is that an artificially¬†created correlation between a diagnosis of mental illness and commission of a violent act will result, as anyone charged with an act of violence is increasingly likely to be labeled mentally ill. As that happens, it will unjustifiably become ammunition for those who want to base laws on the notion that “the mentally ill” are more dangerous than the rest of the populace.

In other words, Bernie Sanders may have a point that we need to take better care of the mentally ill. But we should not stigmatize them in the rush to blame a single group for violence.

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