But public health and firearms experts assert that focusing on mental illness is unlikely to achieve a significant reduction in gun violence, because the vast majority of shootings are the handiwork of people who do not fit the profile of those deemed dangerous. Moreover, by shifting the debate away from gun control and toward mental health concerns, proponents run the risk of further stigmatizing mental illness, discouraging those who confront it from seeking professional help.
“Gun violence is a mental health issue only to a very small extent and to a much smaller extent than most people assume,” said Paul Appelbaum, a psychiatrist and the director of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons’ Division of Law, Ethics and Psychiatry.
“Most gun violence is just not committed by people with mental illness,” he said. “Were we somehow to stop violence by anyone with a mental illness — as unlikely as that outcome might be — we would be safer, but only a teeny bit safer. As much as these incidents attract everybody’s attention and concern, they are a tiny fraction of the people who get killed in this country every year.”