Parkland Shooting Reignites Debate About Link Between Gun Violence and Mental Health Issues

By Victoria Kim 02/21/18

After yet another brutal mass shooting, many are wondering if mental health issues or a lack of gun control are to blame for the violence.

Protesters demonstrating in front of the White House after Parkland shooting
Protesters demonstrating in front of the White House after Parkland shooting

In the wake of the deadly Valentine’s day school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the gun control debate is back and center stage.

People like President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan say that the mental health history of the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was what spurred the troubled 19-year-old, and other mass shooters, to go on a murderous rampage.

Others, including some of the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who survived the Parkland shooting, say it’s high time for more rigid gun control laws.

Nikolas Cruz is accused of killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High with an AR-15, a type of semiautomatic rifle first used during the Vietnam War.

The New York Times outlined the latest in the gun control debate, as the nation tries again to determine whether the root of deadly gun violence is a lack of regulation or mental health issues.

“Mental health is often a big problem underlying these tragedies,” House Speaker Paul Ryan is quoted as saying. But the Times cites multiple studies that conclude that mental health issues alone are not a reliable predictor of violence.

One 2016 study, published in the journal Annals of Epidemiology, concluded: “Evidence is clear that the large majority of people with mental disorders do not engage in violence against others, and that most violent behavior is due to factors other than mental illness.”

One expert, Professor John T. Monahan of the University of Virginia, explained that while mental health issues do not necessarily predict violent behavior, there is some association between the two. However, it’s a rather weak association, he said.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent 1% of all gun homicides each year.”

And a 2015 study concluded that less than 5% of gun-related killings between 2001-2010 in the United States was linked to “people diagnosed with mental illness.”

There are already certain limitations under federal law, and some state laws, that restrict people who have a history of mental health problems from purchasing firearms, but as the Times noted, “gaps in the system still exist.”

The Florida couple who took in Cruz, a friend of their son, told CNN that they did not pick up any red flags from the teen while he lived under their roof.

Cruz, who was expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, had shown interest in getting help for his depression, they recalled.

He owned “at least 10 firearms, all of them rifles,” according to a law enforcement source. The couple, James and Kimberly Snead, knew about his gun collection but never felt threatened because they were kept locked away in a safe. What they didn’t know was that they didn’t have the only key.

“To me, the depression was more stemmed from loss—losing his mother, not from all the things they said about him being bullied… or by the things that happened in school,” said Kimberly Snead.

Cruz’s adoptive mother died last November from pneumonia.

The Sneads say that despite his feeling depressed, Cruz seemed to be doing well at his new school, working hard to get his high school diploma.

He now faces 17 counts of premeditated murder

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr