Gun advocates often claim that mental illness is the driving force behind mass shootings in the United States.
But new research argues that gun violence is more likely driven by the massive numbers of firearms available throughout the country, providing easy access to anyone with a homicidal bent.
In the study, investigators compared mental illness and gun violence between three countries — the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.
The United States has a rate of mental illness not much different than those of the U.K. or Australia, the researchers said.
Nearly 16% of Americans had some sort of mental illness in 2019, compared with about 18% in Australia and 14% in the U.K.
But in the first half of 2023, the United States had experienced about 21,000 gun homicides among a population of 335 million, compared to 225 murders among 26.4 million in Australia and about 200 killings among 67.7 million in the U.K.
“The U.S. is experiencing more than 10 times higher death rates from gun violence than Australia and more than 40 times higher death rates than the U.K.,” said researcher Dr. Charles Hennekens, a professor with the Florida Atlantic University Schmidt College of Medicine in Boca Raton.
What is different between the three countries is the number of firearms freely available, his team noted.
There are about 393 million guns owned in the United States among a population of 335 million – about 1.2 guns per person.
By comparison, there are 3.5 million guns among a population of 26.4 million people in Australia, or about one gun for every 10 people. This is likely the result of new gun laws passed between 1996 and 2021, the researchers said.
The U.K. also has passed extensive gun control laws, including a 2022 ban on assault weapons and handguns.
“The comparisons between Australia and the U.K. indicate that mental illness is not a major contributor to the increasing trends in death from gun violence in the U.S.,” Hennekens said.
The researchers also compared rates of mental illness and gun-related deaths between different U.S. states.
They found that the rate of gun-related deaths is more than six times higher than the difference in mental illness between states.
The rate of firearm-related deaths is 10 times higher in the state with the most deaths, Mississippi (nearly 34 deaths per 100,000 residents), compared to the state with the fewest deaths, Massachusetts (fewer than 4 deaths per 100,000).
Massachusetts also has the lowest rates of gun ownership in the nation, thanks to strong gun control laws and a ban on assault weapons, the researchers noted.
The new study was published recently in the American Journal of Medicine.
“We believe that combatting the epidemic of U.S. homicides and suicides from gun violence without addressing guns is tantamount to combatting the epidemic of deaths from lung cancer from smoking without addressing cigarettes,” researchers concluded.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about firearm violence.
SOURCE: Florida Atlantic University, news release, Dec. 11, 2023
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