Debunking the Myths - Mental Health and Gun Violence

Debunking the Myths - Mental Health and Gun Violence

Debunking the Myths

While public perceptions associating serious mental illness with violence have increased substantially in recent decades, serious mental illness is not by itself a predictor of violence.

Fact Sheet & Statement

Debunking the MYTHS

Mental Health and Gun Violence

Getting the Facts Straight about Gun Violence and Mental Health Disabilities & Statement on Gun Violence Prevention Policy

Prepared by: Coalition for Smart Safety and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Rights Task Force

FACT: Mental health disabilities are not effective predictors of violence.

While public perceptions associating serious mental illness with violence have increased substantially in recent decades,1 serious mental illness is not by itself a predictor of violence.2 Only 3-5% of violence is committed by people with mental health disabilities.3 Less than 5% of gun-related killings in the U.S. are committed by people with mental health disabilities.4 Other factors, such as past violence, juvenile detention, physical abuse, parental arrest record, substance abuse, recent divorce, age, gender, income, and unemployment, are better predictors of violence. People with mental health disabilities are far more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence.5

FACT: Common public misconceptions that “only a madman” would commit a mass shooting are not supported by evidence.6

The vast majority of mass shooters do not have a mental illness.7 Individuals who commit mass shootings have been driven by a variety of factors, such as extreme feelings of anger and revenge, feelings of social alienation, and feelings of rejection or humiliation by peers.8 There is no one “typology” of mass shooters.9 Substance use and prior violence involvement, not mental health issues, are the most consistent predictors of gun violence.10

Fact: There is no correlation between deinstitutionalization and the number of mass shootings.11

The U.S. has a much higher rate of mass shootings than countries that have had similar closures of psychiatric hospitals. In fact, countries with the lowest per capita rates of psychiatric hospital beds had the lowest number of mass shootings.12 Within the U.S., there is no meaningful correlation between the number of public and private psychiatric hospital beds per capita and the firearm homicide rate within states.13

The move away from long-term hospitalization and toward community-based services reflects the evolution of understandings of effective treatment and good practice, as well as compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It reflects the recognition that warehousing individuals in large, congregate settings does little to improve individuals’ mental health, and that psychiatric hospitalization is effective primarily for purposes of short-term stabilization during acute episodes.

We now have an array of highly successful services that enable people with psychiatric disabilities to live in their own homes and communities — including supported housing, supported employment, mobile crisis services, and peer support services. They are more effective, less costly, and enable people to have the kinds of full and meaningful lives that cannot be had in an institution. While community-based services have not been developed in sufficient supply, the answer is to expand them, not to go back to warehousing people in state hospitals.

Joint Statement on Gun Violence Prevention Policy and Mental Health Disabilities By Members and Allies of the Coalition for Smart Safety

The recent mass shootings in our country have necessarily turned the spotlight on proposed policies and solutions at the legislative level. While the undersigned agree that public safety is paramount, the assumption that people with mental health disabilities, including those with perceived mental health disabilities, are inherently dangerous and that targeting them will solve our country’s gun violence problem is wrong. Talking points and legislation relying on those assumptions are counterproductive and only serve to further stigmatize people with mental health disabilities and the disability community as a whole.

Despite data to the contrary, the President and some legislators have stated that people with mental health disabilities are the primary perpetrators of gun violence. The President has proposed institutionalizing people with mental health disabilities and is reportedly considering subjecting them to surveillance. Some legislators have similarly suggested that people with mental health disabilities should be the primary target of gun violence prevention efforts. We soundly reject this argument. Studies have repeatedly shown that people with disabilities, including mental health disabilities, are far more likely to be victims of gun violence than perpetrators. In fact, recent studies demonstrate that only 4% of gun violence is connected to mental health disabilities. Mental health disabilities are not accurate predictors of violence, a fact recognized by the American Psychological Association, among others, and should not be treated as such. Legislation that targets people with mental health disabilities will not be effective in reducing gun violence. Falsely blaming people with mental health disabilities for violence will stigmatize these individuals, violate their right to privacy, and will likely dissuade some people from seeking help at all.

All Americans, including people with disabilities, have a civil right to live in their communities and not be segregated or imprisoned simply because they have a disability.

Building more institutions, as the Administration proposes, unjustly threatens the civil rights and freedom of people with mental health disabilities while doing nothing to reduce gun violence in this country. Other proposals aimed at identifying students with disabilities at a young age as potential threats only serve to further isolate and stigmatize students. This is neither helpful nor effective in increasing safety or reducing gun violence and will ultimately harm those with mental health disabilities as well as the broader disability community.

The simple fact is that other countries around the world have just as many people with mental health disabilities, but they do not experience gun violence at the same magnitude as the United States. The problem is only exacerbated by systemic racism and hatred. Our country is faced with a rise in hate crimes targeting marginalized communities and an increase in racially motivated mass shootings in recent years. Hate and racism are not mental health disabilities, nor should they be treated as such. There are no medical providers, procedures, or medications that exist that can treat a person's hatred. Gun violence is not clinical in nature— it is a societal problem.

It is an act of prejudice to use people with disabilities as scapegoats for the increasing incidences of mass shootings and acts of mass violence in this country. Ultimately this will do nothing to curb the epidemic of gun violence in our nation. We will not accept or support any legislation that sacrifices the civil rights of people with disabilities in exchange for the appearance of action on gun violence.

Effective reform can and should be accomplished without compromising the civil rights of people with disabilities. We call upon all of our legislators to condemn this dangerous rhetoric and refute any related legislative proposals that will put the lives and freedoms of Americans with disabilities at risk.

Signed in Solidarity

Ability360 (Arizona)
ADAPT Montana
Advocacy Unlimited, Inc.
Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program
Alliance Center for Independence (New Jersey)
Alliance for Excellent Education
Aloha Independent Living Hawaii
American Association of People with Disabilities
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
AOCIL - Association of Oregon Centers for Independent Living (Oregon)
Arizona Center for Disability Law
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Atlantis Community, Inc (Colorado)
Autism National Committee
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
BasicNeeds US
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
California Association of Social Rehabilitation Agencies
Center for Public Representation
Children's Mental Health Network
Coalition of Texans with Disabilities
Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition
Colorado Developmental Disabilities Council
Connecticut Cross Disability Lifespan Alliance
Connecticut Legal Rights Project, Inc.
Connecticut State Independent Living Council
Counseling DIRECTions, LLC (Arizona)
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Democratic Disability Caucus of Florida
DIRECT Center for Independence (Arizona)
Disability Justice (Wisconsin)
Disability Law Center (Utah)
Disability Law Colorado
Disabilities Resource Center of Siouxland (Iowa)
Disability Rights Arkansas
Disability Rights California
Disability Rights Center - New Hampshire
Disability Rights Connecticut
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF)
Disability Rights Florida
DisAbility Rights Idaho
Disability Rights Iowa
Disability Rights Maine
Disability Rights Maryland
Disability Rights Mississippi
Disability Rights Nebraska
Disability Rights New Jersey
Disability Rights New York
Disability Rights North Carolina
Disability Rights South Dakota
Disability Rights TN
Disability Rights Vermont
Disability Right Wisconsin
DQIA:Disabled Queers In Action!
Family Network on Disabilities
Family to Family Network
Georgia ADAPT
Gift of Voice
Healthcare Rights Coalition
Hon. Tony Coelho, Author of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Illinois/Iowa Center for Independent Living
Indiana Disability Rights
Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice (Connecticut)
Keep the Promise
Little Lobbyists
Living Independently for Everyone Inc. (Idaho)
Main Line Special Needs Parents (Pennsylvania)
Mental Health America
Mental Health Connecticut
MindFreedom International
National Alliance on Mental Illness of Vermont
National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities
National Association of County Behavioral Health & Disability Directors
National Association of Rights Protection and Advocacy
National Association of School Psychologists
National Association of Secondary School Principals
National Center for Learning Disabilities
National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery
National Council on Independent Living
National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools
National Disability Rights Network
National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund
National Mental Health Consumers' Self-Help Clearinghouse
New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies
New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services
Northern West Virginia Center for Independent Living
Oklahoma Disability Law Center, Inc
Oregon Mental Health Consumer Psychiatric Survivor Coalition
Placer Independent Resource Services (California)
Pennsylvania Action: Protecting Disability Rights
Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy (Pennsylvania)
Prairie Independent Living Resource Center, Inc.
Progress Center for Independent Living (Illinois)
Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association
Silicon Valley Independent Living Center (California)
Southwest Center for Independence
Squirrel Hill Stands Against Gun Violence (Pennsylvania
Texas Democrats with Disabilities
Texas Parent to Parent
The Alliance for Excellent Education
The Arc of the United States
The Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy and Innovation
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
The Statewide Independent Living Council of Illinois
Torah Trumps Hate
Vermont Center for Independent Living
Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights
Vermont Statewide Independent Living Council

For more information:

For full report and references visit:

For self-advocacy resources on Mental Health Visit: