"Caring for the mentally ill is important, but it’s not law enforcement."
Photo by Mike Stocker-Pool/Getty Images
This opinion piece was written by James Alan Fox, the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University.
In the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde and Tulsa, lawmakers resistant to gun restrictions, including Gov. Greg Abbott, have attempted to deflect the blame to mental illness, and a majority of the public apparently agrees. According to a CBS News poll taken earlier this month, three out of five Americans — Democrats and Republicans alike — believe that improved mental health screening and treatment can prevent rampage shootings.
Although mental illness may seem like a compelling explanation for senseless slaughter, the facts say otherwise. Notwithstanding a few high-profile assailants whose mental health issues are well-documented, including the gunman who killed seven and injured dozens more in the August 2019 Midland-Odessa shooting spree, no clear relationship between psychiatric diagnosis and mass murder has been established.
Only about 1-in-10 mass murderers showed signs of severe mental Illness, according to researchers at the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry. Of course, mental illness is more apt to be implicated among those assailants who indiscriminately target relative strangers in a public setting. But even then, according to Florida State University criminologist Emma Fridel, as many as two-thirds have no history of being treated for psychological conditions of any kind. Discontented, yes; delusional, no. They may be mad, but in the sense of being angry as opposed to being crazy.