Another Study Blames Guns, Excludes Reality

Jumping to conclusions from a small and unreliable sample is not the way to win a debate, but here they go again… READ MORE

mental health


A study published in Preventative Medicine by Yu Lu and Jeff R. Temple concludes that “the majority of mental health symptoms examined were not related to gun violence. Instead, access to firearms was the primary culprit.”

The first caveat here is that the researchers did not measure or test “gun violence.” They asked respondents — young adults who at one time attended one of seven public high schools in the southern United States — if they had ever threatened someone with a gun. There is no context for these incidents mentioned in the published study or in the supplementary material, no means to identify if the respondent was the aggressor in these scenarios or if they were defending themselves. Sixteen respondents reported they had threatened someone with a firearm; six were young women.

The author’s conclusion is based on 16 out of 663 total respondents drawn from just seven public high schools across the southern United States. There are more than 50 schools serving grades 9 to 12 in the Houston Independent School District alone.

Mental illness itself is not tested; the researchers tested symptoms of mental health using a variety of screening questions about anxiety, depression, stress, PTSD, hostility, impulsivity, and borderline personality disorder. The authors do acknowledge that participants who report such symptoms do not necessarily reach criteria to be diagnosed. Some of the questions, specifically when asked of young adults, introduce some doubt into the validity of the results. See pages 2-3 of the study for examples of the questions asked. They excluded substance abuse and severe mental disorders, and this is where we really start to run into problems.

Lu and Temple believe that mental illness is blamed for gun violence. We suspect this belief — and it is not limited to these researchers — is because mental illness is a common factor in the highest-profile mass shootings. The authors cite a previous study that found “only major mental disorders were significantly associated with past year violence” but then exclude severe disorders like schizophrenia and more severe symptoms like hallucinations from their study. Grant Duwe is the research director for the Minnesota Department of Corrections and literally wrote the book on mass murder. In an op-ed after Parkland, Duwe noted that peer-reviewed research showed that individuals with major mental disorders are more likely to commit violent acts, especially if they abuse drugs. Duwe cited the same author that Lue and Temple cited for the similar claim in their paper. Duwe also reports that there is a relatively high rate of mental illness specifically among those who commit mass public shootings and notes that Mother Jones reached a similar conclusion.

Lu and Temple’s study finds that young people with guns are more likely to have threatened someone with a gun. Re-read that finding. Soak in the insight it offers, so long as you don’t mind a shallow pool. The presence of a gun is sort of a requirement to threaten someone with a gun, isn’t it?

Maybe not among the 16 “emerging adults” who told strangers they had committed a potentially illegal act.

The model in this study found that those who received mental health treatment in the past year significantly predicted threatening someone with a gun but that significance was washed out when the symptoms of mental health were included in the model. We suspect some multicollinearity between mental health treatment and mental health symptoms, as mental health treatment and the tested symptoms may be correlated.

Lu and Temple position their research as a contribution to the debate between “dangerous people” (the mentally ill) and “dangerous weapons” (firearms). Their own opinion on firearms is clear; their survey found that most people who carry guns did so for protection, and so they argue that “the best method to prevent gun carrying may be the building of an overall safer environment.”

Anti-gun advocates want to limit the rights of law-abiding gun owners and so research like this is held up as evidence that it must be the firearms themselves when, in reality, no one is arguing that everyone with any of the symptoms of mental illness tested here are necessarily dangerous. The inclusion of mental illness in the debate over gun rights is because some with severe mental illnesses do not receive the help they need and commit horrible acts. The responsible, law-abiding nature of tens of millions of American gun owners is ignored by efforts to restrict our rights.

Framing the argument as an attack on anyone dealing with any form of mental illness does a disservice to the debate. So does a study based on the unclear and potentially illegal self-reported actions of 16 young adults from a handful of schools in a specific region of the country.


5 thoughts on “Another Study Blames Guns, Excludes Reality”

  1. You know I am 66 years of age. Old by some folks standards, not necessarily mine though. I fortunately grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in a rural area of the south. Exposed to firearms at an early age, watched TV with all those violent westerns back then ! I am thankful I had parents that taught me right from wrong and if I strayed from their teaching I got my little butt whipped. I had a 22 rifle by the age of ten, I could not take it out though unless my dad was with me. By 13 I got my first semiauto 22 for my summer working in the tobacco fields. At that age I could pretty much do what I wanted to do. My brother and I had cousins the lived a few miles from us. We would somehow strap our guns on our bikes and ride to their farm to hunt. This was a state road by the way. If two teenagers were caught doing that today they would be put under the jail and our parents would be with us. The more and more I look at things today its the culture that’s changed. You had easier access to firearms back then. Before 1968 you could order anything you wanted by mail. I started working for Sears in 1971. Until 1968 you could just simply order handguns and long guns from the catalog. Sears sold all types. So my point I’m trying to make is, this so called easy access to weapons being blamed for the crime and violence days is what we in NC bull hockey !

    1. So much truth in everything you said. Yet too many of those in Congress against our Right, even those of similar maturity, seem to understand the truth, let alone acknowledge it. Yet there is a very good chance, they may have, or may have had friends that did the same things you did. My father and uncles exposed us (me and sibs) to firearms at a young age too. As a child we (me & friends) played with cap guns, cork guns, pellet guns. Not a single person I know from that era, has ever used a firearm in an illegal manner. I remember seeing ammo displays on the sales floor in grocery stores, 22LR for 20-25¢ a box!

  2. What we need to resolve, is the link to Violence; regardless of the tool(s) used or not. What starts the reaction in the mind, that it is OKAY to harm others, as a result of your insecurities, inabilities, irritabilities, irrationalities, and insanity . . .

    1. Daniel S.
      You are 100% on target. It is especially interesting to note that anyone intent on harming others has at their disposal an array of weapons: car, knife, IED, broken bottle, rented truck, lighter, etc. If ALL the guns were removed from the planet, would these people who are intent on harm sit in front of the TV and forget their anger, the voices, or their need for retribution or revenge?
      I’m not much of a betting man, but I’d wager A LOT that we’d still get to see newspaper articles suggesting they didn’t.

  3. What has come to pass, in general, is a lack of respect for individuals or property. Look back to when “blue laws” were eliminated, all retail outlets began Sunday openings. Couple that with the elimination of Holiday closings (family celebration & remembrance of the reasons for them) & Religious influences in daily life & we have the fodder for the loss of society’s moral compass. Does this give rise to instances of mental conflict & instability?? Likely it does, thus violence both for lack of respect & disturbed mental health. Disregarded from above is the massive closings of what was a Mental Health System, leaving those most in need with extremely little services….

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