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7Jan 2013

WPost, NYTimes: Taking a close look at research on guns, mental health, and violence.

WPost, NYTimes: Taking a close look at research on guns, mental health, and violence.

Many people think there are no answers to the problem of violence and mental illness, including such journalist luminaries as Gwen Ifill of PBS Newshour. As I've noted here, that's not the case; her brief commentary on the issue was wrong

Now David Brown of The Washington Post shows up with a story that makes my point. He reports that there is a lot known about the links between mental illness and violence, and that researchers have identified things--such as alcohol and drug abuse--that can increase the risk of violence in people who are mentally ill. 

Spoiler: No, there is no screening test that will identify a person who is likely to engage in a mass killing. And nobody expects that such a test will be found. But Brown does a thorough job of reporting the current state of research.

It's a good story, except for one wrong turn. Brown reports that a more aggressive approach to try to help mentally ill people--and possibly prevent violence--could lead to forcing treatment on sick people who don't want it. He quotes a forensic psychologist who worries that "people are going toward wanting all their kids to be screened in high school for mental illness and violence risk — and that’s a bad idea." Later, he quotes an attorney in Alaska who has fought commitment orders and worries about a mental health system that would force hospitalization and medication on patients who don't want it.

These are arguable points of view, but so is the point of view that people with mental illness often lack judgment and can be incapable of making intelligent decisions about their own care. Brown wrongly fails to report that point of view.

Meanwhile, over at The New York TimesElisabeth Rosenthal examines the National Rifle Association's contention that more guns means less crime. She visits several Latin American countries where there is a "ubiquitous presence of 'good guys' with guns," and she finds the opposite is true. "Countries like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Venezuela," where the good guys have guns, "have some of the highest homicide rates in the world," she writes. The experience in those countries suggests that more guns mean more killing, not less. Bogota's new mayor, she writes, "has forbidden residents to carry weapons on streets, in cars or in any public space since last February, and the murder rate has dropped 50 percent to a 27-year low."

-Paul Raeburn

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