By Quentin Fottrell
The unthinkable has become horribly predictable.
On Tuesday afternoon, an 18-year-old gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, about 85 miles west of San Antonio, killing at least 19 children, two adults, and injuring others.
It was the deadliest shooting at a grade school in the U.S. since a 20-year-old gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.
Uvalde is located between San Antonio and the Southern border, and has a large Mexican-American population. The official site for the city describes it as “at the crossroads to hill country.”
Once again, lawmakers, mental-health professionals, gun-control advocates, the National Rifle Association and people across the land are searching for answers, and debating gun-control laws — or lack thereof — in the United States.
“People with mental-health issues are more likely to be victims than perpetrators,” said Chethan Sathya, a pediatric trauma surgeon and director of Northwell Health’s Center for Gun Violence Prevention, headquartered in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
“We have to be very careful how we talk about the link between the two,” he said. “When it comes to folks with mental-health issues these public-health strategies are important because they often involve the victims themselves.”
More than 50% of firearm-related deaths were suicides, and more than four out of every 10 were homicides, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. More than seven out of every 10 medically treated firearm injuries are caused by firearm-related assaults.
In 2020, there were 45,222 firearm-related deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC, equivalent to about 124 people dying from a firearm-related injury each day.
Cassandra Crifasi, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said there is a distinction between a diagnosable mental-health issue and other problems.
“Increasingly, we are seeing people who are frustrated, angry and hateful and using firearms to take that out on a particular group, and taking that out on a group of individuals through mass violence,” she told MarketWatch.
Bluntly linking mental health to gun violence can stigmatize the former. Look at it another way: More than 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime, according to the CDC.
Clearly, not everyone with mental-health issues are carrying out mass shootings. To put that in context: One in five Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year. But could you really say that those who commit mass shootings are in a stable emotional or mental state?
Few details are known about Uvalde shooter’s state of mind, motivations or whether he was motivated by anger and/or hate, Crifasi said. “As for someone who would commit mass shootings as happened today, folks would agree that there is something wrong with that person,” she added.
But she said trying to parse apart the motivations and mental health of the shooter distracts from the more useful actions Americans can take to prevent another suicide or homicide by a shooting — and especially in a school.
Those factors include requiring a license to buy a firearm, and right-to-carry laws in certain states that give people the right to carry concealed handguns outside of the home without a permit, or with a permit issued by a state.