Investor Alert

May 30, 2022, 3:45 p.m. EDT

There is a complicated, fraught connection between gun violence and mental health: ‘We have to be very careful how we talk about the link between the two’

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By Quentin Fottrell

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“Gun violence is definitely a huge driver of increasing homicides, including mass shootings, all over the country,” said Jacquelyn Campbell, an academic nurse known for her research on domestic violence and violence against women.

She cites “the alarming increase in gun purchases over the last few years, in part driven by the pandemic but also in part driven by gun manufacturer and NRA marketing and perceptions of lack of public safety.”

People who do have serious mental-health problems and/or anger-management issues, or deep frustration with their lives or the world, or other undiagnosed crises come from both affluent and disadvantaged communities, she said.

But prevention can also start at home. “I think we can all agree that a person with a serious mental-health problem should not have access to a gun. That’s where ‘red flag’ laws come into play,” she said.

Red-flag laws, also known as extreme-risk protection orders, or ERPOs, allow a family member or law-enforcement officer who spots warning signs to seek a court order to temporarily confiscate a person’s firearms.

Sathya agrees that the latest tragedy speaks to the need for responsible gun ownership and access. “How do you improve safe storage so that those who might be at imminent risk to self or others don’t have access to a weapon?”

“Leakage,” Crifasi said, involves a disturbed or potentially disturbed person saying things about a desire to harm other people, and/or posting such thoughts or intentions on social media, or simply just telling others.

A witness would then alert authorities to that person’s possession of a firearm, or intention to buy one. “That responsibility will lie on teachers, physicians, social workers, families, friends,” Sathya said. “Families are often the first people to notice issues.”

Red-flag laws have been enacted so far in  19 states and the District of Columbia . They can play a role in preventing mass shootings,  a study published  in 2019 in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests.

Researchers conducted a preliminary analysis of the impacts of California’s ERPO statute, under which ERPOs are called gun-violence restraining orders, or GVROs, implemented in January 2016.

They detailed 21 cases in which a GVRO was issued after a person “had made a clear declaration of intent to commit a mass shooting” or exhibited behavior suggesting as much, and had or would soon gain access to firearms.

“In these cases, GVROs allowed for immediate intervention to reduce firearm access, in most instances because of timely reports from threatened parties and members of the public,” the researchers wrote.

As always, the authors added an important caveat to their findings. “It is impossible to know whether violence would have occurred had GVROs not been issued, and we make no claim of a causal relationship.”

Campbell added: “ Texas laws are not as strong as they might be about checking for prohibitions against gun ownership from those with felony convictions or domestic violence convictions or protective orders.”

Last year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed a law that allowed residents in that state to carry a handgun without first having to obtain a license, which effectively permitted most people over the age of 21 to carry a handgun. You must be at least 18 years of age to legally buy a rifle in Texas, and be 21 to legally buy a handgun from a licensed dealer. 

The 18-year-old gunman in Uvalde is suspected of shooting his grandmother before embarking on the shootings. She is reportedly in critical condition. The shooter was killed by law enforcement.

The National Rifle Association did not respond to a request for comment.

(Meera Jagannathan contributed to this report.)

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