Are Guns Nuts Too Mentally Ill to Own Guns?

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Obama Administration

Lots of people have commented on the Senate’s failure to pass any of the four gun control measures it considered this week. And some of those commentaries pointed out that the measures were lame to begin with.

As I understand it, one of the measures would have provided for federal background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or over the Internet, which I certainly support. Another would have blocked people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns. This makes for a good talking point — let’s take guns away from ISIS!  But the terrorist watch list is an opaque and mysterious thing that easily could be used to unfairly jerk people around (see Glenn Greenwald on this point). And it’s highly questionable how effective such blocking would be, anyway.

But to me, the single biggest howler among these proposals was the Republican one for a “mental illness” database.

The Senate rejected first a Republican proposal to update the background check system for gun purchases, which would have required states to add more information on mental health records to a national database. …

… Some Senate Democrats warned that the legislation’s revised definition of who would be considered mentally ill could potentially still allow those with significant psychological issues to legally purchase guns.

The “revised definition” be damned; doing this at all is objectionable on several levels.

First, “mental illness” is not a tightly defined scientific term; it could apply to a wide range of brain, behavioral and mood disorders, from mild and common to severe and rare. I do not want a bunch of politicians with no background in psychology defining it, especially since I suspect at least half of Congress currently might qualify as “mentally ill” depending on where you draw parameters. And I’m not joking.

Second, given the stigma attached to any kind of psychological disorder, a list like that could visit all kinds of discrimination against the people on it.

Third, data tell us that even severe mental illness accounts for very little of our gun violence. According to this article, people with severe mental illness commit only about 4 percent of firearm homicides in the U.S. And expecting psychiatrists to report on potentially violent patients probably won’t help;  predicting which patient might become violent is an inexact science, “only slightly more accurate than flipping a coin.”

Even among our infamous mass shooters, who certainly seem to have been deranged, it’s estimated that only about 22 percent of them were “mentally ill.” And only about 11 percent had problems severe enough that they’d been reported to a doctor or another authority before the shooting. As a group, mass shooters may be less crazy than Congress. And according to this guy, only 10 percent of “jihadist terrorists” in the U.S. were mentally ill, which makes them saner than the general population.

However, there may be a connection between behavior or personality and gun ownership that does raise red flags for potential gun violence.

The more guns a person owns, the more likely they are to report experiencing serious, uncontrollable outbursts of anger and aggression. That’s the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law, which found that nearly one in ten Americans have both a history of impulsive anger and access to a firearm.

“The new research also indicates that the 310 million firearms estimated to be in private hands in the United States are disproportionately owned by people who are prone to angry, impulsive behavior and have a potentially dangerous habit of keeping their guns close at hand,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “That’s because people owning six or more guns were more likely to fall into both of these categories than people who owned a single gun.”

It turns out that being chronically angry is the REAL warning sign that predicts a potential killer.

A number of common mental health conditions — including personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol use disorder — tend to be associated with the risky mix of pathological anger with gun access, according to the APA.
“However, only a small proportion of angry people with guns has ever been hospitalized for a mental health problem — voluntarily or involuntarily — and thus most would not be prohibited from firearms under the involuntary commitment exclusion.”

IMO an argument could be made that people — men especially but possibly not exclusively — who are militant about their unfettered right to own and carry any firearm they want are displaying behavior that ought to disqualify them from owning guns at all.

In fact, people have made that argument.

What we’re seeing is a strong correlation between pathological anger and a desire to own multiple guns. There is also a strong correlation between pathological anger and violent behavior.  Therefore, the very people who are most motivated to purchase more than one high-powered weapon are the last people who ought to be purchasing high-powered weapons.

But maybe some day the American Psychiatric Association will include “gun nut disorder” in the DSM, making it an official “mental illness.”  Then we can talk about a mental illness watch list.

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26 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Racer X  •  Jun 22, 2016 @10:27 am

    I too was amazed that the party that caters to people talking to invisible men and ignoring science and reality would want to go anywhere near an area such a mental illness.

  2. Tom_b  •  Jun 22, 2016 @10:36 am

    You nailed it. There are VERY few “legitimate” reasons for non-soldiers to own a gun: competitive shooting and hunting, basically, though I personally consider the latter barbaric. Beyond that, they are a “male enhancement” for non-alpha males.

  3. Bardi  •  Jun 22, 2016 @11:05 am

    IANAL, but, isn’t basing a law on “lists” unconstitutional?

  4. maha  •  Jun 22, 2016 @11:11 am

    Basing a law on lists probably is unconstitutional, unless some kind of due process were involved in getting on the list. That’s why the terrorist watch list thing really isn’t a defensible idea, even though it sounds good.

  5. charluckles  •  Jun 22, 2016 @1:37 pm

    Grew up shooting guns, still own them, and I know I should not make a judgement based off of talking with people online. But this right here is what has convinced me that we aren’t going far enough with gun control, and that the second amendment should be repealed. The delusions, paranoia and megalomania of the gun owners I have spoken with has been shocking to me. A lot of these people should not be allowed to own guns.

  6. goatherd  •  Jun 22, 2016 @3:10 pm

    That’s the rub, isn’t it? People who build a private arsenal or carry an AR-15 slung over their shoulder when they go to buy a dozen eggs at Walmart are definitely exhibiting bizarre behavior. There’s no way around it. It just gets worse when they insist that people who are put off by seeing a stranger “packing,” are overreacting. That adds another scary piece of the psychological profile and it indicates that they haven’t a clue how to interact with others or to imagine how their actions might affect other people.

    I’ve met some pretty shocking gun owners too. I guess that we all have. The majority of gun owners that I have known have been sane and level headed. But, they don’t make quite so lasting an impression. The angry ones and the careless ones really stay with you for a while.

    There was an interesting discussion on the Diane Rehm show the other day, regarding gun violence as a public health issue.

  7. Blargle  •  Jun 22, 2016 @3:34 pm

    You do not want politicians making laws over mental illnes, but you feel qualified to make the call?

    Thanks, but no thanks buttercup.

  8. maha  •  Jun 22, 2016 @4:13 pm

    Blargle — learn to read, sweetums. I wouldn’t be the one making the “call.”

  9. c u n d gulag  •  Jun 22, 2016 @4:02 pm

    Some people are hoarders.
    I used to hoard books, until it got to be too much to move 6 bookcases of books.

    And these gun-fetishists hoard guns.
    To what purpose?
    Why would you need all of these semi-automatics and tons of ammo in your home, in your car, on your person?
    That in and of itself shows a high degree of paranoia.

    What, you say you need to protect yourself from government?
    Well, to that, I say take a look at drones, helicopters, and armed vehicles. What chance do you and any other “Wolverines” have against those, and the trained military personnel behind them.

    My favorite sight is seeing some grossly overweight white guy, at about pounds or more, parading around in camo, strapped to the gills with weapons.
    Dude, you won’t make it up San Juan Hill if you can’t make it up an anthill!
    Plus, the worst guy/gal in their marksmanship training class, couldn’t possibly miss your sweaty, grunting, and panting ass!

    As I’ve always said, I’m ok with hunting rifles for those who hunt – and then eat what they shoot.
    And I’m ok with a shot-gun to protect your home.
    But why, if you’re not actively in the military, would you need even ONE assault gun/rifle – let alone dozens!

    Yeah, that’s its own form of mental illness, imo.

  10. Swami  •  Jun 22, 2016 @4:57 pm

    Dude, you won’t make it up San Juan Hill if you can’t make it up an anthill!

    🙂 If somebody told him to haul ass he’d have to make two trips!

  11. LongHairedWeirdo  •  Jun 22, 2016 @6:18 pm

    Basing a law on a list is a really bad idea, true, but I also kinda-like the idea in the sense of “if it’s not good enough for forbid gun purchases, it ain’t good enough for anything!”

    It’s like, I wouldn’t mind if a law was put in place saying that gun owners had to undergo a 72 hour waiting period after receiving pamphlets and a speech about how many people are killed by guns and/or easy availability to guns, and forced to watch pictures of ugly, accidental gun shot wounds, and reminded that there are plenty of other options, like electric stun guns, pepper spray, etc., and explicitly outlawing guns of certain types that look scary because “Congress has found that there’s never a compelling need for that particular type of gun, regardless of your particular situation.”

    That is: basically, create an analogue of every abortion restriction dreamed up, and apply them to guns. (The last one is regarding the intact dilation and extraction, which opponents call “partial birth abortion” – and yes, Congress really did say that they made a finding of fact regarding a medical procedure, as stone-cold-stupid as it should sound even to a professional bloviator.)

  12. Joel Dan Walls  •  Jun 22, 2016 @6:29 pm

    I learned a long time ago that I could have cordial relations with my neighbor–call him B–if we avoided talking about politics and especially gun control. He’s opposed to any sort of gun control as far as I can tell. Not politically extreme in any other way. Anyway, one day as we stood chewing the fat over the fence, the subject of guns somehow came up anyway. Mrs B piped up and said something about how gun violence is really a mental health problem. I replied that surely she would support having prospective gun owners be certified as psychologically fit. No answer. We dropped the subject.

    The gun-violence-is-a-mental-health-problem claim is just one more distraction and nexcuse.

  13. maha  •  Jun 22, 2016 @8:43 pm

    I’m coming around to the idea that we should ban semi-automatic weapons entirely except to people who can prove a need for one and who can pass rigorous background checks along with a psych evaluation; training would also be required. It would require jumping through many, many challenging hoops to be licensed to purchase and own a semi-auto firearm of any sort. Forget the “assault weapon” ban; that’s been tried before and is too easy to define “assault weapon” to mean pretty much nothing. People who want a weapon for hunting or target shooting or to keep one for protection can do very well with bolt-action type guns.

  14. Bonnie  •  Jun 22, 2016 @10:21 pm

    I gave up on American leaders doing any thing meaningful on this issue when they refused to do anything after a bunch of 5- and 6-year-olds were massacred. It showed America’s leaders care little about the children. If you don’t care about the children, you will get what you deserve in the end. The Newtown shooting just broke my heart; and, it hasn’t mended yet.

  15. goatherd  •  Jun 23, 2016 @7:39 am

    “I’m coming around to the idea that we should ban semi-automatic weapons entirely except to people who can prove a need for one.”

    There seems to be a number of reasons why the Assault Weapon Ban was not particularly effective. One big one is that it only applied to new sales. There were too many out there already. Since the ban expired, the class of weapon formerly affected by the ban has become wildly popular. Who knows? The ban probably contributed to the popularity; the AR-15 and similar weapons have become emblematic of the lone individual’s struggle against “big government.”

    One of the points that I’ve read about bringing the AWB back, is that it would spend too much political capital and be even less effective than it was previously. That seems right to me. So, if something is to be done, it needs to be more aggressive and effective. A ban on semi-automatic weapons fits the bill.

    To the hopeful naive side of me, something seems to have changed with this latest massacre. Maybe, we’ve finally had enough, and at least, we’ve had some attempts by politicians to highlight the problem. As compared to “business as usual” that’s a step forward.

  16. Tom_b  •  Jun 23, 2016 @7:44 am

    Bonnie: if you want one single incident to demonstrate the utter ethical bankruptcy of the GOP, the inaction after Newtown is it.

  17. Lynne  •  Jun 23, 2016 @8:02 am

    Haha! Swami!

  18. paradoctor  •  Jun 23, 2016 @4:58 pm

    The mental illness in question is an anger-management deficit. I therefore propose this test: make getting a gun require filling out a tedious, stupid and infuriating form; then you must stand in a long line… to get the exact same form. Anyone who loses it during the process gets no gun.

  19. Tom_b  •  Jun 23, 2016 @8:54 pm

    “make getting a gun require filling out a tedious, stupid and infuriating form; then you must stand in a long line… to get the exact same form”

    And, maybe pee in a cup. It would be like signing up for welfare or unemployment in a red state.

    Short of an outright ban on firearms, which I would wholeheartedly support, I’d like to see national weapon registration (like we do with cars or houses), an annual users tax, and a mandatory liability insurance rider for gun owners. In my dreams….

  20. Bill  •  Jun 24, 2016 @1:54 am

    I sat in a cubicle next to a military style gun nut who was always talking about “going down to the truck, then paying them a visit upstairs”, meaning, he’d go postal on the VPs on the top floor with his arsenal. He was a very angry man. Besides being extra polite around him, I also was extra careful not to make any kind of comment which could insinuate a small penis size. How this relates to terrorism? Maybe there’s the potential for a study in there somewhere but I’ll pass on that one for now.

  21. Swami  •  Jun 24, 2016 @12:17 pm

    I must admit I did covet Ben Cartwright’s gun rack.

  22. bernie  •  Jun 24, 2016 @4:47 pm

    That I may have the last word or comment, or close at least. Little to add. I think we have decided that crazy people should not have assault weapons and large magazines. I think we all agree that a system is needed to evaluate people who may not be mentally stable enough to buy such items. So like we need for them to have a prescription. A prescription form a Psychiatrist with malpractice insurance or their surrogate. Then they can go to a gun shop and buy it

    If the Psychiatrist makes too many prescriptions to the wrong people then his insurance rates go up and he is out of business or in jail like the MDs who make all the oxy junkies.

    Black powder rifles and muzzle loaders are exempt. I withhold comment on breechloaders as not to offend the “Christian right”.

  23. goatherd  •  Jun 25, 2016 @11:05 am

    So, is Brexit next on the agenda?

  24. Swami  •  Jun 25, 2016 @2:45 pm

    Probably Texit…God, guns, and good ol’ boyz. I think Gohmert is going to lead the charge.

  25. paradoctor  •  Jun 25, 2016 @5:03 pm

    Everyone, please calm down about Brexit. 52 to 48 is a weak mandate; the referendum is advisory only; and many Leavers are already experiencing buyer’s remorse. So I bet that sooner rather than later Parliament will come crawling back to Brussels, begging forgiveness. A sensible move; and also further proof of the EU’s undemocratic nature. (Grexit didn’t work either.)

    I say that it makes sense for the island to stand off a bit from the continent. The UK is the EU’s cat.

    … and are gun nuts “too” mentally ill to own guns? No. They are “just enough” mentally ill to own guns.

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