A study by behavioral researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch, to be published in the journal Behavioral Science in April, concludes that having a mental illness doesn’t make a person more likely to commit gun violence.

A better indicator of gun violence is ready access to firearms, according to the study.

Yu Lu, a postdoctoral research fellow, was lead author of the study, conducted with guidance by her mentor and co-author, Dr. Jeff Temple, a clinical psychologist and professor at the medical branch.

The study looked at the association between gun violence and mental health in a group of 663 young adults, all part of a study that has been going on for several years.

“We recruited 1,042 adolescents from seven high schools in the Houston area and have been following up with them every year looking at risk behaviors,” Lu said. Lu specializes in risk behaviors in adolescents and young adults including violent behavior, substance abuse and mental health issues.

When the longitudinal study subjects reached age 20 or 21, questions about firearms and behavior involving firearms were added to the questionnaire. Attrition from the core group resulted in a final study group of 663.

“We examined a range of mental health issues including PTSD, anxiety, depression and many others and we found that access to guns, not mental health, was the strongest indicator of threatening behavior with a firearm,” Lu said.

Lu was motivated to conduct the study by concerns she shared with other clinicians and academics over a tendency by media to connect or suggest mental health problems when talking about incidents of gun violence, she said.

“There’s a lot of public perception about the link between gun violence and mental health, leading a lot of people to think mental health is the cause of gun violence,” Lu said. “As scientists, we are concerned about the stigmatizing of people with mental health issues and a perception that is not backed up by scientific evidence.”

Trying to provide scientific evidence that either proved or disproved the link between mental health issues and gun violence, the study showed that people who had access to guns, compared to those with no such access, were over 18 times more likely to have threatened someone with a gun, even after controlling for a number of demographic and mental health variables.

At the same time, most mental health symptoms were found to be unrelated to gun violence.

The study looked at gun violence across a broad spectrum, not specifically singling out school shootings, victims of which account for a small percentage of the 30,000 to 40,000 Americans who die from firearms each year. In addition to those deaths, an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 Americans are injured by firearms annually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many studies have been done on smaller cross-sections, looking at violence among individuals with severe mental illnesses or looking at the rate of mental illness among individuals arrested for violent crimes. But a wider longitudinal study among an ethnically diverse sample of young adults representing the general population, some with mental health issues and some not, found no link between mental health and gun violence.

Misguided policies that might lead to restricting the rights of people with mental illness without meaningfully reducing gun violence can prevent people from seeking needed mental health treatment for fear of stigma, Lu said.

“I think the biggest takeaway is that we should not stigmatize people who have mental health issues,” she said. “We should not assume people with mental health issues are dangers. In fact, they are more likely to be victims of violence.”

The other side of the coin, showing that access to guns is a strong predictor of gun violence has strong policy implications.

“Increasing access to guns, and the suggestion that this is the best way to protect people from gun violence, is not a solution,” Lu said. “Our finding is consistent with other studies showing that districts with higher gun ownership rates also have higher gun homicide rates.”

“Individuals with more gun access are more likely to perpetuate gun violence.”

Kathryn Eastburn: 409-683-5257; kathryn.eastburn@galvnews.com.

(17) comments

Kelly Naschke

So...otherwise normally sane people with no predeliction to violence, no mental health history....just can’t control themselves in the presence of firearms and eventually revert to violence.....

Can I call bullship?

Betty Jo

In the case of accidental shooting deaths, true! If your children have access to guns deaths will occur. If you do not handle and control your guns properly accidents will happen. This is not the fault of the guns. A little personal responsibility would solve this problem. Mass killings are by definition the result of a sick mind.

George Croix

"If your children have access to guns deaths will occur."
I had access to firearms from birth. Same for every single one of my K-12 friends.
Same for my daughter, her cousins, and all but a handful of her friends.
Same for my grandkids....
No death of a human being, or even an accident involving a firearm, has occurred due to our collective accesses.
The key component in safety is knowledge...the youngest of children can be taught to not touch them the same as they are taught not to put their hand on a hot stove...repetition and effort.....then, start them shooting as early as their individual personalities and maturation allows, imo, again....
Teaching firearms safety and knowledge of how to, or not to, handle them is the key.
I do not lock up all my firearms, because I don't have any use for additional paperweights, but am stricter than Old Man Scrooge was with his money about safety.
I think that your post was a good one, and you are absolutely correct about everything else in it aside from the inevitability of an accident, which, I doubt you meant as a universal truth anyway....
Thanks for writing it.

George Croix

And a better indicator of malpractice is ready access to medical care...
And a better indicator of obesity is ready access to food...
And a better indicator of drowning is ready access to water...

There ya go...get near a trigger source (no pun) and you are likely to be unable to resist it's siren call....

Capt. Obvious from the TV commercials couldn't have done better....

Jim Guidry

How about this?
"People in automobiles are more likely to die in car accidents. "

This article would be humorous, if it wasn't so scary!

Michael Guarino

I agree with the comments made in the earlier postings on this article. The accessibility to firearms is a factor in every shooting incident. It seems to me that in almost all of the mass shootings in recent years, mental illness was a common factor. I personally question the value of this scientists conclusions based on her study.

Stephen Murphy


Jim Guidry

If there were not accessibility to firearms in a shooting, it probably would not be a shooting. It would be a stabbing, a bludgeoning or some other type of assault. But probably not a shooting, the author is correct about that at least. Junk science at it's finest...

Carlos Ponce

"It would be a stabbing, a bludgeoning or some other type of assault."
Like a bombing. The Santa Fe High School killer also had explosives.

Kelly Naschke

A few of my guns are left out of the safe on PURPOSE, in addition to gun that I have legally carried for over a decade. My wife and daughters have all taken gun safety 101. My wife and daughters are also perfectly capable of USING them. According to this opinion presented in the article...me....my wife...and my daughters are all potential mass shooters....RIDICULOUS.

George Croix

The scary part is that there will be people Uh huh'ing and agreeing that this is Big News, and 'proves' something or other....other than the questionable necessity of studying a predetermined conclusion, I mean....


Wayne Holt

"...the study showed that people who had access to guns, compared to those with no such access, were over 18 times more likely to have threatened someone with a gun, even after controlling for a number of demographic and mental health variables."

I think George pointed out the problem here. My own research indicates that people with access to guns were 100% more likely to use a gun than people who had no access. Further study led me to conclude people with access to garden rakes and candelabras were 100% more likely to use them than people who did not.

While I think it's great not to stigmatize those with mental illness as an entire class, it seems to me that is exactly the conclusion that this research was trying to do in terms of stigmatizing gun ownership. Did the study control for urban vs. rural gun use (no, they were all Houston area youths)? Did it control for domestic violence experienced by the young men? How about gun violence used in legitimate self-defense? Or is the use of a gun supposed to be bad no matter what the reason, while disregarding a host of other factors?

If these factors were not taken into consideration, I really fail to see what value it offers as far as original research into CRIMINAL use of firearms and its associated violence. To my simple understanding, using a firearm in a criminal manner is, ipso facto, proof of mental illness as it is anti-social. If the use was not illegal and in fact was lawful and appropriate, who cares if the gun owner thought he was Napoleon...it was justified.

And maybe that is the point of this "research"; to blur the distinction between lawful gun ownership and use vs. criminal intent. If that was the object, I think it succeeded masterfully.

George Croix

Wayne, excellent questions / summarization.
The point of such 'information' as this article contains is ALWAYS, imo, to avoid differentiating between criminals and honest citizens.
It's pretty much the same reason that the first thing too many people think of when a criminal act occurs is 'we need more laws', never minding only honest citizens, the ones NOT guilty, follow laws.....I think it must be a reflex action to draw illogical lousy conclusions shortly after knee jerks up onto nose...the pain...the pain....
On this particular subject, it's eye opening, assuming anyone cares to have them open, to look at the fine print of 'studies' and 'reports' on so-called 'gun violence' (there's a media driven moniker, if ever there was one....anyone ever hear of 'automobile violence' despite thousands more killed.....???...) and see WHAT all is included.
Some I've personally seen trumpeted as 'gun violence' used in an effort to pass more restrictive laws include:
Gang banger shootings (where 'children' may be 21 years old or more...).
Self-defense (!! ...yep....).
Accidental discharges involving NOBODY harmed.
And, in one case, a 'gun homicide' was a person bludgeoned to death with the barrel from an old single shot shotgun that had no stock, and the action was rusted shut....

Can't fix those.....

Wayne Holt

What may be an O. Henry (do they even mention him anymore in school?) twist to this, the so-called "red flag" laws popping up in various places around the country may be hampered by the conclusions of this study. For the record, these laws are basically pre-crime enforcement at times based on the flimsiest of reasons by law enforcement, family members, and others who seek to remove guns from the hands of folks without recourse to protecting their constitutional rights to possession.

With mental illness seemingly disconnected from gun violence, this is the FIRST study I would point to should someone claim I ought to have my possession revoked based on mental health issues--please, no snickering from the audience.

At any rate, it would be cruel irony to those who find gun use deplorable even in self-defense if they were blocked from using bogus mental health issues to achieve their goal. Watch this one carefully to see if it is either walked back or somehow modified so that this avenue of constitutional usurpation is preserved.

George Croix

Ask 10 people on the street, Wayne, and I'll bet a case of cold Diet Coke that at least 9 would, if saying at all, say that O. Henry is a candy bar with a yellow wrapper.....
Interesting point.
As with other such cases of supposed or expected 'good intent', it depends heavily, when not exclusively, on who's doing the deciding?
IMO, if someone is suspected of being a danger to others because of a mental illness, then the issue should be temporarily removing the danger, which is the PERSON, who, if truly a danger, wouldn't need just a firearm to do harm.....if there can be forced confiscation of a Constitutional right, then why not be MORE effective and go back to temporary forced confinement for observation and evaluation?
If the goal is to prevent someone being needlessly harmed, and not just more gun politics, then the entire spectrum of potential harm could be temporarily removed by action against the threat, not his/her 'tools'....

Richard George

FYI: Studies also show married couples have a higher rate of divorce as apposed to single people. The key to this study is who funded it/ grant money?

Richard George

Furthermore, what is your mental status if you can so easily take an innocent persons or multiple persons life ? [rolleyes]

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