Guns, Not Mental Illness

Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun. (Via Wikipedia)
Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun. (Via Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON, December 14, 2014 − The theory that mental illness actually causes violent crime is highly exaggerated.

Example: Last week, a gunman shot and injured three students in Portland, Oregon. From October 24 until those Portland shootings, seven other students had been shot and killed and four others wounded in Washington, Florida and Oklahoma. These are just the student victims.

When young people die it catches more attention. Other people are killed or injured every day by gun violence, but when youngsters are involved, such incidents attract much more media scrutiny.

Currently in the U.S., when someone pulls a trigger, speculation about the shooter’s mental health typically follows. It seems obvious to both the press and to many spectators − whoever does such a terrible thing must be, in some sense, mentally ill. We seem to believe that violent behavior is directly connected to mental illness. When the behavior is sensational, as in mass shootings, clearly the shooter must be sick.

In 2013, almost forty-six percent of respondents to a national survey said people with mental illness were more dangerous than other people. More than fifty percent of those polled by Gallup in 2011 and 2013 said that mass shootings are more related to failures in the mental health system than from easy access to guns. This is evidence, however, that the audience is not always right.

Many believe the focus on violence should center more on drug and alcohol abuse, or even on cultural factors in the nation’s black community.

A study conducted almost 25 years ago (1991) (and which clearly rings true today) by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) found that alcohol and drug abuse are far more likely to result in violent behavior than mental illness by itself. The study indicates that people with no mental disorder who abused alcohol or drugs were nearly seven times as likely as those without substance abuse to commit violent acts.

Jason L. Riley (July, 2014) wrote in the Washington Times newspaper, “any candid debate… must begin with the fact that blacks are responsible for an astoundingly disproportionate number of crimes, which has been the case for at least the past half a century.”

“If we don’t acknowledge the cultural barriers to black progress,” Riley asks, “how can we address them?”

The facts, simply stated, lead us to conclude that mental illness is only a very small part of the reason for violent crime.

Lead researcher Jillian Peterson, PhD, writing in the American Psychological Association journal “Law and Human Behavior,” asks,

Is there a small group of people with mental illness committing crimes again and again because of their symptoms? We didn’t find that in this study.


When we hear about crimes committed by people with mental illness, they tend to be big headline-making crimes so they get stuck in people’s heads. The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, not criminal and not dangerous.

A major reason we focus on the mentally ill in connection with reducing violent crime, is that the media and the entertainment industries often portray the mentally ill as violent criminals. According to a 1999 study in “Mental Health American,” 60 percent of characters in prime time television with mental illness were shown to be involved in crime or violence, and news reports overwhelmingly portray the mentally ill as dangerous.

A 2006 report from the Institute of Medicine says that while studies do suggest a link between mental illnesses and violence, the contribution of people with mental illnesses to overall rates of violence is small. Yet the magnitude of the relationship is greatly exaggerated in the minds of the general population.

Studies conclude that those categorized as mentally ill commit approximately four percent of violent crimes.

Greg North, in a December 2012 article article appearing in, writes that “the contribution of mentally ill to overall crime rates is an “extremely low” 3 to 5 percent, a number much lower than that of substance abuse; and studies show the mentally ill are more likely to be the victims of violent crimes.”

The national attention on the mentally ill following mass killings is misplaced. The attention instead should be on getting rid of automatic weapons.

Following the Newtown, Connecticut shooting, Richard A. Friedman, M.D. wrote that while “no official diagnosis has been made public, armchair diagnosticians have been quick to assert that keeping guns from getting into the hands of people with mental illness would help solve the problem of gun homicides.”

Arguing against stricter gun-control measures after Sandy Hook, Representative Mike Rogers, (R-Michigan), said “the more realistic discussion is how do we target people with mental illness who use firearms?”

Robert A. Levy, chairman of the Cato Institute, told the New York Times: To reduce the risk of multi-victim violence, we would be better advised to focus on early detection and treatment of mental illness.” Thank you gentlemen, but your thoughts are misplaced. Preventing those with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other serious mental illnesses from getting guns might reduce, ever so slightly, the risk of mass killings. But that effort, realistically, would have little impact on every-day firearm-related killings.

According to a National Center for Health Statistics 2010 study, there were 120,000 gun related homicides between 2001 and 2010. People with mental illness accounted for “only a few.”

Dr. Friedman: “All the focus on the small number of people with mental illness who are violent serves to make us feel safer by displacing and limiting the threat of violence to a small, well-defined group. But the sad and frightening truth is that the vast majority of homicides are carried out by outwardly normal people in the grip of all too ordinary human aggression to whom we provide nearly unfettered access to deadly force.” Guns have been, remain, and will continue to be the problem.

Automatic weapons pose the greatest danger. While most National Rifle Association members agree banning these weapons is a good thing, the leadership refuses to endorse such a ban, because of the misguided belief that “if we give an inch,” the progression of concessions will never end.

The NRA lobby is a ridiculously strong one. For this reason, laws have changed and there is now the legally-sanctioned belief that we have a “right” to bear arms. Historically, this was not the case. The Second Amendment was enacted to protect us from government oppression.

World renounced attorney and Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, in his book Shouting Fire, observes that the meaning of the Second Amendment’s language will never be resolved to the satisfaction of all sides.

That language reads, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed…” The NRA regards this language as an all-encompassing broad-based natural right.

Gun control advocates argue that the language, particularly the reference to a “well regulated militia,” limits the right to the possession of weapons for military use. They also argue that the words “well regulated” suggest reasonable regulation of gun ownership, such as licensing, waiting periods, and mandatory gun locks. Dershowitz says that the claim of “private, unregulated gun ownership” as a natural right is difficult to defend, because it is a uniquely American “right,” growing out of our colonial experiences.

Most freedom loving countries have restrictions on gun ownership. Liberty does not require the right to bear arms.

Addressing a common argument that guns are needed for self defense, Dershowitz continues,

The ‘right’ to self defense is acknowledged in all laws to be limited to specific threats and requires that there be no reasonable alternative. It does not extend to the private possession of guns for use in the possible event of lethal aggression.

It is time − it long has been − to simply recognize and act on the problem of violent crime. The problem is guns, not the mentally ill.

We should help all who need help. This includes those who suffer with mental illnesses. This includes those who use drugs and alcohol. This includes addressing cultural problems in minority communities.

We try to stop access to drugs and alcohol. We know the potential effects. Guns equally cause serious problems.

While reducing gun violence has no simple answer, we should pass laws that significantly limit access to guns, that severely punish the use of guns during crimes, and that flat-out outlaw automatic weapons.


Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website. 

His new book “Who Will Pay My Auto Accident Bills?, The Most Comprehensive Nationwide Auto Accident Resolution Book, Ever” can be reviewed on and can be ordered there, or obtained directly on Amazon: Click here to order.


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Paul Samakow
Attorney Paul Samakow brings his legal expertise and analysis from the trenches of the courtroom to Communities Digital News. A native Washingtonian, Samakow has been a Plaintiff’s trial lawyer since 1980 practicing in the DC metro area. Paul can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email @ [email protected], or through his website @ He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics.
  • Kerry C Conner

    lawyers can’t get money from mental illness but Gun industry has deep pockets as well as the supporters of Gun rights.

  • mjolnir

    “World renounced attorney and Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz”?
    Why would you care about the opinion of someone who is renounced by the world?
    You should do a little research before you spout off and show your ignorance, Mr. Samakow. There is so much BS in this column that I hardly know where to begin, but just to name cite a couple of examples: Automatic weapons are already highly regulated by the federal government and the annual rate of homicides committed by people with automatic weapons is essentially zero. Also, I challenge you to support your claim that most NRA members support a ban on them. Secondly, your claim that the term “well regulated” in the Second Amendment supports gun control is grossly misinformed. “Well regulated” modifies “militia” not “arms” and refers to the need for the militia being well disciplined and well trained. There’s much more, but you should do some research of your own — it might keep you from sounding like a fool the next time you choose to expound on something you obviously know nothing about.

  • 99% of crimes are NOT committed by lawful citizens or the mentally ill!

    What we are experiencing is the result of a failed social experiment.

    Failed inner city schools, one parent families, kids having kids even with free birth control, gangs in the cities (and schools), drug use, no job skills (see failed schools), social programs that encourage people to NOT work or form family units, and revolving door justice (who hasn’t read an article where the perp has been previously arrested six time).

    Fix the schools, especially in the inner cities!

  • Ringo Lapua

    Censorship used to be limited to violence, porn or vulgar words. Now the left wing media has determined that any opposing idea needs to be held back or censored. Why is the left afraid of the truth? This article is so factually incorrect that it surprises me that it was allowed to make national news. If you people at Commodities Digital News wise to censure something truly wrong, you should start with this news article by Paul Samakow.

    • 21st Century Pacifist

      Point out the mistakes, don’t just rave. The right never saw a fallacy they didn’t like.

  • 21st Century Pacifist

    Congratulations on a great article. The only difference between us and other first world countries with regard to deaths is the fact that we cultivate a cult to the fire arm. There are very few reasons for having a gun that make any sense.

  • I would be kind and guess that Paul Samakow, though a Lawyer, and ignorant of the law, doesn’t know that because of the National Firearms Act of 1934, Automatic Weapons are highly restricted, with long waits as the ATF drags its heels much longer than the 90 Days that the law mandates, to nearly a year to approve the transfer of such weapons, or for any other NFA Weapons and Gear.
    I’m a part-owner of a Class 3 FFL and I do business with a few law enforcement agencies in my area (Mostly service and repairs on weapons of the small departments including their Automatic Rifles, Grenade Launchers, Other; and some Specialized Ammo Sells) and I deal in such weapon sells for those who can both afford them, and deal with the long wait.
    Samakow is either ignorant about guns, and gun laws, or he’s lying (He is a Lawyer) about guns, and gun laws just to push an agenda.

  • HaroldAMaio

    “A major reason we focus on the mentally ill in connection with reducing violent crime, is that the media and the entertainment industries often portray the mentally ill as violent criminals.”

    I respectfully disagree with you. The media are presenting increasingly accurate representations of mental illnesses, each individual illness, not “mental illness” as a thing.
    Your sentence contains one major misrepresentation, “the” mentally ill. It is the precise misrepresentation as “the” Blacks. You do not mean what the words say.

  • Shawn Dillon

    These authors always love to compare gun deaths in the US to gun deaths in countries that have very few guns. Of course, more will die here by being shot. However, when you look at violent crime as a whole, the US is one of the safest places to live on the globe. Is it better to get shot or stabbed to death? Both are pretty freaking brutal. Furthermore, the law abiding as a whole commit almost none of the crimes you read about. Time and again, the perpetrator had a stolen gun or one they otherwise acquired illegally. Adding more restrictions on types of firearm or the process to acquire them only serves to hinder the law abiding and embolden the criminal. As other posters have mentioned, fully automatic weapons are strictly regulated by the ATF, and no new production of fully automatic weapons has been allowed for civilian use since mid 1986. Semi-auto weapons have been around for centuries, although admittedly they “only” really started to see widespread use about 150 years ago. Speaking of widespread use, the 1911 pistol has been around since… 1911. The AK47 has been around since ’47 (although not exported until the ’50s if my info is correct), the AR-15 has been around since the ’60s, and I could go on and on. The guns weren’t the problem 50 years ago, and they didn’t magically become the problem now. The FBI stats show that violent crime in the US is at about it’s lowest ever right now. There are some in government that do not want ordinary citizens to have their 2nd amendment rights. They use excuses of “violent crime” and “for the children” to curry public favor for turning in your rights. For those who are still clueless, the 2nd amendment gives citizens the ultimate recall power, the ability to overthrow the Federal government, should the need arise. It’s not about hunting, sport, or “fun”. It is our check-and-balance against the government. Only tyrants who wish to oppress you will want to take your gun or limit what kind of gun you can own, because it removes that power from you. The framers had just got done beating the strongest military in the world thanks to privately held arms. It’s no surprise that protecting your ability to do the same was near the very top of their list of rights to enumerate in our Constitution.

  • Defender

    Everyone knows that the mentally ill are a small % of those guilty of gun violence. What Mr Samakow fails to understand is that a simple lack of respect for life and morality causes people to be more likely to kill without thinking. Morality is instilled by intact families teaching traditional values. Mr Samakow’s rabid support of the liberal wing of the Democratic party actually has contributed to gun deaths. His cabal of secular progressives have destroyed the family unit, particularly the black family, with legislation, handouts and an attitude or moral relativism, attacked traditional religious values and then expected society to find “morality”. And where should they find this morality? Hollywood movies? Television? The family? You already destroyed the family. Nice work.

  • hihellothere

    I’ll renounce my second amendment rights, when you renounce the whole of the Bill of Rights.
    As recent polling indicates, the shrill histrionics from the anti-freedom lobby have been soundly rejected.