Kicking the can down the road is not the answer to a public health crisis. Yet that’s the plan I heard yesterday from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Trump about the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. Their statements came following the death on Wednesday of 14 high school students and three teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The victims from Parkland, Florida join about 650 other people who die each week in the U.S. from a gun violence.
The President said he would be meeting later this month with governors and state attorney generals. I think their time would be better spent on PubMed and using “gun violence” in the search bar. Public health researchers already know quite a bit about firearm-related deaths.
The same goes for Attorney General Sessions. He announced that his office would work within the Trump Administration
“to study the intersection of mental health and criminality and identify how we can stop people capable of such heinous crimes.”
Somebody should tell him that psychiatrists, psychologists, and criminologists have examined mental illness and violence. There’s broad consensus that the vast majority of violent acts are committed by individuals who have no history of mental illness. Session’s misconception is addressed in a 2017 paper on mental health and violence written by Lia Ahonen and colleagues. There are many disorders that fall under mental health—-from anxiety and eating disorders, to ADHD, depression and autism. Only very few have violence and aggression as diagnostic criteria. Misappropriating gun violence to individuals with mental illness is a topic that’s been addressed by numerous researchers (e.g., here, here, here, here, here). Persons with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.
Gun violence has been examined broadly through a public health lens. Researchers have analyzed data on guns and intimate partner abuse (e.g., here, here, here, here, here); access to firearms and suicide (e.g., here, here, here); children’s exposure to guns (e.g., here, here, here, here); and interventions, such as gun buyback programs (e.g,. here, here, here) and gun control policies (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.)
AG Sessions, pundits and other politicians who call for studies on gun violence are uninformed. There’s already plenty of data about the problem. There is also data on effective solutions that can save lives.
I don’t think the AG’s interest in research is sincere. It will be an excuse not to act.