Guns, racism, bigotry and hatred are fuelling a “public health crisis” in the United States, the president of the American Psychology Association (APA) said in a statement on Sunday.
That, and “routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing,” Rosie Phillips Davis added.
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The statement emerged after a weekend that saw 22 killed in a shooting at a Walmart and at Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso, Texas.
Another nine people were killed outside a crowded bar in the Oregon District neighbourhood in Dayton, Ohio on Sunday.
In El Paso, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, a resident of Allen, Texas has been named as the suspect.
Police said the suspect fired a rifle on people who were shopping for back-to-school supplies before he surrendered to officers.
Reports have attributed to him an eight-page statement that was posted on message board 8chan, which said the attack on Walmart was a “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
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In Dayton, 24-year-old Connor Betts was named as the suspect in the shooting.
Police said the suspect in that incident fired on people using an AR 15-style rifle that had an extended ammunition magazine before officers shot him fatally — and nothing in his background would have kept him from obtaining one, they said.
Former classmates later said Betts had been suspended from Bellbrook High School after a “hit list” was found in a bathroom there. He had earlier been suspended for coming to school with a “rape list” of female students he wanted to assault sexually.
When he responded to the shootings, U.S. President Donald Trump said, “mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”
He also blamed video games.
Experts in mental health, however, are emerging to say that is decidedly not the case.
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In her statement, the APA’s Davis said research has shown that “only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness.”
“The rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them,” she said.
“One critical factor is access to, and the lethality of, the weapons that are used in these crimes. Adding racism, intolerance and bigotry to the mix is a recipe for disaster.”
In 2018, the FBI released a report on 63 active shooters between 2000 and 2013 that showed 25 per cent of suspects had been diagnosed with a mental illness, while only three in total were diagnosed with a psychotic disorder.
Researchers found that most of these shooters had obtained firearms legally, and that on average, each of them displayed four to five concerning behaviours that their peers had noticed.
“The most frequently occurring concerning behaviours were related to the active shooter’s mental health, problematic interpersonal interactions, and leakage of violent intent,” the report said.
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The FBI’s researchers also found that where a shooter’s “primary grievance” could be identified, the most common ones related to “adverse interpersonal or employment action” against that suspect.
That’s broadly consistent with findings by the American Society of Criminology from 2017.
A study called “Correlates of Violent Political Extremism in the United States” performed two analyses.
In the first, it found that people with stable employment, higher education and solid marriages were “significantly less likely to be engaged in violent radical extremism.”
In the second, authors also found a negative relationship between stable employment and violent tendencies.
That analysis also found that having radical peers was the strongest predictor of violence.
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In her statement, Davis said that if the U.S. wants to address gun violence, then “we must keep our focus on finding evidence-based solutions.”
“This includes restricting access to guns for people who are at risk for violence and working with psychologists and other experts to find solutions to the intolerance that is infecting our nation and the public dialogue,” she said.
— With files from The Associated Press
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