Stop Blaming Mental Illness for Gun Violence

Most mentally ill people aren’t violent against others

a child in a pink shirt leaves flowers next to a line of crosses with red hearts

A young girl leaves flowers on crosses named for the victims outside the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. | Mark Ralston /AFP/Getty Images

If we cured schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar, violent crime in the U.S. would fall by only 4%, according to Duke University sociologist Jeffrey Swanson. “People with mental illness are people, and the vast majority aren’t any more of a risk than anyone else,” he said.

The National Institute of Health sponsored a study that surveyed about 10,000 people in five urban areas from 1980-85. It asked if respondents had met criteria for mental illnesses and if they’d hit, punched, pushed, shoved, or otherwise violently attacked someone. Analysts found that people meeting criteria for schizophrenia, major depression, and bipolar did become more likely to report violent behavior. But the share of overall violence explained by serious mental illness fell between 3 and 5.3%. Another factor explains violent outbursts better.