Gun Violence and Mental Illness

Observations about gun violence in the US and its relationship to mental illness.

Last month Washington Post published results of a survey, asking AR-15 owners why they bought and owned them.

Washington Post, 27 Mar 2023: Why do Americans own AR-15s?, subtitled “The Washington Post and Ipsos asked nearly 400 AR-15 owners why they own the rifle”

…”Self-defense was the most popular reason for owning an AR-15.” The chart shows that as the most frequent answer, with 33% of respondents claiming that as their main reason.

And yet, how often do we hear stories about homeowners warding off burglars, or shooting invading armies of deep state government officials, with AR-15s? I would say, never.


In my blog this subject came up a while back where part of the answer, for the attraction of buying AR-15s, was the ease of use and versatility of the AR-15. And how their use became a new kind of hobby, given the fading (to technology) of traditional hobbies.


Then there was a NY Times piece about What the Owner of an AR-15 Sees in Every Single Place He Goes (which I blogged about here).

In response to this was this letter, published April 11th:

What an AR-15 Owner Sees in Every Single Place He Goes,” by Matthew Walther (Opinion guest essay, April 9), is a wonderful exploration of the psychology of military-style assault weapon ownership. Permit me to state the problem more simply.

The No. 1 reason offered for why our fellow citizens own military-style assault weapons is recreation. (I include hunting, target shooting and collecting in this category.) For most owners of these weapons of mass destruction, military-style assault weapons are adult toys.

Can these adults not sacrifice their recreational interests in favor of saving the lives of our children? We are talking about toys.

I know we live in an age when we cannot expect adults to wear masks for the greater good or get themselves vaccinated for the greater good. But shouldn’t we reasonably expect our adult fellow citizens to give up their toys for the sake of our children?

No one can seriously argue that the founding fathers intended to enshrine a right to recreation as a constitutionally protected Second Amendment right. Military-style assault weapons in the hands of civilians serve no lawful purpose other than recreation. Let’s get rid of them for the greater good.

Zachary W. Carter
North Bethesda, Md.
The writer was U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York and corporation counsel for New York City.

These things are *toys* for some people, who have nothing better to do. As in the Texas case this week, about a man who just liked shooting off his gun.


Since then there’s been a wave of shootings, mostly by frightened old white men, against strangers who happened to turn up the wrong driveway, or knock on the wrong door. As discussed in my April 20th post.


And now we have an incident about some guy in Texas:

Washington Post, 29 Apr 2023: Gunman who killed neighbors with AR-15-style rifle still at large, sheriff says

A man killed five people, including an 8-year-old boy, with an AR-15-style weapon Friday night in an angry response to his neighbors’ request that he stop shooting in his yard while their baby was trying to sleep, according to Texas authorities.

Instead of heeding his neighbors’ request, the man allegedly took the gun, went to their house and killed half the people inside. He then fled, sparking an overnight manhunt around Cleveland, Tex., that continued through Saturday afternoon.


I said the other day that maybe the people who most want to own guns are precisely those who should not be allowed to own them.

I would extend this. Whenever there’s a mass shooting, the gun apologists/cultists claim that the proximate cause isn’t the widespread availability of guns — which enables every loose cannon with a grudge to take out people they think have offended them — it’s a problem of mental illness. They can’t explain why this problem of mental illness, if it’s real, is so much more common in the US than it is in other countries, virtually all of which have far lower rates of gun violence.

My explanation is this: There is a certain degree of mental illness in all nations (that’s just part of common human nature), but it’s only in the US where those people can so easily get guns and commit acts of mass violence.

Turn this around and I’ll make a stronger claim: the very people who are so obsessed with buying and using guns are precisely those who are mentally ill.

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