When assigning the blame for mass shootings, the public is more likely to blame the gaps in the nation’s mental health system rather than loose guns laws, according to a new Gallup poll released on Friday. Eighty percent cite the “failure of the mental health system to identify individuals who are a danger to others” as a great deal or a fair amount to blame for shootings, while 61 percent say the same for easy access to guns.
Compared with public opinion polling that was conducted two years ago, about the same number of people think mental health issues are at fault for these type of crimes. But fewer people now think guns are the problem. The number of Americans who say that loose gun laws are “a great deal” at fault for mass shootings has declined from 46 to 40 percent.
That attitude is reflected in current attitudes about gun legislation, too. Since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting last December, fewer people now think the laws governing the sale of firearms should be made stricter. According to Gallup, that figure has declined from 58 percent after the Newtown shooting to 49 percent after this week’s Navy Yard shooting.
It’s true that many Americans aren’t getting the mental health care they need. It’s currently easier for Americans to get a gun than it is to get mental health treatment. Most Americans, even the ones who have health insurance, simply can’t afford it.
In the aftermath of incidents of mass gun violence, many conservative lawmakers, along with the National Rifle Association, tend to seize on mental health issues as a way of deflecting attention from potential legislation to tighten gun control. Typically, however, that’s little more than empty rhetoric. The Republican lawmakers who tout addressing mental health issues as the best response to gun violence are often the same ones who try to block measures that would actually strengthen the mental health care system. Some of them have overseen huge cuts to state-funded mental health services, which have been slashed by billions in the aftermath of the economic recession.
And health advocates caution that the national conversations in this area can often end up stigmatizing the Americans who are living with mental illnesses. In fact, people with mental illnesses aren’t any more prone to violence than the general population. The media and entertainment industries typically depict the mentally ill as violent criminals — but people living with mental health issues are actually more likely to be the victims of crimes than the perpetrators of them.