On Monday, the president of the American Psychological Association, Antonio E. Puente, PhD, issued a statement decrying President Trump for referring to attacks such as the massacre at a Texas church on Sunday a mental health problem, opining, “Calling this shooting a ‘mental health problem’ distracts our nation’s leaders from developing policies and legislation that would focus on preventing gun violence through a scientific, public health approach.”
On Monday in Japan, Trump was asked whether U.S. gun control measures could have been the key to the Texas shooting. He replied, “Mental health is your problem here. This isn’t a guns situation. … This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It’s a very, very sad event.”
The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent. A complex combination of risk factors, including a history of domestic violence, violent misdemeanor crimes and substance use disorders, increases the likelihood of people using a firearm against themselves or others. Firearm prohibitions for these high-risk groups have been shown to reduce gun violence. The suspect in this case, Devin Patrick Kelley, exhibited several of these red flags.
Gun violence is a serious public health problem that requires attention to these risk factors, as well as more research to inform the development and implementation of empirically based prevention and threat assessment strategies. Calling this shooting a “mental health problem” distracts our nation’s leaders from developing policies and legislation that would focus on preventing gun violence through a scientific, public health approach.
The APA has been supporting federal gun violence research that could lead to gun control for years; in 2013, the day after President Obama released his national plan for addressing gun violence, the APA released a statement expressing strong support for key components of Obama’s plan, stating:
APA endorses the provision to end the freeze on federal gun violence research. This ban has significantly hampered psychological scientists’ ability to systematically assess the risk of assault and other weapons to the public, and to determine the effectiveness of various preventive measures. APA supports increased federal funding for research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, including attention to violence in media, to jump start this field after so many years of neglect.