A study on guns, violence and mental health published this week finds that gun ownership is a bigger factor than mental illness when it comes to firearms deaths, NPR reports. The data suggest that both play roles. Earlier research found that places with high rates of gun ownership have more firearms deaths, but critics of those findings say that it could be that people living in dangerous places are apt to buy firearms to protect themselves. The question of mental illness surfaces over and over, with shootings in Aurora, Co., Newtown, Ct., and now the Washington Navy Yard, where 12 people were killed Monday by a man who appears to have had escalating mental health issues.
In the study, doctors in New York looked at data on gun ownership, crime rate, firearms-related deaths and depression from 27 developed countries, including the U.S., Japan, Great Britain and South Africa. Countries with more civilian guns also had the highest rates of firearms deaths, with the U.S. leading at 10 deaths per 100,000. Gun ownership was strongly associated with firearms deaths. The only outlier was South Africa, which had 13 guns per 100 people, but a firearms death rate almost as high as in the U.S. Mental illness also correlated with firearms deaths, but the connection was much weaker than for gun ownership.