NPR explores what we know about the relationship between gun violence and mental health. It was 50 years ago that Charles Whitman stuck his rifle over the edge of the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin and started shooting, killing 16 people and wounding more than 30 others. Texas Gov. John Connally said he was “somewhat at a loss to know how you prevent a maniacal act of a man who obviously goes berserk,” but it was not clear Whitman was mentally ill. Democrats and Republicans both both tout mental health care legislation as a way of preventing mass shootings, but psychiatrist Paul Appelbaum of Columbia University says that only about 4 percent of violence in the U.S. is attributable to mental illness.
“We know that people with serious mental disorders are at somewhat elevated risk of committing violence,” Appelbaum says. “Even so, the vast majority of them never commit a violent act.” President Obama’s budget proposal for next year includes $500 million for mental health services, but Appelbaum says it is misguided “to argue for that funding on false grounds — namely to try and persuade the public that it will protect them [to] have more mental health clinics.” Applebaum believes there are alternatives such as temporarily limiting access to guns for some people make sense. In general, people who have been convicted of violent misdemeanors, or who are a under temporary restraining order, or who have multiple DUI convictions over a 5-year period are more likely to commit acts of violence than people with mental illness are.