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We Must Treat Mental Health and Gun Violence Separately

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

by James Fieseher, M.D.

Dr. Fieseher’s column appeared in Foster’s on June 2, the morning after the nation’s 233rd mass shooting of 2022, the killing of two physicians, a staff member and a patient at the St. Francis Health System campus in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

America has both a gun violence problem and a mental health crisis, but the two should be viewed and treated separately. We can all agree that anyone who kills themselves or another human being is “not in their right mind,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a mental health disorder or one that can be detected before they act.

The gunmen behind the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings had much in common, but neither had a diagnosed mental health disorder. Besides, even if they did, many states do not have statutes that would prevent them from purchasing a gun.

Guns are “ideal tools” to use if you want to kill something quickly. It’s as simple as pulling a trigger. If your aim is off, you can pull it again and again for as many times as your magazine will allow. Because of their ease of use, guns enable people to act quickly on their impulses when in a state of anger, fear, or despair. Because guns kill so quickly, people in an emotional state who temporarily lose control of themselves can commit acts of gun violence before they have a chance to consider their actions. Rash behavior is something we’ve all been guilty of at some time in our lives, but for some individuals it becomes deadly when they have easy access to a gun.

Ready access to semi-automatic firearms easily multiplies the consequences of rash behavior to maim or kill many innocents in a fairly short period of time. It is only after the carnage that many shooters suddenly realize what they’ve done and take or attempt to take their own lives.

America is the perfect storm for such mass shootings. We have more guns than people, we have easy access to semi-automatic weapons of war and the ammunition to go with it, and we have multiple social media platforms that mass produce lies and hate speech which has induced susceptible individuals to take rash actions.

If Republican politicians really believed mental health disorders were the reasons our schoolchildren are being gunned down in their classrooms, they would pass laws that would block all sales of guns to the mentally unstable. They would devote tax dollars for universal health care that would make mental health counseling as easy as buying a gun. They would propose practical solutions to curb gun violence based upon factual data, including the support of legislation that would gather that data.

Politicians who blame mental health disorders, rather than the absence of sensible gun legislation, as the cause of so many mass shootings do so because they need the money and votes from members of the gun rights groups to get elected. Unless and until we can persuade a majority of those who constitute the membership of the gun lobby to support reasonable gun safety regulations to prevent gun violence, we’re not going to stop the senseless slaughter of innocent Americans.

It is not enough to make it illegal for convicted felons to own or use semi-automatic weapons, we need to make it more difficult for people likely to impulsively commit acts of violence to get these guns in the first place. Maybe the real mental health problem is in thinking that sacrificing our children to mass shootings is worth the price of giving everyone easy access to weapons of war.

We indeed have a mental health crisis in America, but gun violence should be treated separately for what it is.


About the author:

Dr. Fieseher is a retired primary care physician in Dover. Since retiring in 2020, he has been enjoying spending more time with family and has been volunteering for projects related to reducing the spread and devastation of COVID in the community. Supporting programs that promote health and education in our communities, Dr. Fieseher hopes will bring more jobs and more security for his grandchildren to enjoy for years to come.

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