Whenever we hear about another tragedy involving gun violence, we grieve along with our fellow citizens and community members impacted by it. If you are impacted, know you are not alone. The NAMI community is here for you. Find out about getting help.
Where We Stand
NAMI believes that public policy should be guided by credible, evidence-based research. NAMI supports funding for research to understand the causes and effects of gun violence in the U.S., including self-directed violence, and opposes restrictions on gun violence research.
Why We Care
When tragic acts of gun violence occur, people with mental illness are often unfairly drawn into the conversation. The truth is that the vast majority of violence is not perpetrated by people with mental illness — in fact, they are more likely to be victims of violent crime or self-inflicted injury. The myth that people with mental illness are violent perpetuates stigma and distracts from the real issues. One of which being that each year, most firearm deaths are suicides, and firearm deaths are the most common method used in suicides.
Unfortunately, federal policy has restricted research that could create a better understanding about how to prevent gun violence. Since 1996, the “Dickey Amendment” has severely limited federal financing to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for gun violence research. By barring funds “to advocate or promote gun control,” the field of gun violence research has been severely underfunded. Thankfully, in 2019, Congress clarified that the ban on federal dollars did not extend to a ban on research and has created an opportunity for the federal government to learn more about the causes of gun violence.
NAMI believes that to meaningfully reduce gun violence in the U.S., including self-directed gun violence, the federal government must invest in research to help us better understand this pressing public health issue and develop evidence-based practices on how to prevent it.
How We Talk About It
- Suicide and gun violence are public health crises in America.
- When acts of gun violence occur, people with mental illness are often unfairly drawn into the conversation.
- Mental health conditions are common around the globe, yet no other country comes close to the level of gun violence our country experiences.
- The mistaken belief that people with mental illness are violent unfairly contributes to stigma. It also distracts from the fact that the majority of firearm deaths each year are suicides, and that firearms are the most common method used for suicide.
- Self-directed gun violence is fueling our nation’s suicide epidemic, with suicide being the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-34.
- Nearly half of people who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental health condition. And 90% of people who die by suicide have experienced symptoms of a mental health condition.
- Suicide doesn’t just affect the person who dies; it shatters families and devastates communities.
- We need to stop the misguided conversation that people with mental illness are violent and focus on preventing more deaths by suicide.
- Our leaders should invest in research that guides policymaking and helps us understand and prevent all types of gun violence in America, including self-directed violence.
What We’ve Done
- NAMI statement on mass shootings in Texas and Ohio
- NAMI statement on the Parkland School Shooting
- NAMI testimony to U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Extreme Risk Protection Orders
- NAMI report Preparing for the Unimaginable: How chiefs can safeguard officer mental health before and after mass casualty events
Every time we experience a tragedy involving guns, people with mental illness are drawn into the conversation. The truth is that the vast majority of violence is not perpetrated by people with mental illness. Statements to the contrary only serve to perpetuate stigma and distract from the real issues. Far too often, we hear stigmatizing comments and generalizations about people with mental illness being violent, which simply isn’t true. This kind of misinformation comes as a punch in the gut to those of our family and community members living with mental health conditions.
The overwhelming majority of people with mental illness are not violent. Most people with mental health conditions will never become violent, and mental illness does not cause most gun violence. In fact, studies show that mental illness contributes to only about 4% of all violence, and the contribution to gun violence is even lower.
Research shows an increased risk of gun violence comes from a history of violence, including domestic violence; use of alcohol or illegal drugs; being young and male; and/or a personal history of physical or sexual abuse or trauma. Mental illness alone is not a predictor of violence.
We need to be careful that the response to these tragedies does not discourage people with mental health conditions from seeking treatment. Stigma far too often prevents people from getting the help they so desperately need. “When people unfairly connect mass shooters with mental illness, it stigmatizes the millions of people living with mental health struggles who are not violent,” said NAMI’s National Director of Advocacy and Public Policy, Kimball Angela.
While the relationship between mental illness and gun violence is very low, we need reasonable options. This includes making it possible for law enforcement to act on credible community and family concerns in circumstances where people are at high-risk.
We need to have an honest and productive national conversation about all the factors that play into this type of violence and what we can do to prevent these tragedies. Only then can we find meaningful solutions to protecting our children and communities.
More on the Subject
NAMI National statement on mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.