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Blame gun access, not mental health, for gun violence, research finds

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Comparison of UK, Australia, and US show similar mental illness rates but widely disparate gun violence rates

Gun access, not mental health, most likely responsible for gun violence: ©Starkytang - stock.adobe.com

Gun access, not mental health, most likely responsible for gun violence: ©Starkytang - stock.adobe.com

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University's Schmidt College of Medicine conducted a comprehensive analysis of mental illness and gun violence rates in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The findings suggest that gun access is a bigger contributor to gun violence than mental illness.

Published in The American Journal of Medicine, the study found that mental illness rates are strikingly similar across the three countries, with 15.7% in the U.S., 17.6% in Australia, and 13.8% in the U.K. When it comes to gun violence, the U.S. has a much higher rate. In 2021, The United States had 47,286 deaths attributed to gun violence, the highest ever recorded, with 46% of these being homicides and 54% suicides involving firearms.

Access to guns in the United States if much easier than the other two countries. Researchers said that Australia has 3.5 million guns among a population of 26.4 million. The U.K. banned assault weapons and handguns in 2022. In the U.S., there are approximately 393 million guns owned among 335 million people, equating to 1.2 guns per person. Australia, with stringent gun laws, boasts 0.13 guns per person.

Despite similar mental illness rates, researchers found that the U.S. experiences over 10 times higher death rates from gun violence than Australia and more than 40 times higher rates than the U.K. Researcher say that the findings indicate that mental illness is not a major contributor to increasing gun violence in the U.S., and that gun ownership rates and access to fire arms are more plausible explanations for the differences between countries.

Researchers also found similar patterns among states where gun ownership rates vary. For example, states like Massachusetts, with lower gun ownership rates, exhibit the lowest rates of gun-related deaths. In contrast, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, with higher gun-related deaths, highlight the possible role of gun ownership in these outcomes.

The researchers said that attempts at combatting the epidemic of U.S. gun violence without addressing guns is tantamount to attempts at combatting the epidemic of deaths from lung cancer from smoking without addressing cigarettes.

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