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Data Suggest 'Gun Violence Epidemic' Is Actually a Mental Illness Scourge As Shootings Drop Sharply

By Matt Vespa | May 27, 2014 | 11:41am EDT

Over the weekend, there were reports of a tragic shooting at the University of California, Santa Barbara that left seven people dead, including the shooter, Elliot Rodgers. Rodgers had history of mental illness and was in treatment since age eight.

Apparently, his rampage, which was a year in the making, was due to his irrational hatred of women.  Like Adam Lanza, Aaron Alexis, and James Holmes before him, mental illness - and the failure to properly treat and detect it - seems to be the culprit.  Nevertheless, it didn't stop the folks at MSNBC from discussing our gun violence epidemic, which is a myth.

According to the Justice Department, from 1993-2011 gun-related homicides dropped 39%:

The report, by the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics, painted an encouraging picture of long-term trends at a time of divisive political debate over guns and legislation to regulate them. Firearms-related homicides declined 39 percent between 1993 and 2011, the report said, while nonfatal firearms crimes fell 69 percent during that period.

...

Overall, the Justice Department report said, firearm-related homicides dropped from 18,253 homicides in 1993 to 11,101 in 2011, while nonfatal firearm crimes declined from 1.5 million in 1993 to 467,300 in 2011. The drop extended to schools: Homicides at schools declined from an average of 29 per year in the 1990s to an average of 20 per year in the 2000s.

Pew's numbers were slightly different, but also indicated a steep drop in gun violence between 1993-2010.

Compared with 1993, the peak of U.S. gun homicides, the firearm homicide rate was 49% lower in 2010, and there were fewer deaths, even though the nation's population grew. The victimization rate for other violent crimes with a firearm-assaults, robberies and sex crimes-was 75% lower in 2011 than in 1993. Violent non-fatal crime victimization overall (with or without a firearm) also is down markedly (72%) over two decades.

Additionally, Pew noted that Americans, while aware of the issue of gun violence, are unaware that such incidents are dramatically lower than they were twenty years ago:

Despite national attention to the issue of firearm violence, most Americans are unaware that gun crime is lower today than it was two decades ago. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, today 56% of Americans believe gun crime is higher than 20 years ago and only 12% think it is lower.

So, it seems that anti-gun activists are committing journalistic malpractice by disseminating false talking points about America's gun violence epidemic; we're not going through one.  As for school shootings, they're not increasing in frequency.

This is about our failure to treat and detect mental illness.  In the months before the shooting, Rodger's mother got him a therapist and told authorities she felt her son was a threat:

Months earlier, his mother had found him a therapist and had told the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department she was worried her son might be threat. Police had three enounters with Rodgers in the past ten months, and they described him as "polite, courteous." Tragically, they never picked up on any of the red flags.

Before Aurora, James Holmes underwent a background check by campus police at the University of Colorado, but measures to prevent his mass shooting never took effect.  Aaron Alexis also had a history of mental illness, but his employer failed to report on his mental state.  A review noted that the Navy Yard Shooting was entirely avoidable.

In fact, out of the past 62 mass shootings, mental illness was rampant among the perpetrators.

So, can we quit it with blaming misogyny and white men and start focusing on how to rebuild our mental health system, which is clearly in shambles?

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