Americans Fault Mental Health System More Than Guns for Mass Shootings

Susan Jones | September 20, 2013 | 7:35am EDT
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An armed officer stands near the gate at the Washington Navy Yard, closed to all but essential personnel, in Washington, on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, the day after a gunman launched an attack inside the Washington Navy Yard, spraying gunfire on office workers in the cafeteria and in the hallways at the heavily secured military installation in the heart of the nation's capital. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

( - Americans place more blame on the mental health system than on easy access to guns for mass shootings in the United States.

A new Gallup Poll -- conducted Sept. 17-18 (those were the two days after the Washington Navy Yard shooting), found that compared with two years ago, fewer Americans (40 percent) put a "great deal" of the blame on guns while almost half blamed the mental health system.

Almost half of Americans -- 48 percent -- blame the mental health system "a great deal" for mass shootings in the United States, and that percentage was unchanged from January 2011.

In the most recent poll, 40 percent said easy access to guns was "a great deal to blame" for mass shootings, down 6 points from a poll taken in January 2011.

Thirty-seven percent said "drug use" was a great deal to blame (down from 42 percent in 2011); and 32 percent said violence in video games, movies and music was a great deal to blame (up from 31 percent in 2011).

The latest Gallup Poll comes after a mentally unstable man shot and killed 12 people, apparently at random, at the Navy Yard in Southeast Washington, where he worked as a contractor with security clearance.

The January 2011 Gallup Poll reflects public opinion shortly after six people were killed in the Tucson, Arizona mass shooting that also wounded then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Gallup also found that guns are the biggest concern of Democrats, with 57 percent saying they're a great deal to blame for mass shootings, compared with 22 percent of Republicans. Republicans (33 percent) were more likely than Democrats (29 percent) to assign a great deal of blame to violence in movies and video games.

Although the Navy Yard shooting prompted some Democrats to renew their call for gun control, Gallup found that fewer Americans today than in December 2012 -- 49 percent vs. 58 percent -- believe that gun laws should be stricter. The 2012 poll was conducted immediately after the Newtown, Conn., mass shooting, in which a mentally disturbed young man killed 27, most of them first-graders.

The bottom line, according to Gallup: Both guns and mental health are common denominators in high-profile mass shootings going back to Columbine and Virginia Tech.

"Since the watershed tragedy in Newtown, policymakers at the federal and state levels have attempted to address both factors -- guns and the mental health system," Gallup said. "However, the current results support longstanding evidence from Gallup polling that Americans believe more can be done on the mental health side."

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