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American Psychological Association CEO on Gun Violence and Mental Health

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Blaming mental illness for gun violence is simplistic, inaccurate — and prevents us from solving the problem

Following is the statement of Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, CEO of the American Psychological Association, in reaction to President Trump’s statements today regarding gun violence and mental illness:

“Blaming mental illness for the gun violence in our country is simplistic and inaccurate and goes against the scientific evidence currently available.

“The United States is a global outlier when it comes to horrific headlines like the ones that consumed us all weekend. Although the United States makes up less than 5% of the world’s population, we are home to 31% of all mass shooters globally, according to a CNN analysis. This difference is not explained by the rate of mental illness in the U.S.

“The one stark difference? Access to guns.

“Americans own nearly half of the estimated 650 million civilian-owned guns in the world. Access to this final, fatal tool means more deaths that occur more quickly, whether in a mass shooting or in someone’s own home.

“As we psychological scientists have said repeatedly, the overwhelming majority of people with mental illness are not violent. And there is no single personality profile that can reliably predict who will resort to gun violence. Based on the research, we know only that a history of violence is the single best predictor of who will commit future violence. And access to more guns, and deadlier guns, means more lives lost.

“Based on the psychological science, we know some of the steps we need to take. We need to limit civilians’ access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. We need to institute universal background checks. And we should institute red flag laws that remove guns from people who are at high risk of committing violent acts.

“And although the president called on the nation to do a ‘better job of identifying and acting on early warning signs,’ that requires research to ensure we are making decisions based on data, not prejudices and fear.

“We agree with the president’s call to strengthen background checks. But this falls woefully short of what is needed. We must take a comprehensive public health approach and provide dedicated federal funding to agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, to better understand the causes, contributing factors and solutions to gun violence.

“The president clearly said that it is time to stop the hateful rhetoric that is infecting the public discourse. We ask that he use his powerful position to model that behavior.  And we ask that the federal government support the research needed to better understand the causes of bigotry and hate, and their association to violence, so that we may devise evidence-based solutions.”

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