This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
Every time a mass murder happens, people with psychiatric illnesses get nervous. For good reason.
James Holmes, who’s been accused of gunning down 12 people in a Colorado theater July 12, turns out to have been seeing a psychiatrist who specialized in schizophrenia. There’s no proof yet that Holmes was mentally ill, but he may well fit into a familiar profile: the man with the diagnosis, the grudge and the gun.
Jared Loughner, who disabled Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others in Tucson last year, was psychotic. Seung Hui Cho, who massacred 32 at Virginia Tech in 2007, had actually been declared mentally ill by a judge and ordered into treatment.
Closer to home, Maurice Clemmons appears to have had delusional spells in the months leading up to his murder of four Lakewood police officers in 2009.
It’s all too easy to make a connection between mental illness and violence.
The reality is more complex. Broad studies have demonstrated that no single category of mental illness, by itself, is linked to higher rates of violence. In any case, it is grossly unjust to stigmatize all people with psychiatric illnesses as potential killers.
Another layer of the complexity, though, is the fact that mental illness is often a factor in mass murders – a rare but extremely shocking type of crime. The question comes up again and again: Why can’t we keep guns out of the hands of people like Loughner or Cho?
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