In the first few weeks of this year, there have already been 41 mass shootings across the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
A mass shooting is defined as any incident where at least four people other than the perpetrator are shot.
California alone has experienced two mass shootings in the past week when a gunman opened fire at a ballroom dance studio in Monterey Park on Jan. 21, killing 11 people and wounding several others.
Two days later, another mass shooting in Half Moon Bay, left at least seven people dead.
In the days since the shooting in Monterey Park, no motive for the attack has come to light. In a news conference Wednesday night, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said his department could not find any connection between the shooter and the victims.
However, it was confirmed that the suspect had gone to the police station in Hemet where he lived and complained about poisoning allegations involving his family more than a decade ago.
Many have speculated that these were signs of mental health challenges.
“Inside the Issues” host Alex Cohen spoke to Dr. Amy Barnhorst, the vice chair of Community Mental Health at UC Davis and one of California’s leading experts on the intersection of gun violence and mental health, to dig into the factors that lead to gun violence.
Dr. Barnhorst said that even if the Monterey Park shooting suspect was experiencing delusions or auditory hallucinations, it is extremely rare for people with these types of mental illness to act out violently.
“Very little violence in the community is committed by people who have a serious mental illness, even ones where they lose touch with reality. Most violence in the community is committed by people who have things like a history of trauma and experiencing violence, substance use problems, and a whole host of other issues that aren’t really considered a serious mental illness,” she explained.
According to the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, violent behavior towards others is perpetuated by serious mental illness only 4% of the time, while the rest can be attributed to other risks.
Dr. Barnhorst noted most people jump to conclusions that mental illness is a prominent factor in mass shootings because it is so difficult to believe that a person would decide to randomly kill strangers.
She said that mental health treatment can also be challenging to get in California. Most people who express violent behavior have no desire to seek treatment and cannot be involuntarily held, and even when people struggling with these kinds of issues want care, it is often unavailable under the state’s overwhelmed health care system.
“Most of the time, those folks not only don't want to get into treatment as an outpatient or engage in really intensive psychotherapy, they're not able to get those services because their services are so scarce that we have trouble even getting them to the people who really really need them,” Dr. Barnhorst added.
The UC Davis expert said that most mass shootings in the United States revolve around anti-immigration, anti-Semitism, white supremacy and misogyny. Once these types of hatred spill outside the home, that is when mass shootings are most likely to occur, Dr. Barnhorst said.
She said that gun violence is more likely to be reduced in the United States by instituting better gun reform policies.
“I think a better strategy is not to look at what are the motives, what are the reasons behind these mass shootings, but what is the one commonality, and that's the guns, so keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people.”
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