Those who oppose expanded gun-control legislation frequently argue that instead of limiting access to guns, the country should focus on mental health problems.
“People with mental illness are getting guns and committing these mass shootings,” said Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, after the shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., early this month. And Republicans in the Senate backed mental-health legislation even as they rejected bills to require universal background checks and bar people on the terrorism watch list from buying guns.
But mass shootings represent a small percentage of all gun violence, and mental illness is not a factor in most violent acts. According to one epidemiological estimate, entirely eliminating the effects of mental illness would reduce all violence by only 4 percent. Over all, less than 5 percent of gun homicides between 2001 and 2010 were committed by people with diagnoses of mental illness, according to a public health study published this year.
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