Taking Aim at Gun Control Issues-Study Shows Mixed Attitudes Toward Mental Illness

February 8, 2013

Gun owners and non-gun-owners alike support gun control policies that account for mental illness, according to a study published in a recent issue of NEJM.

Gun owners and non-gun-owners alike support gun control policies that account for mental illness, according to a study published in a recent issue of NEJM.1

Researchers conducted two national public opinion surveys focusing on gun-policy (n = 2,703) and mental illness (n = 1,530) in January 2013. About one-third (33%) of respondents reported having a gun in their home or garage.  Overall, the majority of the respondents supported enhanced background checks, instituting greater oversight of gun dealers, and banning military-style semiautomatic weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines, although there were some differences between gun owners and non-gun-owners.

Generally, respondents favored increased support for those with mental illness, from parity in insurance coverage to increased government spending on mental health care. However, almost half of the participants thought that people with serious mental illness are more dangerous than the general population and most noted they were unwilling to have a co-worker or neighbor with serious mental illness. In addition, the majority of respondents (85%) supported the idea of prohibiting gun ownership for people who have either been involuntarily committed to a hospital for psychiatric treatment or been declared mentally incompetent by a court.

The findings were not all negative, though. About half (58%) of the respondents said discrimination against people with psychiatric disorders was a problem, and 56% noted  that patients with mental illness could return to a productive life with treatment.

“Gun policies with the highest support included those related to persons with mental illness,” the authors concluded. “Given the data on public attitudes about persons with mental illness, it is worth thinking carefully about how to implement effective gun-violence–prevention measures without exacerbating stigma or discouraging people from seeking treatment.”

Reference1. Barry CL, McGinty EE, Vernick JS, Webster DW. After Newtown-public opinion on gun policy and mental Illness. N Engl J Med. 2013 Jan 28 [Epub].