Addressing Gun Violence Through Mental Health Awareness and Inclusivity

This entry is part 2 of 12 in the series September 2023

The Nashville shooting tragedy underscores the necessity for improved mental health services and less stigmatization of mental illness and transgender individuals to effectively combat gun violence.

The recent Nashville shooting has sparked debates on gun control and mental health, serving as a stark reminder of the deep-seated issues we face as a society. The essay, “Beyond Stricter Gun Control Measures: Lessons from the Nashville Shooting,” delves into these intricacies, unpacking the underlying issues related to mental health, firearms ownership, and societal attitudes towards transgender individuals.

This tragic event raises an alarming question: how was a person with a reported history of mental illness able to legally obtain firearms and how was this not caught by existing background checks? The answer is that background checks, though important, have limitations. A study of public mass murderers revealed that while half of the assailants had a history of mental illness, less than 5 percent of them had mental health records that could disqualify them from gun ownership. This stark disconnect indicates that a significant number of potentially dangerous individuals slip through the cracks of the current system. In fact, we see further proof of this in the fact that all the weapons used in the ten deadliest mass shootings over the past decade in the US were obtained legally.

However, as the essay highlights, increased gun control and improved background checks aren’t the only answer. While President Biden’s executive order to strengthen background checks is an essential stride towards public safety, it’s just one part of a multifaceted solution.

Also needed to effectively address gun violence is accessibility to mental healthcare services.  Individuals suffering from untreated mental illness, or who abuse drugs or alcohol, have a significantly higher risk of violence. Yet, the stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders may discourage these individuals from seeking help. Reducing this stigma and promoting mental health awareness are key components of a comprehensive approach to reducing gun violence.

The essay also discusses the unique challenges faced by transgender individuals, such as the Nashville shooter, who face heightened risks of mental illness and suicide due to societal discrimination and limited access to mental healthcare. Alarmingly, nearly half of all transgender individuals have attempted suicide, further magnifying the urgency of addressing these systemic issues.

Current anti-transgender legislation exacerbates their vulnerability, restricting access to essential healthcare and resources, which can spiral into further mental health issues and potentially increase the risk of gun violence. An inclusive and accepting culture can help alleviate these pressures, providing transgender individuals with a safer and more supportive environment.

Read our article in JPHMP

Societal stigma and healthcare access barriers should not be deterrents for transgender individuals seeking mental healthcare. Instead, we should address these systemic barriers, ensuring access to mental healthcare and promoting acceptance and inclusivity.

In revisiting “Beyond Stricter Gun Control Measures: Lessons from the Nashville Shooting,” we understand that the intersection of mental health, societal stigma, and firearms ownership necessitates multi-pronged solutions. Stricter gun control measures are just one part of the puzzle. We must improve mental health access, reduce societal stigmas, and particularly address the systemic barriers faced by transgender individuals. Our collective responsibility is to ensure tragedies like the Nashville shooting are not repeated. We owe it to ourselves, and future generations, to cultivate a safer, inclusive society, free from the fear of gun violence.

Tony Yang is an endowed professor of health policy with tenure at the George Washington University. Dr. Yang has authored over 150 peer-reviewed articles and received more than $5.5 million in federal grants as principal investigator or project director. His insights have been covered by major media outlets.

Sawali Sudarshan is an assistant professor in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences at the George Washington University.  As a practicing board-certified emergency medicine physician, she has extensive experience treating those suffering from mental health and victims of trauma.

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One comment

  • Tony and Sawali:

    The politicization of gun control has interfered with our ability to address gun control sensibly.

    Harold A Maio