While the gun control conversation is not resolved, debates on the association between violence with mental health are also controversial. In fact, the vast majority of people diagnosed with psychiatric disorders to do not commit violent acts; only about 4% of violence in the United States can be attributed to people diagnosed with mental illness. John Oliver, comedian and political commentator, discusses the fact that there is “nothing like a mass shooting to suddenly spark political interest in mental health.”
The problem, however, is much more complex than the simply pointing to mental illness. Each of these shooters was depicted in the media as “gun-owning, angry, paranoid White men,” which do not represent the majority of psychiatric patients. Mental illness and gun violence stems into deeper cultural stereotypes and anxieties about issues such as race/ethnicity, social class and politics. Mental health encompasses connections between “loaded handguns and alcohol, mental health effects of gun violence in low-income communities or the relationships between gun violence and family, social and socioeconomical networks.”
Poignant in this discussion of mental illness is the case of Dylann Roof. His fatal shooting of nine African Americans in Charleston was deemed a hate crime, and although the term terrorism has been used to denote acts of hateful violence against a certain group, the media did not paint him as a terrorist due to his race. Instead, he was humanized and called sick, a victim of inadequate mental health resources. This is not to say that our nation’s lack of mental health resources and lack of discussion about mental health problems is not a prevalent issue. It is that the media’s depiction of mental health and political interest after mass shootings do not encompass the complexities of mental health and acts of violence.
There is also a trend to blame the individual and the immediate community surrounding the individual for the lack of mental health resources and support. However, “it is far more likely that people with a serious mental illness will be the victim of violence.” In one study, researchers found that a concurrent substance abuse disorder doubled the risk of violence. Those with schizophrenia had the lowest occurrence of violence over the course of the year (14.8%), compared to those with a bipolar disorder (22.0%) or major depression (28.5%). In addition, in another study, researchers, controlling for socio-demographic and clinical characteristics, found that alcohol or substance abuse coupled with medication noncompliance was significantly associated with violent acts in the community. Therefore, there is often an exaggeration in the media that asserts individuals implicated in mass shootings as mentally ill without promoting an understanding of the underlying issues that go along with acts of violence in mental illness.
For all the complexities of mental health, terrorism and gun violence it would prove helpful to have data and research in order to drive solutions. However, despite the overwhelming number of recent shootings, there is limited information about gun violence. According to the CDC, guns rank among the top five killers of people ages 1-64. However, the annual sum total for all gun violence research projects is under $5 million, whereas a grant for a single study in areas like autism, cancer or HIV can be twice as much. In addition, after the church shooting in Charleston, a congressional ban on gun violence backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) was renewed. Speaker John Boehner claims the reasoning behind this decision is that “the CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect public health” and that “a gun is not a disease.” However, those in favor of gun violence research respond that gun violence is a large public safety concern. In addition, the claim that a gun is not a disease seems to miss the fundamental differences between various social and economic communities. While the person holding the gun commits the crime, there are underlying factors that drive that individual to kill.
 Metzl, J. M. and K. T. MacLeish (2015). "Mental illness, mass shootings, and the politics of American firearms." Am J Public Health 105(2): 240-249.
 Stuart, H. (2003). "Violence and mental illness: an overview." World Psychiatry 2(2): 121-124.
 Swartz, M. S., et al. (1998). "Violence and severe mental illness: the effects of substance abuse and nonadherence to medication." Am J Psychiatry 155(2): 226-231.