While liberals have been adamant that the U.S. needs to restrict access to firearms, conservatives have tended to focus on the relationship between mental illness and shootings.
On December 14, 2012, 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7 and six adults were shot to death inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The shooting prompted Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, to sign legislation in 2013 that requires universal background checks for the sale of firearms and a ban on the purchase of ammunition magazines capable of carrying more than 10 rounds.
Republican critics, including Republican State Representative Mitch Bolinsky, argued the state would be better off starting with “addressing critical mental health needs.”
For pro-gun Republicans like Bolinsky and President Donald Trump, it’s become a common theme after mass shootings to discuss the role of mental illness and its effect on the shooter.
After the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, Trump told reporters at a news conference, “I think that mental health is your problem here. We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries.”
“But this isn’t a guns situation,” Trump added.
Opinions vary amongst experts regarding the connection between mental health and mass shootings in the U.S.
— Boston 25 News (@boston25) December 14, 2018
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 Americans suffer from some sort of mental illness in a given year and serious mental illnesses like major depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia cost the U.S. over $190 billion per year.
Lucy Hodder, a professor of health law and public policy at the University of New Hampshire, told The Globe Post that more research is needed regarding guns and mental health.
“We would be allowed to make informed decisions about the relationship between the availability of guns and bad health outcomes if the federal government was allowed to fund evidence-based research on guns,” Hodder said.
“Certainly suicidal ideation that may result from mental illness can lead to death for individuals who have ready access to guns.”
David Rosenbloom, professor of health policy and management at Boston University, told The Globe Post he doesn’t believe there is a connection with gun violence and the lack of effective mental health services in America.
“The easy availability of guns that can slaughter large numbers of people quickly is the cause of mass shootings in America,” Rosenbloom said.
“There are many countries, England for example, where mental health services are inadequate but there are strict gun laws that prevent the weapons of mass murder from being available.”
The Trump administration has already taken steps to roll back Obama-era gun regulations, including the passage of a bill in February of 2017 which repealed a regulation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase a gun.
The administration has also attempted to cut federal funding for mental health care.
Trump’s proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year would reduce funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment programs by $600 million.
In addition, the GOP’s failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act – which according to Hodder was “instrumental in ensuring that, for the first time, people have insurance coverage that pays for care and treatments for mental illness as well as physical illness” – triggered a significant popular backlash.
“The reforms in the ACA made sure health insurance coverage includes services for people with substance abuse disorder and mental illness regardless of the type of insurance or the individual’s income level,” Hodder added.
However, in states like Massachusetts, even with insurance, patients are having a hard time receiving treatment for mental health issues.
More than half of the adults who sought substance abuse or mental health treatment said they had a difficult time receiving care, according to a survey of 2,201 residents by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation in Boston.
Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they went without needed treatment, while 13 percent went to an emergency room as a last resort.
The problem for patients was finding a provider that would accept their insurance and not deny new patients.
Massachusetts has more mental health care providers per capita than any other state, but only half of them accept payment from state and federal Medicaid programs, according to The Boston Globe.
Christopher G. Hudson, professor of mental health policy at Salem State University, told The Globe Post that while the ACA did ensure coverage for more Americans, it wasn’t necessarily more affordable.
“It is only the truly exceptional insurance policies now available that provide for affordable mental health care. The typical American is either not covered, or is covered only with policies with prohibitive deductibles, copayments, exclusions, and premiums,” Hudson said.