Mental illness and video games are fringe concerns that are not the primary drivers behind deadly shootings in the US, experts say.
President Donald Trump, in his first comments on the weekend shootings in El Paso and Dayton on Monday, described the shooter as ‘twisted’, blamed video games, and psychiatry, saying: ‘Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.’
However, data show access to guns is the bigger problem, as Dr Arthur Evans, CEO of the American Psychological Association, pointed out in his reaction to the president’s address.
As for video games, Chris Ferguson, a psychology professor at Stetson University, told the New York Times: ‘The data on bananas causing suicide is about as conclusive. Literally. The numbers work out about the same.’
Donald Trump blamed video games and mental illness for the shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas over the weekend
There is a link between video gaming and violence, but that is not unique to the US.
South Korea is home to the most video gamers in the world, and Japan is home to one of the fastest-growing video game markets in the world, according to gaming analytics company Newzoo.
But they are also homes to some of the lowest rates of violence in the world, with barely any mass shootings, as these graphs show.
Americans spend a bit more than Brits on gaming, and a bit less than the Chinese. And yet, the rate of violent gun deaths is about 110 times higher than both.
Video games have long been a popular topic of conversation in the wake of shooting in the US. After Columbine, and it emerged the shooters played the game Doom, there was a push to ban video games in California.
It was rejected by the Supreme Court, and Antonin Scalia said in his majority opinion: ‘These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively.’
In the years since, research has backed up that verdict. The American Psychological Association found in 2015 that video games may make players more aggressive, but no clear link to violence.
Last year, research by Jay Hull, associate dean of faculty for the social sciences at Dartmouth College, found kids who played video games were eight times more likely to be sent to the principal’s office for risky behavior, but were not more likely to be violent.
As for mental illness diagnoses, separate from video games, the link is also tenuous.
Around 5 percent of shootings are committed by people with a diagnosable mental illness, research shows.
‘Blaming mental illness for the gun violence in our country is simplistic and inaccurate and goes against the scientific evidence currently available,’ Dr Evans said late on Monday.
‘The United States is a global outlier when it comes to horrific headlines like the ones that consumed us all weekend.
‘Although the United States makes up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, we are home to 31 percent of all mass shooters globally. This difference is not explained by the rate of mental illness in the US.
‘The one stark difference? Access to guns.’
There are around 650 million civilian-owned guns in the world. More than 300 million of them are owned by US citizens.
Dr Evans said there are some ‘red flags’ that should be monitored for in background checks, and should warrant removing guns from people at risk of violence – namely a history of violence, which is ‘the single best predictor of who will commit future violence’, and people with access to deadlier guns.
‘Access to this final, fatal tool means more deaths that occur more quickly, whether in a mass shooting or in someone’s own home,’ Dr Evans said.
‘As we psychological scientists have said repeatedly, the overwhelming majority of people with mental illness are not violent. And there is no single personality profile that can reliably predict who will resort to gun violence.’
The president said: ‘We need to do a better job of identifying and acting on early warning signs.’
Dr Evans called on the president to provide dedicated federal funding for psychology research in this area ‘to ensure we are making decision based on data, not prejudices and fear.’
Above all, he said: ‘The president clearly said that it is time to stop the hateful rhetoric that is infecting the public discourse. We ask that he use his powerful position to model that behavior. And we ask that the federal government support the research needed to better understand the causes of bigotry and hate, and their association to violence, so that we may devise evidence-based solutions.’