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Mental illness not a predictor of a mass shooting, but being a man is

The article (“Experts: Mental illness not main driver of mass shootings,” Aug. 6) correctly casts doubt that mental illness is a useful construct in identifying would-be perpetrators. The idea that two-thirds of perpetrators show symptoms of “depression, paranoia and delusions” is also not helpful, as depression is a very common condition, and symptoms of depression are even more common.

The author seems to suggest that the rise in mass shootings is associated with the closure of state mental hospitals. The closure of these hospitals has increased homelessness and the use of jails to hold people with mental illness, but this has little relationship to mass shootings. If we are to better understand mass shootings, it is important to recognize that “people” and “men” are not synonymous terms. People suffer from mental illness, but the vast majority of perpetrators of all gun violence (suicides, mass shootings, and, for lack of a better term, neighborhood crimes) are men. Even the tragic proliferation of guns in America, driven by a combination of the heartlessness of NRA greed, American entitlement, and the Wild West fantasy version of American culture, does not exactly account for our country’s problem with male gun violence.

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For decades, women have been able to obtain guns as easily as men and could, theoretically, express their own complex personal and societal distress through gun violence, but they rarely do. Socially, and even physically, women do not anticipate having absolute power in the world. They anticipate power in the home, and when women are violent, it is most often in that domain, and rarely with guns. Guns seem to be more alluring to men. In part, there is the barely disguised symbolism of a gun. In part, the absolute power of guns may fit grievances related to disappointments and expectations of attaining power that are culturally different for men and women.

A man’s age is also a factor, with some gun violence most associated with young adulthood (neighborhood crimes) and some with later adulthood (suicide). If we are to address the issue of mass shootings, or other gun violence in America, acknowledging that in addition to the personal, emotional and societal factors, gun violence is almost uniquely male.

Nancy Shapiro Hooper

The writer is a Baltimore area clinical psychologist.

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