Gun Violence
8:00 pm
Sun July 6, 2014

Most Likely To Commit Gun Violence? Not The Mentally Ill

Treat people hospitalized for gunshot injuries as you would treat addicts.

That’s the counsel of Dr. Fred Rivara, a professor of pediatrics, who headed a University of Washington study that found that patients who had been shot were more likely to be arrested within five years than people with a psychiatric history.

“Whenever we have a shooting in the community we often hear that the person was mentally ill,” Rivara said. “You have to realize that there are 30,000 deaths each year in the United States related to guns – that’s just deaths. The vast majority of those occur on a day to day basis, isolated incidents that don’t involve mass shootings.”

Credit Seattle City Council / University of Washington

People who had been hospitalized with a firearms- or violence-related injury in 2006 and 2007 were 13 times more likely to be arrested in the following five years. Those with a psychiatric history, by contrast, were just twice as likely to be arrested in that time.

Specifically, the study showed that a quarter of people hospitalized for gun-related injuries in 2006-2007 were arrested within five years for a violent crime. Patients in that group were 11 times more likely to be killed by homicide within the next five years.

Dr. Fred Rivara, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, has been a pioneer of gun violence research. He conducted the most recent study for the City Council.
Credit University of Washington School of Public Health

The Seattle City Council commissioned the study in March 2013, allocating $153,000 to the effort. The goal was to identify people at high risk of firearm crime, injury and death. To do this, the council turned to researchers from the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center to analyze the data.

“The evidence shows gun violence begets gun violence. If you are harmed by a gun, you are much more likely to be harmed again or to harm others,” Council President Tim Burgess said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that the National Rifle Association has blocked this type of research at the national level because it provides valuable information for policymakers and the public.”

People hospitalized with a firearms- or violence-related injury were 13 times more likely to be arrested in the following five years. Those with a psychiatric history, by contrast, were just twice as likely to be arrested.

Rivara and a colleague were pioneers in researching gun violence in the 1980s and '90s. They found that keeping guns in the house raises the risk of suicide and homicide. Following their findings, Congress banned spending federal dollars on further gun violence studies.  

This most recent study focused on people who had been admitted to the hospital with gun-related injuries in 2006 and 2007. The researchers linked various data, including hospitalizations for the state and arrest records, to examine what became of those people over the following five years.

The doctors said firearm data was “very problematic to obtain” because of a 1986 federal law that prohibits the state from keeping a gun registry. Data on concealed weapons is available only to corrections officers.

For Rivara, this research demonstrated to him the importance of early intervention.

“I think we need to take advantage of the fact that we have contact with individuals at various stages, whether they be people arrested for relatively minor crimes, people who get hospitalized for an injury, people who get hospitalized for an overdose,” Rivara told KUOW’s Marcie Sillman.

Rivara said the study indicates that intervention could reduce gun deaths. Harborview, which is a part of the University of Washington, has the region’s largest trauma center. He noted an older study by the hospital that points to the success of early intervention. That study found that addicts who received a half-hour counseling session before they were discharged were 50 percent less likely to be readmitted for a similar reason.  

The Harborview research was started in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings in Connecticut. Burgess’s statement notes that since then, more than 30,000 people in the U.S. have died from gunshot wounds.

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