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Where mass shootings occur: gun laws, mental health care have effect

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thousand oaks shooting people comfort
People
comfort each other near the scene of the bar shooting in Thousand
Oaks, California.

Mark J.
Terrill/AP



  • A mass shooting at a bar in the Los Angeles-area suburb
    of Thousand Oaks has
    left 13 people dead
    , including
    a police sergeant
    and
    the shooter
    .
  • Recently, researchers from the University of Toledo in
    Ohio analyzed 155 mass
    shootings
    that occurred in the US to investigate
    trends and risk factors.
  • They found a few clear patterns. Their results suggested that
    communities with better access to mental-health services had less
    risk of a mass shooting.
  • While not all
    gun laws
    made a difference, two were associated with lower
    risk of a mass shooting: reporting of mental-health records in
    background checks, and restrictions on open
    carry.
  • Lead investigator Dr. Stephen Markowiak said the
    study was intended to highlight a holistic approach to reducing
    gun violence.

There have been
307 mass shootings
in the US so far in 2018.

On Wednesday, a 28-year-old Marine veteran opened fire inside a
the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, a
Los Angeles-area suburb. Thirteen people are dead,
including a police officer, Sgt. Ron Helus, and the shooter, Ian
David Long , who killed himself. Up to 15 other people were
injured and taken to hospitals.

Because these deadly events have become so common in the US,
a team of
researchers
 from the University of Toledo in Ohio set
out to look for patterns or similarities among communities that
have dealt with a mass shooting. 

They looked at 155 mass shootings in the US (defined as an event
with four or more fatalities, excluding the shooter). Their
research, which was presented at the American College
of Surgeons Clinical Congress last month, found several factors
that are clearly associated with a higher risk of a mass
shooting.

 These include a shortage of mental-health
professionals, a lack of opportunities for social interaction,
greater income inequality, and relatively high housing costs.

Two common gun restriction laws were also found to be correlated
with a lower incidence of mass shootings: a requirement that
mental-health records get reported in criminal background checks,
and restrictions on open carry firearms.

Mental healthcare as prevention

Dr. Stephen Markowiak, a general surgery research fellow at
the University of Toledo, led the study.

“From the clinician side of things, when somebody gets
shot, we’re on the receiving end of that,” Markowiak told
Business Insider. “We have entire chapters in our textbooks
dedicated to how to fix the problem once it happens, but there’s
relatively little available to us on how to keep it from
happening in the first place. That’s such a shame in a world
where people know prevention is more powerful than cure.”


gunScott Olson/Getty Images

From their research, Markowiak’s team concluded that access
to mental-health resources is an extremely important factor when
it comes to the risk of a mass shooting. Communities with more
mental-health providers per capita saw lower rates of mass
shootings in their analysis. 

That finding is similar to that of a 2016 study, which
suggested that states that spend more money on mental health care
and K-12 education have
fewer school shootings
.

Such evidence highlights healthcare providers’ role in
improving and protecting communities, Markowiak said.

Another important risk factor was a lack of socialization.

“If you look at communities where these events occurred, the
average individual had 10.5 to 11 people that they commonly
associate with compared with an average of 13 or so close
associations in communities where they didn’t occur,”
Markowiak noted in a release about the study.

For their study, Markowiak’s team used data from the FBI,
US Census, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Institutes
of Health (NIH), and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Their
analysis controlled for variables like population density,
urbanicity, and the proportion of males 20-44 in the
community.

Does gun control work?

The study results suggest that not all gun laws are equal when it
comes to lowering the risk of a mass shooting.

States with strict regulations, like New York and California, had
high rates of mass shootings. But stricter gun laws were
associated with less violent crime overall.

Plus, the results showed that fewer mass shootings occur in
places where criminal background checks require reports on an
individual’s mental health. The same correlation held true for
areas in which the open carry of firearms is restricted.

This study is the latest in a growing body of evidence that
certain gun-control policies can reduce rates of gun violence.

This week, research presented at a conference of the
American Academy of Pediatrics showed that in states with the
most lenient gun regulations,
twice as many kids die because of
firearms
 compared with states where gun laws are
strictest. 

And last month, a first-of-its-kind analysis found that
gun injuries sent 75,000 US children and teens to emergency
rooms
over nine years. The total cost: almost $3 billion.

‘We could solve this problem if we wanted to’

Markowiak stressed that his team’s conclusions were apolitical
and only based on correlation, not causation. So he doesn’t have
recommendations about specific gun-control policies. But he said
he hopes the results lead political and community leaders to
prioritize community health across the nation and take a holistic
approach to combatting mass shootings.

Markowiak noted, though, that he fears the sharp divisions within
the American political landscape are stalling potential
improvements.

“If we could be more honest with ourselves, and talk about things
with less of a heated political sense, we might move past some of
these issues,” Markowiak said. “We have to be able to agree on
the facts. That’s what our project is — trying to kick-start a
discussion and provide some evidence.”

Another barrier to progress in reversing the mass-shooting trend,
Markowiak added, is that organizations like the NIH, CDC,
and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives —
which are known for gathering data that informs policy making —
have seen their ability to research gun violence restricted.

Indeed, the
US spends less money researching gun violence
than it does on
almost any other leading cause of death. That’s because of
“incredibly poor leadership decisions” from lawmakers, Markowiak
said.

“The reality is, we could solve this problem if we wanted to,” he
said. “We have these excellent resources available to our country
that have a decades-old history of solving public-health crises.”

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