Gun Violence and Mental Illness is the most important book on gun violence published since Sandy Hook.  And what makes it important is not only the eminence and research capability of the contributors, but the breadth of the discussions about gun violence itself.  In a sense, the title of the book is somewhat misleading, because the work goes far beyond mental issues.  In fact, this superb collection touches on every aspect of gun violence – causes, mitigations, public policies – even though the authors and editors often define the issue in mental illness and mental health terms.

gold bookIt must be mentioned, however, that Dr. Liza Gold, her co-editor Dr. Robert Simon and the 27 expert contributors, are hardly the only ones carrying on a public discussion about guns and mental illness at the present time.  In fact, none other than such esteemed medical specialists as Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, and all the other know-nothings running for the Republican Presidential nomination have been speaking their empty minds about gun violence and mental illness, and let’s not forget that the Republican field even includes a real-life medical expert, Benjy Carson, who when he opens his mouth and talks about gun violence actually sounds like the dumbest of all.  At least Trump, unlike Carson, hasn’t yet tried to blame the Holocaust on all those unarmed Jews.

But to get back to people who know what they are talking about, or for sure writing about, the format of Dr. Gold’s book lends itself to a very clear awareness just how complicated and diverse gun violence can be, in terms both of understanding it and responding to it.  If there’s one thing above all that spawns my opposition to the current iteration of the NRA, it is the ‘dumbing down’ of every commentary produced by the pro-gun community simply by dividing the world into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’  From the capable introduction by Dr. Gold, all the way to the concluding essay on public health interventions by Shannon Frattaroli and Shani Buggs, you are made aware that there ain’t no ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys;’ instead there are many complex issues, each of which must be studied on its own terms.

I mention the chapter by Frattaroli and Buggs because it happens to focus immediately on one of my own pet peeves in the whole gun violence universe, namely, the notion that children can and should be taught safety procedures around guns.  This represents the single most pernicious attempt by the pro-gun community to remove the whole notion of lethality from the discussion about guns, and unfortunately, some of the GVP adherents subscribe to the alleged mitigating effects of childhood gun safety education as well.  Basically, what the authors conclude is that interventions based on educating children about gun risk are, at best, a mixed bag, with most of the studies producing results that are too ambiguous to be of any real outcome-predictive value at all.

I concur.  There’s only one way to guarantee that your children won’t shoot themselves or someone else with a gun in your home.  Either the kids get out or the guns get out.  And the idea that all those responsible gun owners will always lock up their guns has no empirical basis at all; we are human, we are careless, we forget. Thank you Shannon, thank you Shani.

All 14 chapters treat different aspects of the problem (mass shootings, school shootings, youth violence, suicide, etc.) and each compellingly begins with a list of ‘Common Misperceptions’ about each topic followed by ‘evidence-based facts.’  A book on gun violence held together by facts?  What an interesting, new approach. Hyperbole notwithstanding, I did a quick calculation and it appears that the pro-gun community’s mis-perceptions about gun violence lead GVP mis-perceptions by better than two to one.  It’s too bad that the folks who really need to know what’s in this book probably won’t be reading it.