WASHINGTON—A study co-authored by researchers at Duke, Harvard and Columbia Universities estimate that nine percent of U.S. adults have a history of angry, impulsive behavior as well as access to firearms. The results were published in the most recent issue of Behavioral Sciences and the Law.
The study identified individuals as impulsively angry if they were known to lose their temper, break or smash things and get into or pick physical fights.
Among the findings of the study:
· Nine percent of U.S. adults have a history of angry, impulsive behavior as well as access to guns.
· An estimated 1.5 percent of adults with impulsive anger issues report that they carry a gun or other firearm outside their home
· Generally, those who were impulsively angry were male, young or middle-aged
· In the study, participants who owned more than six or more firearms were significantly more likely to have a history of impulsive anger and to carry firearms outside the home than were individuals who owned one or two firearms
· There is little overlap between individuals with serious mental illnesses and individuals with access to guns and impulsive anger issues; fewer than one out of 10 individuals with anger issues and access to guns were admitted to a healthcare facility for a psychiatric problem or substance abuse
· People with a history of impulsive anger showed an elevated risk of common conditions like anxiety, personality disorders, alcohol abuse, and PTSD, none of which would necessarily prevent these individuals from owning a gun under current gun-control laws
“As we try to balance constitutional rights and public safety regarding people with mental illness, the traditional legal approach has been to prohibit firearms from involuntarily-committed psychiatric patients,” said Jeffrey Swanson, Ph.D., professor at Duke Medicine and lead author of the study in a press release. “But now we have more evidence that current laws don’t necessarily keep firearms out of the hands of a lot of potentially dangerous individuals.”
For the study, researchers used the National Comorbidity Study Replication (NCS-R), a Harvard-led nationally representative survey of mental disorders. For the study, researchers analyzed data from 5,563 face-to-face interviews conducted as part of the NCS-R.
Researchers participating in the study emphasized the difference between serious mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and those prone to impulsive anger with access to guns.
“Gun violence and serious mental illness are two very important but distinct public health issues that intersect only at their edges,” Swanson said.
This insight reveals that under current mental-health-related restrictions on gun purchases and ownership (which generally focus on involuntary commitment as a screening tool), most individuals with a history of impulsive anger would be allowed to own a gun.
“Very few people in this concerning group suffer from the kinds of disorders that often lead to involuntary commitment and which would legally prohibit them from buying a gun,” said Ronald Kessler, Ph.D., professor of health care policy at Harvard and principal investigator of the NCS-R survey.
Study authors recommend that rather than the current screening program based on an individual’s history of mental health treatment/commitment, screening a prospective owner’s history for multiple convictions for driving under the influence and a history of misdemeanor convictions including violent offenses may be more effective in preventing gun violence in the U.S.
Researchers also said that the study could support laws that give family and law enforcement the authority to immediately seize firearms and prohibit gun and ammunition purchases by an individual showing signs of imminent violence.
Connecticut has a “dangerous persons” gun removal law where law enforcement may seek a warrant to remove firearms if an officer has probable cause to believe that a person is at imminent risk of injury to self or others. Indiana has a similar law, but the officer need not wait for a warrant if s/he later submits a written statement to the court.
California has a “gun violence restraining order,” which allows family members and law enforcement to seek this kind of restraining order against individuals who are considered a threat to themselves and others. The restraining order temporarily prohibits the individual from purchasing firearms or ammunition and allows law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms in the individual’s possession.
A handful of states also have laws that either authorize or require law enforcement to remove firearms at the scene of a domestic violence incident. This study could lend support for similar laws in other jurisdictions.
In 2013, there were over 62,000 injuries relating to the intentional use of firearms and 11,208 individuals died as a result of a violent gun incident, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Today in the U.S. there are an estimated 310 million firearms in private hands.