WASHINGTON — The most dangerous person with a gun may be an angry young man.
That’s the finding of a study by researchers at Duke, Harvard and Columbia universities who searched for an answer to the problem of gun violence.
They analyzed data from 5,563 interviews conducted as part of a nationwide study on mental illness, and what they found indicated that part of our current approach to keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals may be wrong.
Jeffrey Swanson, a professor at Duke Medical School and lead author of the study, says the traditional legal approach has focused on involuntarily committed psychiatric patients. But the researchers say the data shows people with significant mental illness, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are not the big problem.
“There is just a little intersection here,” says Swanson.
Far more dangerous is the high number of adults with severe anger issues that have, or can get, a gun.
“Almost one in 10 adults in this country has this worrisome combination of impulsive angry behavior and access to firearms,” Swanson says, adding “either they have guns at home or they carry guns around with them.”
The study authors say angry people with access to guns are typically young or middle-aged men who tend to lose their temper and break things or get into physical fights.
They say looking at a potential gun buyer’s misdemeanor convictions — including violent offenses and convictions for impaired driving — may be a far more effective way of preventing gun violence than screening based on a mental health treatment history.
Their findings were published in a special issue of the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law.
Watch Jeffrey Swanson, PHD, Professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke Medicine and lead author of the study, in this video provided by Duke.