Public Mass Murderers and Federal Mental Health Background Checks

15 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2018

See all articles by James Silver

James Silver

Worcester State University

William Fisher

School of Criminology and Justice Studies

John Horgan

International Center for the Study of Terrorism

Date Written: April 2018

Abstract

The litany of public mass murders, from Aurora, Newtown, Charleston, Las Vegas, and Parkland to less well‐known incidents that occur yearly, has focused national attention on federally mandated mental health background checks of prospective gun purchasers. The call has been to put more gun‐disqualifying mental health records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System database to prevent “deranged” murderers from buying guns and running amok. Our study examines whether increasing the robustness of the mental health background database will likely prevent potential public mass murderers from buying guns. Building on research that shows that serious mental illness contributes little to the risk of interpersonal violence and, further, that few persons with serious mental illness acquire gun‐disqualifying mental health records, we examine whether public mass murderers are among the small percentage of those with serious mental illness who do have gun‐disqualifying mental health records. Using a large sample of 106 US offenders who used a firearm to commit a public mass murder from 1990 to 2014, we find that half of the offenders had a history of mental illness or mental health treatment but that less than 5 percent had gun‐disqualifying mental health records. Implications of these findings and recommendations for further research are discussed.

Suggested Citation

Silver, James and Fisher, William and Horgan, John, Public Mass Murderers and Federal Mental Health Background Checks (April 2018). Law & Policy, Vol. 40, Issue 2, pp. 133-147, 2018. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3168900 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/lapo.12102

James Silver (Contact Author)

Worcester State University ( email )

486 Chandler St.
Worcester, MA 01602
United States

William Fisher

School of Criminology and Justice Studies ( email )

1 University Ave
Lowell, MA 01854
United States

John Horgan

International Center for the Study of Terrorism ( email )

University Park
State College, PA 16802
United States

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