IAPSP Gun Violence Statement
The International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, a global association of psychotherapists and psychoanalysts, extends our most heart-felt condolences to those affected by recent mass shootings in Highland Park, Illinois and Copenhagen, Denmark, as well as the assassination of the former Prime Minister of Japan. Our hearts break for the communities suffering from these heinous acts of violence, and our thoughts remain with the people of Uvalde, Buffalo, Aurora, Newtown, Las Vegas, Orlando, and too many other communities across the United States. Deeply unsettled by the frequency of these mass shootings, we struggle, once again, to adequately express our horror that yet another community has been shattered by gun violence. As an organization devoted to the development and sustenance of a healthy sense of self and relationships, we cannot remain silent or tolerate inaction.
The United States has the highest rate of firearm deaths among the most developed countries: a person is over nine times more likely to die of firearms violence in the US. Over the last 20 years, gun sales have more than tripled as firearms laws have loosened. The United States has the most armed civilian population in the world with firearms now being the leading cause of death in children and adolescents. As a result of this escalating violence, in 2016, The American Medical Association declared firearm related violence to be a public health crisis.
The trauma and fear associated with mass shootings significantly harms the emotional wellbeing of adults and children. The loss of each life and the effect of witnessing such carnage forever traumatize and alter the lives of the family and friends of the victims, the survivors, the first responders, and the health care professionals. Research suggests that such events lead to significant post-traumatic distress among victims and bystanders and become triggers for those who have experienced similar violent events. Mass shootings erode the sense of physical and emotional safety every child and adult needs to thrive. Schools must be safe havens for children to learn. City streets, stores, and places of worship must be secure places for people to congregate and recreate. The consequences of firearm violence and mass shootings must be treated as a substantial public emotional and physical health crisis.
As mental health professionals, we are compelled to respond to the claim by “gun rights” advocates that gun violence is a mental health issue, an argument that has no factual basis. Although firearms death may be related to an underlying mental disorder, the rate of mental disorders does not vary substantially from one developed country to another. The difference in rates of gun violence between the US and other developed countries lies in gun control legislation. The United States is alone in making dangerous firearms available without significant restriction. Such efforts to shift the focus from a legislative issue to a mental health one ignore common sense solutions and legislation that prevent mass carnage in other countries. In addition, conflating a legislative issue with mental health encourages discrimination and stigmatization of people diagnosed with mental illnesses, people who are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence.
Although we are heartened by the recent passage of gun safety legislation by the United States, we join with a growing number of international psychological, public health, medical, and educational organizations imploring the United States government representatives and citizens to take additional action to address the gun violence crisis within the United States. We believe that dissipating gun violence in the United States will ultimately require a cultural reckoning and a shift in values from a mindset that privileges individual liberties despite the cost to the collective to one in which empathy and concern for one’s fellow citizens prevails.
We call on the US Congress and state legislatures to continue to pass legislation that reduces the spread of firearms, promotes their safe usage and storage, and establishes community-based teams that include police, mental health professionals and community advocates to de-escalate situations in which individuals are at risk of using guns to commit violence or harm themselves.