January 13, 2017

Response to Article on Call to Deny Firearms to Anyone Diagnosed with a Mental Illness

The Miami Herald published a letter on Jan. 11, 2017, from APA 2017 President Antonio E. Puente, PhD, in response to its Jan. 8, 2017, article, “Airport shooter had mental health problems but no apparent tie to terrorism.”

Like all Americans, I was shocked to learn of the horrific shootings at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (”Airport shooter had mental health problems but no apparent tie to terrorism,” Jan. 8).

While the motive for the shootings is still unclear, the American Psychological Association takes exception to Broward Sheriff Scott Israel’s call to deny firearms to anyone diagnosed with a mental illness.

Research has shown that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent. A complex constellation of risk factors makes people more or less likely to use a firearm against themselves or others.

Firearm prohibitions for high-risk groups — domestic violence offenders, people convicted of violent misdemeanor crimes, substance abusers and individuals with mental illness who have been adjudicated as being a threat to themselves or to others — have been shown to reduce gun violence.

The suspect in this case, Esteban Santiago exhibited several of these red flags; it would appear that the system failed by offering him only cursory psychiatric treatment.

Reports are that Mr. Santiago told FBI agents in Alaska he was hearing voices who told him to watch ISIS video. He was turned over to local police and hospitalized for days, but there was no legal determination on his mental state and no follow up treatment appears to have been offered — so his gun was returned to him.

Effective mental health intervention consists of culturally informed, evidence-based treatment appropriate for a person’s particular needs.

Gun violence is a serious public health problem that requires greater awareness of these risk factors, as well as more research to inform the development and implementation of empirically-based prevention and threat assessment strategies.

Antonio E. Puente
President
American Psychological Association