What causes mass shootings? Mental health failures or poor gun laws?

A Lake Forest, Ill., police officer walks down Central Ave in Highland Park, Ill., on Monday, after a shooter fired on the northern Chicago suburb’s Fourth of July parade. A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found that 43% of Utahns believe mental health treatment challenges are the principal cause for mass shootings.

A Lake Forest, Ill., police officer walks down Central Ave in Highland Park, Ill., on Monday, after a shooter fired on the northern Chicago suburb’s Fourth of July parade. A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found that 43% of Utahns believe mental health treatment challenges are the principal cause for mass shootings. (Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune via Associated Press)



Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — More information emerged Tuesday about a man who allegedly opened fire on a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, killing seven people and wounding at least a dozen others.

Robert "Bobby" Eugene Crimo III, who police have detained as a person of interest in the shooting, also went by the stage name Awake the Rapper and posted content online that included violent images.

NBC News reports that videos now deleted from Crimo's YouTube channel showed depictions of mass murder and Crimo cheering on a Donald Trump motorcade. Some of his videos featured his hometown, and others included animated scenes of gun violence.

In one video that depicts gun violence, Crimo can be heard saying, "I need to leave now. I need to just do it. It is my destiny."

In 2019, local police went to Crimo's home after receiving a report that he had tried to take his own life a week earlier. Officers spoke with him and his parents and were told mental health professionals were handling the matter, Chris Covelli, spokesperson for the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, said at a news conference Tuesday, per CNN.

Law enforcement has not established a motive for the shooting.

A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found that 43% of Utahns believe mental health treatment challenges are the principal cause for mass shootings. Another 27% attribute them to inadequate gun laws, and 11% pointed to inadequate security at schools and other public places. The survey found 18% say it's something else.

The poll was conducted before the Illinois shooting but after at least 19 children and two adults were killed in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. The U.S. has seen mass shootings at a supermarket in Buffalo and a church in Southern California over the past two months.

Crimo legally purchased the weapon he used in Monday's shooting, Covelli said, describing it as a "high-powered rifle" which shot high-velocity rounds. The weapon, which he described as "similar to an AR-15," was bought locally.

What causes mass shootings? Mental health failures or poor gun laws?
Photo: Deseret News

Some elected officials have cited mental illness as a reason for the unprovoked attacks. But FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, reports having a mental illness isn't predictive of who will perpetrate a mass shooting.

In a 2019 article, it reported that people with mental health disorders are more likely than those without such conditions to commit acts of mass violence, but many mass shooters do not have mental illnesses. It has not been shown that mental illness is the primary cause of mass murder.

Some politicians' belief that anyone who commits a mass shooting must have a mental health problem is common — but one expert told FactCheck.org that it was flawed.

"No one who commits a violent act is mentally well," said Beth McGinty, a mental health and substance abuse policy researcher at Johns Hopkins University, drawing a distinction between mental illness and mental wellness. But that doesn't mean that the person meets the criteria for a mental illness or that treatment would have eliminated that person's violent act.

"Improving the mental health system is a really important goal," she said, but "it's not going to make a significant dent in mass shootings or interpersonal violence writ large."

Rather than focusing on mental health diagnoses, experts suggest paying attention to disturbing behavior, as the best predictor of violent behavior is prior violent behavior.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act signed into law by President Joe Biden last month aims to fill gaps in the nation's mental health treatment system. The bill directed $2 billion to mental health initiatives and expanding certified community behavioral health clinics across the country.

The bill, Congress' most significant response to mass shootings in nearly three decades, also provides funding for states to create red flag laws, which allow immediate family members or police officers to petition a court to temporarily remove guns from those who appear to pose a serious threat to themselves or others.

It closes what's known as the "boyfriend loophole" by barring people with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions against dating partners or former dating partners from buying a firearm for at least five years. The bill also cracks down on illegal straw purchasers by making it a specific federal criminal offense to purchase, or conspire to purchase, a firearm for someone who is prohibited from buying a gun.

Sen. Mitt Romney, who helped negotiate the package, was the only member of Utah's all-Republican congressional delegation to vote for the legislation.

The new poll revealed a distinction between how Republicans and Democrats in the state view the causes of mass shootings.

Just less than half of respondents who identified themselves as Republicans say mental health treatment issues are the main cause of mass shootings, while slightly more than half of Democrats attribute the shootings to poor gun control laws.

Utahns in the survey who identified themselves as liberal pointed to gun laws, while conservatives leaned toward mental health challenges, according to the poll.

Dan Jones & Associates surveyed 808 Utah registered voters June 16-29. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.45 percentage points.

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Utah pollingUtah congressional delegationU.S.UtahPolice & Courts
Dennis Romboy
Dennis Romboy is an editor and reporter for the Deseret News. He has covered a variety of beats over the years, including state and local government, social issues and courts. A Utah native, Romboy earned a degree in journalism from the University of Utah. He enjoys cycling, snowboarding and running.

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