Takeaways: 

  • Gun violence has a deeper root cause.
  • Not understanding a person’s behavior doesn’t mean they’re crazy.
  • Behavior is often an attempt to ease an unmet emotional need or emotional pain. 
  • There is no “quick fix” to gun violence but there is real action you can take. Join the Uchi Connection Movement.

The Joker - Batman

Gun Violence Is Not A Mental Health Issue


By Kevin R. Strauss, M.E.

One of the greatest misconceptions about gun violence is it is a mental health problem. Psychologists are in wide agreement that gun violence IS NOT a mental health problem (1, 2). The truth is, most people with mental health issues rarely turn their behaviors toward harming others. And those with severe mental illness are often struggling just to manage their day-to-day life.

I believe a big reason why we believe mass shooters are “mentally ill” is because we, in our “right” mind [and judgment], would never do such a horrific act. Therefore, we conclude that anyone who murders others MUST be crazy, deranged, out-of-their-mind, insane, and therefore, mentally ill. Why else would anyone kill another? We incorrectly believe that any behavior that is destructive means a person is not “in their right mind” and their mental (thinking and reasoning) abilities are broken or diseased. (In that vein, why isn’t cigarette smoking addiction considered a disease and mental illness just like heroin addiction?)

What we are failing to understand is that behavior is not rooted in our mental, cognitive, and reasoning abilities but rather in our state of emotional health and how valued (i.e., love, connection, and belonging) we feel. It’s important to distinguish between and separate mental and emotional health in order to finally address and reduce destructive behaviors.

(Feeling triggered already? Perhaps it’s because what I’m sharing calls into question your own beliefs. We believe we are right about what we think and do and if we’re shown to be wrong then it may feel like our “value” as a person is decreased which causes [emotional] pain. It’s ok. You’re valuable as a person whether you’re right or wrong. Is that a struggle to believe?)

Common Gang-Banger Scenario

Q: Why did one gang member kill a rival gang member?

A: Because he was disrespected in front of his own peeps. (In other words, his value as a person was reduced in front of people who matter to him.)

I’ve been researching mass shooters since the days of Columbine in 1999.

Common shooter traits include:

  • Feeling lonely.
  • Feeling isolated and maintaining it.
  • Being bullied.
  • Feeling like you don’t belong; are an “outsider”.
  • Feeling misunderstood.
  • Feeling worthless.
  • Feeling out-of-control.
  • Feeling powerless.
  • Feeling hopeless.

None of the above traits are mental illnesses or mental health issues.

All of the above traits hurt us emotionally and cause pain. Each is associated with our “value” as a person. Meanwhile, EVERY emotion and feeling is valid and fully within our human nature and “right” mind. There are only two kinds of pain, physical and emotional. I have not been able to identify such a thing as “mental pain”.

A person in pain will do anything to stop it.

(Feeling like you want to lash out at me again? Are you mentally ill? Or, have I touched on a truth and emotional pain buried deep inside your subconscious mind?) When the above list reaches a “pain threshold” where it can no longer be consciously managed, we take action. And, in the absence of feeling heard, understood, valued, and loved (the opposites of the list above), we turn to behaviors to try and manage the pain.

How many of us have a few drinks after a hard day’s work? Alcohol is a common and socially accepted (i.e., valued) way we “ease our pain”. You can justify “happy hour” drinking however you like. It still doesn’t solve the root [emotional] pain such as an a$$hole boss or not wanting to go home to your spouse.

The deeper the pain, the more extreme the compensatory behaviors.

Many people turn inward which can look like depression, anxiety, and suicide. While others turn their pain outward and hurt others; such is the case of gun violence, bullying, and authoritarian-style managing.

The lesson here is:

EVERY child (i.e., person) needs to feel heard, valued, and loved starting on Day 1 of life. And simply believing, “My child knows I love them.” is not the same as your child actually receiving and feeling your love. Further, any “condition” we attach to our love negates its sentiment (e.g., praise for: not crying in the crib, using the potty, a high grade, scoring a goal). If your child is behaving in any kind of extreme way, now you know why. They’re not receiving your messages of love. Try showing them by listening without shaming or judging.

Behaviors are rooted in our subconscious mind which drives 95% of our actions.

Our subconscious mind is also where our feelings and emotions are located. If we really want to stop destructive behaviors then we must stop and heal the emotional pain, first. Relying on our 5% conscious brain to control every action and override our subconscious brain conditioning is wishful thinking. We know from neuroscience that is not how humans, or mammals, work.

Feelings and emotions are not a weakness.

If you think a person is “weak” (and less valuable) because their feelings were hurt then tell that to the families of the victims of the next gun shooter who murders because of their hurt feelings. It may sound something like this:

“I’m sorry your 8-year-old daughter was killed at school today. Her murderer was shamed and judged by his family and society, for years, for being different and needing to feel loved and like he belongs which we consider to be a human weakness. We ignored his need to feel valued and loved (which EVERY human needs), so he killed your daughter. By using a gun, he felt strong and powerful because our society associates guns and physicality as a sign of strength and value while having feelings means you’re weak and worthless. 

My thoughts and prayers are with you today and I’ll #wearorange on Friday. I hope it helps ease the lifetime of pain of your child being murdered at school and prevent it from happening again, tomorrow.”

Destructive behaviors ARE NOT a mental health issue.

Gun violence and other destructive behaviors are completely preventable when our basic, human, emotional needs are met specifically our need for love, connection, and belonging.

Will you take action or just hope someone else does?

Perhaps the greatest action we EACH can take is to nurture the handfuls of relationships that matter most to us. There’s a Japanese word known as uchi which means, “in-group” or inner circle. If we each made the effort to support our uchi, i.e., the 5, 10, or 20 people most important to you, then eventually everyone’s uchi will overlap and we’ll all feel connected. Fortunately, there is a FREE app called Uchi that facilitates real conversations so you feel heard and valued. If you don’t think this applies to you or your uchi then I challenge you to review each other’s behaviors. Even “good” behaviors (e.g., overachieving) are a sign of a compensatory behavior for emotional pain. I should know, I’m a 20-year Ironman Triathlete and Coach. (I must be crazy, right?)

In schools, we can prevent kids from “slipping through the cracks” by using the Uchi EdTech to engage EVERY student, teacher, and even parents. In just minutes a day, EVERY student can have a chance to feel heard, understood, and valued while also improving learning. Remember, Value = Love, and our behaviors improve when we feel loved.

Be a part of the solution and take the first step. Join and share the Uchi Connection Movement and promise yourself to nurture everyday the love, connection, and belonging with the people who matter most to you.

Peace. Love. Connect.

2 thoughts on “Gun Violence Is Not A Mental Health Issue

  1. Kevin, you have hit the nail on the head once again! I wrote a similar piece. We must change the narrative as it relates to mental illness and violence and racism. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Thank you so much Natasha! It means a lot that this article resonated with you. Indeed, we need a completely different narrative. One that moves us far past the era of Freud, etc. Let’s work together! ☮❤🤝

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