Poll: 61% say parents of children with mental health problems should not have gun in home

Dylan Stableford
The Lookout

In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings, gun control advocates called for more background checks. Gun rights advocates called for more school security. And mental health advocates called for more dialog about mental health.

While the first two calls have gone largely unanswered, it appears the third is beginning to be addressed, at least on the family level.

According to a recent survey of 1,600 parents conducted by the Child Mind Institute and Parents magazine, 60 percent are concerned that kids who have a mental health issue—like Asperger syndrome, which Newtown gunman Adam Lanza reportedly had—are more likely to hurt themselves or others. And 61 percent of parents said that parents of children with mental health problems should not be allowed to have a gun in their homes.

Police investigating the school massacre seized a sizable arsenal of firearms, knives and samurai swords from the 20-year-old gunman's home in the days after the shootings, court documents released in March showed.

"The truth is that most violent crimes are not actually committed by people who are mentally ill," Parents Deputy Editor Diane Debrovner, who helped coordinate the survey, told Yahoo News.

According to an oft-cited American Psychiatric Association study, "The vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses."

In fact, "people with serious mental illnesses are actually at higher risk of being victims of violence than perpetrators," Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute on Mental Health, wrote in the wake of the shootings in Tuscon, Ariz., in 2011.

[Related: Pew study: Gun homicides in U.S. dropped nearly 50 percent over 20 years]

And, Debrovner said, “kids with mental health disorders can grow up to lead happy, productive lives when they get proper care."

But it's unclear what kind of mental health care Lanza was getting, if any, on Dec. 14, 2012, when he shot his mother in her bedroom of the Newtown home they shared, forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and opened fire, killing 20 first-graders and six adults before shooting himself. Earlier this week, the Hartford Courant reported that an autopsy performed on Lanza revealed he did not have antidepressants or anti-psychotic medications in body.

The stigma surrounding mental health issues prevent many parents and teachers from getting kids the support—and medication—they need, according to Dr. Harold Koplewicz, president of the Child Mind Institute.

“The Newtown shooting has led to a national conversation about mental health,” Koplewicz said in a release announcing the findings. “What we hope will come from the tragedy is openness that starts in each family and community, when we acknowledge our worries about our own children, and help make other parents feel safe enough to speak up about their worries, too.”

To that point, the results were encouraging: 66 percent of respondents "believe that parents are now more likely to seek help if their child’s behavior worries them."

"We've heard that an increasing number of pediatricians and primary care doctors have mental-health providers in the same office," Debrovner added, "just down the hall."

Click here to see the full results.