Few mass shooters in Florida have history of mental illness

In the days after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, classmates recounted memories of Nikolas Cruz.

One told a reporter he sensed Cruz would do something crazy one day. Another said she could tell there was something not right about him.

Cruz had a history of mental health treatment, and the conversation about gun legislation in Florida focused heavily on mental illness.

Florida passed legislation in March that fortified restrictions that prevent individuals who have either been declared mentally defective by a court, or have been committed to a mental institution from purchasing or possessing firearms.

But according to a psychologist who assesses accused criminals for competency and sanity, very few mass shooters have a known history of mental illness let alone an interaction with the court system regarding their mental health.

“There is a small percentage, there is a relationship, but they do not account for even half of these acts,” said Dr. Keegan Culver, who is often hired by the court system in Southwest Florida to assess defendants.

Research on gun violence in the United States is limited.

Up until 2016, Stanford University researchers were compiling information from online news reports regarding mass shooters in their Mass Shootings in America database.

The researchers tracked shootings dating back to the 1960’s with three or more shooting victims, not including the shooter. Anything identifiably related to gangs, drugs, or organized crime is excluded from the database.

View the graphic on deadly mass shootings in Florida.

A WINK News analysis of this data found that there were 20 mass shooters in the state of Florida between 2013 and 2016.

Only one shooter in these incidents was listed as having a documented history of mental illness.

In 2014, a graduate of Florida State went to campus and opened fire in the library. He injured three people before law enforcement arrived and killed him.

It was later reported that Myron May, 31, was suffering from paranoia and thinking that people were targeting him.

Dr. Culver said people experiencing severe mental illness may be suffering from a delusion that would cause them to commit a violent act.

She gave the example of the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981. John Hinckley later said he wanted to kill the President to somehow impress actress Jodie Foster.

“He was acutely mentally ill and not in touch with reality and his actions were directly related to the delusion he was under at the time,” Dr. Culver said.

Cruz, on the other hand, may have been completely aware of what he was doing acting deliberately and not a result of a mental illness, she said.

“I think the immediate reaction to seeing something like a mass shooting is there must be something wrong with this person that they would behave in this manner,” Dr. Culver said.

She explained that those traits are often anti-social behavior, not necessarily mental illness.

Despite Cruz’s history of mental illness, the gun restrictions on mental health would not have prevented him from purchasing a firearm since he had never been declared defective by a court or committed to a mental institution.

Unless one of the two latter things happen, potentially mentally ill people are not restricted from possessing or purchasing firearms.

The new law’s age restriction, however, would have prevented Cruz, who is under 21, from purchasing weapons.

The Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting and the Parkland shooting are not logged in the Stanford Database because the research was permanently suspended after 2016.

Reporter:Lauren Sweeney
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