Mentally Ill: Violent or Victim?

By Matt Porter

January 17, 2013 Updated Jan 17, 2013 at 7:52 PM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) When it comes to gun control, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is throwing his support behind an aspect with which few are arguing.

"It is to make sure that no criminal, no mentally infirm person, can get a gun," Schumer said during a meeting today in Binghamton.

It sounds simple, that keeping guns away from the mentally ill will prevent tragedies like Newtown, Conn.

But mass shootings make up just a small fraction of the more than 100,000 people killed by guns since 2001.

Executive Director of the Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier Keith Leahey said singling out the mentally ill on gun control is unfair.

"I believe there is a gross oversimplification with this particular approach," Leahey said.

He said people with mental illness are more often victims than the creators of violence.

"My experience has been individuals with a mental health condition, even a severe mental health condition," Leahey said, "Are absolutely no more violent than the general population."

A 2006 study from the American Journal of Psychiatry confirmed that just 1-in-20 people who commit violent crimes have a severe mental illness.

Leahey said legally making psychiatrists and therapists look for dangers in patients could cause some to stay away from therapy, instead of getting help.

He agreed more with President Barack Obama's plan that focuses on increase funding for mental health services.

"That's more geared to early intervention," he said, "That makes access easier for folks, that it's not so stigmatizing for an individual to receive mental health care."

Psychologist Stephen Lisman, who teaches ethics in psychology at Binghamton University, said the New York law doesn't really change his practice.

"I don't think any of it requires psychologist, psychiatrists, social workers to do anything beyond what we're doing already," Lisman said.

Lisman said there's always been an ethical approach to report dangerous behavior.

Now it's part of New York law.

The National Institute for Mental Health reported in 2005 that 1-in-4 people in the United States have a treatable mental health condition.

Advocates said most don't seek help and say more needs to be done to reach out to people earlier and eliminate the stigma that often comes with having a mental illness.