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How to Prevent Future Mass Violence  

Gun violence is an urgent, complex, and multifaceted problem. It requires evidence-based, multifaceted solutions. Psychology can make important contributions to policies that prevent gun violence. To this end, in February 2013 the American Psychological Association commissioned this report to identify research-based recommendations on how to reduce the incidence of gun violence — whether by homicide, suicide, or mass shootings — nationwide. 


What works? 


  • Most people suffering from a mental illness are not dangerous, and in fact, are more often victims of violence. We also know that mental illness is not a good way of predicting who is likely to be violent. People who are violent need both the desire to commit violence and the ability to do so. Focusing on behavior leading to violence and restricting the means to commit violence is an effective path toward prevention.  


  • Prevention of violence occurs along a continuum that begins in early childhood with programs to help parents raise emotionally healthy children and ends with efforts to identify and intervene with troubled individuals who are threatening violence.  


  • The use of a gun greatly increases the odds that violence will lead to a fatality: This problem calls for urgent action. Firearm prohibitions for high-risk groups — domestic violence offenders, persons convicted of violent misdemeanor crimes, and individuals with mental illness who have been adjudicated as being a threat to themselves or to others — have been shown to reduce violence. The licensing of handgun purchasers, background check requirements for all gun sales, and close oversight of retail gun sellers can reduce the diversion of guns to criminals. Reducing the incidence of gun violence will require interventions through multiple systems, including legal, public health, public safety, community, and health. Increasing the availability of data and funding will help inform and evaluate policies designed to reduce gun violence. 


American Psychological Association. (2013) Gun violence: Prediction, prevention, and policy. Retrieved from 

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