Psychologist says more focus needs to be on access to guns

Feb 11, 2013

The effects of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. in December that killed 26 children and staff, lingers in the psychological community. It's one reason Syracuse University's psychology department is hosting a panel discussion Monday night focusing on different aspects of the psychology of school violence. One presenter is worried how this tragedy could end up further stigmatizing mental illness.

Kevin Antshel is a psychology professor at Syracuse University. And as a clinical psychologist, he also got plenty of calls after the Newtown shooting, especially when media reports linked the shooter to an autism spectrum disease. And his stock answer -- research shows that individuals on the autism spectrum are no more likely than anyone else to be violent.

"I certainly have reiterated that to concerned parents and also frankly to some school personnel who have called me and said we've been concerned about this youngster on the autism spectrum, and now after this, we're very concerned about him. So I'm concerned about the risk of false positives. In other words, you identify someone as a risk who really doesn't have a risk," said Antshel.

He believes the Newtown shooting has exacerbated the stigma of people with mental illness by adding those on the autism spectrum. He says a better indicator of violence is whether or not someone has access to guns. And that's something clinicians and others can zero in on.

"The access of weapons is a big predictor of who would do this kind of thing. So including that in an evaluation question, that we don't do currently. And so that's something that we are now beginning to focus more on. Do you have access to weapons?"

Antshel is one of several presenters at a Syracuse University panel looking into the psychology of school violence.