Dec. 24, 2012 -- The National Rifle Association has come under fire by an association of psychiatrists for its characterization of people who commit violent crimes as "monsters," "lunatics" and "insane."
The American Psychiatric Association, which represents more than 30,000 mental health professionals, released a statement that expressed its "disappointment" over the gun lobby's use of those terms in the wake of the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conn., where Adam Lanza, 20, slaughtered 20 children, six school staffers and his mother.
In a news conference last week, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre repeatedly used the word "monsters" and "insane" to describe people who carry out mass shootings.
And during an interview this weekend on "Meet the Press" LaPierre used the word lunatic "as a catchphrase for those who commit violent crimes," the APA said.
In his news conference, LaPierre blamed the tragedy on Hollywood, the media, video games and the courts. His remarks also appeared to explicitly scapegoat those with mental illness.
"How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame …" LaPierre said. "A dozen more killers? A hundred? More? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation's refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?"
APA's President Dr. Dilip Jeste said in a statement over the weekend that LaPierre's comments were unfair and inaccurate.
"Only 4 to 5 percent of violent crimes are committed by people with mental illness," Jeste said. "About one quarter of all Americans have a mental disorder in any given year, and only a very small percentage of them will ever commit violent crimes."
APA's CEO Dr. James H. Scully added that LaPierre's remarks serve to perpetuate the idea that mental illness and evil are one and the same.
"This is simply a relic of the past and has no place in our public dialogue. People who are clearly not mentally ill commit violent crimes and perform terrible acts every day. Unfortunately, Mr. LaPierre's statements serve only to increase the stigma around mental illness and further the misconception that those with mental disorders are likely to be dangerous," Scully said.
The NRA remains unmoved. Their director of public affairs, Andrew Arulanandam, said he hadn't seen the APA statement and he wouldn't comment specifically on the Newtown shootings because he said he wasn't aware of any official information about Lanza's mental state -- but it wouldn't be unreasonable for anyone evaluating the Newtown killings to conclude the killer was mentally ill.
"Look at other similar shooting incidences. All of these shooters exhibited warning signs. The signs were there and people ignored them," Arulanandam said. "If the media wants to suggest that there was nothing wrong with these people, that's their concern but we believe -- and believe most Americans will agree -- these people were deranged."
Bob Carolla, a spokesman for the National Alliance on Mental Illness said he agreed with the APA's statements and also pointed out that it hasn't been established that Lanza suffered from any sort of mental illness. Authorities have nothing but anecdotal information on Lanza's mental state at the time of the shootings.
"One of the things that may be especially distressing for individuals who have a mental health condition and their families is this automatic leap based on stereotyped perceptions linking mental illness and violence," Corolla said. "Statistically we know the relationship is very small."
According to Corolla, one in four American adults experience a mental health problem in any given year, yet the U.S. Surgeon General determined over a decade ago that the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small. He added that people with mental disorders are far more likely to be the victims of crimes, rather than the perpetrators.