Duke Researcher: ‘Gun Control Laws Should Target Angry, Impulsive Americans’

Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. So, if we want to reduce gun violence we need to target individuals who are likely to use firearms to perpetrate violence.

This is the logic of Duke psychiatry professor Jeffrey Swanson, who recently led a study looking at individuals with serious anger problems and their access to firearms.

“To have gun violence you need two things: a gun and a dangerous person,” Swanson told The Washington Post. “We can’t broadly limit legal access to guns, so we have to focus on the dangerous people.”

But who exactly are these dangerously angry and armed individuals?

Well, according to Swanson they are “mostly young to middle-aged men who get so angry that they smash and break things, lose their temper and get into physical fights.”

Swanson’s research suggests that there are quite a few people who fit this description, as he said in a recent op-ed, “over 10 percent of the adult population in the U.S. exhibits impulsive angry behavior and has firearms at home. A smaller proportion – 1.6 percent – are angry and carry guns outside the home.”

To quantify those percentages, that means roughly 22 million Americans have anger problems, and 3.7 million of them carry guns in the public square.

It should be noted that Swanson is not talking about the “mentally ill” per se, as those with mental disorders (e.g. Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook school shooter) account for a small percentage of gun-related violence.

As Swanson wrote, “Even if we could cure schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression, about 96 percent of violent acts in our country would still occur.”

So, while attention should be paid to those with mental disorders, even more attention should be paid to these armed and angry Americans. But how does the government prevent them from having access to firearms?

Swanson proposes the following:

Maybe an approach to gun restriction that is based on actual risk would do a better job of keeping guns from our angriest fellow citizens. Evidence-based indicators of risk that could be used include histories of violent behavior – misdemeanor assault convictions, for instance – multiple DUIs, or being the subject of a domestic violence order of protection. Many states’ laws let domestic abusers keep their guns until temporary restraining orders become permanent, even though evidence suggests that this period presents particularly high risk to a potential victim. Perhaps it’s time, too, for states to pass “dangerous persons” gun removal laws, like Connecticut and Indiana already have, or a “gun violence restraining order” law like California recently enacted. Such laws give family members and law enforcement a tool to get guns out of the hands of risky people immediately.


While Swanson seems to focus on “anger” as an identifier for those at risk of committing violent acts with firearms, I believe there are other identifiers that are more accurate at predicting one’s future behavior. Mainly, I think we should be targeting or identifying anyone who has connections to street gangs and anyone who has a history of drug addiction. I think individuals who fall into either one of these categories should be the priority.

Many of these folks do not yet have a criminal history that would prohibit them from owning firearms. However, one could argue that it’s only a matter of time. Obviously, the government cannot go around depriving individuals of a fundamental Constitutional right on a hunch, but at the same time law enforcement has to do a better job of keeping an eye on those who abuse drugs and/or participate in gang activity.

I’d wager top dollar that the majority of the 12,000 gun murders each year involve drug users and gang members or both.

About the author: S.H. Blannelberry is the News Editor of GunsAmerica.

{ 19 comments… add one }
  • David February 17, 2017, 3:16 pm

    Within the last 14 years I’ve gotten involved in the fight against animal rights. This has led me to get to know, on a personal basis, many of our elected leaders on both sides of the isle – on a local and state level. When I began to take part in this fight, I was a registered Democrat. I soon learned that it was the Democrats, by 80 percent, who were supporting the extremist animal rights and anti-hunting legislation. Then I learned the Democrats usually made their decisions based on emotion rather than on facts, while the Republicans based their decisions on facts and on protecting our rights to private property. I also learned that the Democrats were far more likely to exhibit anger over issues than were Republicans – because the Democrats tended to be far more emotional than Republicans! Democrats also tended to base their final vote on the impulse of emotion rather than on fact. (Side story — it eventually led me to re-register as a Republican)
    So – to my question – since this study suggests gun control should target the angry and impulsive Americans – and since we’re seeing so much out of control anger from the left since this presidential election – has there ever been a study to determine how many shootings have been done by people who leaned left as opposed to those who leaned right? Maybe gun control laws should target Democrats?

  • BillMiller September 2, 2016, 5:48 am

    “I’d wager top dollar that the majority of the 12,000 gun murders each year involve drug users and gang members or both.”

    I would take your bet, and I think that I would win. A huge number of homicides fall into the category of “drug-related,” but only a small fraction of those are committed by people under the influence. “Drug-related homicides” are almost entirely lethal disputes within the business of drug production and distribution because they can’t take their disputes to court, not because of any criminogenic properties of the drugs themselves.

  • NumberedFeathers August 2, 2016, 3:15 pm

    Like most people who spend any time on the road, I have witnessed far more angry drivers and resultant “accidents” than angry gun owners. In fact the only personal experience I have with gun violence is when LA gang bangers decided to shoot each other in the street outside my home. One violent criminally-based gun-related event, against countless thousands of angry drivers and dozens of mishaps. I guess since cars aren’t protected by the Constitution there isn’t much interest in vilifying angry drivers by the press or government. BTW, the fatal gang shooting in front of my house didn’t even warrant a 10 second segment on the news. Just another day in LA, where they would more often ‘summarize’ (I called it the ‘body count report’).

  • Ted April 15, 2015, 2:29 am

    Well, two words do it for me…”Duke” and “psychiatrist.” Didn’t need to read any further.

  • Mikey April 14, 2015, 11:28 am

    Use of drugs (illegal or abuse of legal) does preclude you from owning firearms.

  • Ruppert Jenkins April 13, 2015, 4:16 pm

    Hide most of your guns. Never disclose the location to anyone.
    Never turn in your guns. Ever.

    If gun owners would STICK together, and refuse all orders to turn them in, then the court system and LE would be overwhelmed.
    Finally, they would have to back off, due to mass civil disobedience.

  • Carl April 13, 2015, 2:19 pm

    I’ve read the original published paper and find that one of the biggest problems is that Swanson is basically calling for preventing people who “test out” a certain way to be banned from having guns. This violates the basic principle of law in the country that we are all innocent until proven guilty. This is not appropriate.

    His video is presented very smoothly and presents a compelling position that is also not very well supported by his research as published. He presents statistics on what he calls interpersonal violence, and this data is based fatal injuries from crimes, homicides listed in the national WISQARS database (this database is accessible by everyone who wants to query it). These researchers used all homicides by all age groups in quoting the WISQARS data, although their research seems to otherwise based on people ages 18 years or older, which would result in lower numbers using the WISQARS database. These homicides appear to be attributable to felons committing some type of crime, even if just committing murder.

    He then presents a statistical assessment of the population of the U.S., which indicates that 8.7% of the U.S. population have guns at home and have one of several behavioral traits described as impulsive, angry behaviors (and the paper describes those traits). He indicates that 1.5% of the U.S. population has those traits and also carries outside the home. These percentages appear to be based on the NCS-R survey, which included 5,653 interview respondents with data collected during interviews between February 5, 2001 and April 7, 2003. Therefore, there is a likely disconnect in trying to extrapolate the 2001 to 2003 data to 2012 homicide data. Homicide rates have consistently declined in the U.S. between 2001 and 2012; however, it is uncertain if the behavior traits have declined, risen, or stayed the same, or if they are truly representative of the U.S. population on the whole.

    The also did some creative data manipulation because of small datasets.

    A lot of other data is referenced, such as data related to race and economic status, but little is done with that information in the article even though it would be interesting and would likely be related to the investigation at hand. This study also does not provide any reference to whether or not those in the percentages he reference actually committed some crimes. Therefore, I think we have to ask what those percentages really mean. If they are representative of adults who are apt to have some risky aberrant behavior, shouldn’t we be concerned with likely related factors, such as drug use? Shouldn’t we be concerned with things they are all likely to be doing, such as driving car? Are these angry impulsive behaviors related to vehicular homicides?

    There are just so many questions to ask. This study provides a basis to ask more questions, but does not seem to provide a basis for creating policies or laws. As such, Swanson’s suggestions in that area are without merit based on this research.
    There are a few other interesting things in the original published article. The researchers note that many health care professionals do not want to promote institutionalization of severely disturbed mentally ill people because they fear that society will question the marginally ill folks out there. Evidently, such people will promote putting others at risk from the likely identifiable severely disturbed to promote their individual health profession. I recommend everyone read the original article with the intent of critical review. I will warn you that there is a lot of information in that article and it takes both a long time to absorb it and a long time to develop a complete critical review (more than I have time to take to complete this comment).

    I also suggest that everyone consider that one of the primary groups funding this research is Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, as well as several others that have strong gun control and anti-gun agenda. It is difficult for any researcher to remain objective when major funding is provided by a special interest, no matter how good they may be in cooking their books to prevent showing bias.

  • skipNclair April 13, 2015, 12:41 pm

    And maybe we should remove this professor from having any influence on any other humans, especially the young as he is a traitor to God, country, and the republic.

  • Joe April 13, 2015, 8:59 am

    And once they push that pile of pig manure down our collective throats the next step will be to deny gun ownership to any person needing dental work because the pain involved in getting your teeth drilled and filled might drive you into an uncontrolled fury…

  • Jonathon Tuttle April 13, 2015, 8:52 am

    There is an easily identified genetic marker that indicates a much higher propensity for violence. Researchers have know about it for a long time. It’s called the ‘Y’ chromosome.

    • Drew April 13, 2015, 9:47 am

      They are called double Y chromo’s. I learned all about them in the movie Alien 3……….. However, to be serious for a moment. Genetic markers may be the future as it were, but that means that in addition to form 4473 they get to take a blood sample too? I don’t know brother. That seems like a real slippery slope. I don’t want the Gov’t to have my blood on file.

  • David April 13, 2015, 8:43 am

    There are at least two paths for the anti-Second Amendment crowd. One, which we have been able to defeat for the most part, Except of course for the peoples republics of MASS, CONN, NY and NJ. Their contiguous neighbors are no bargain, but at least it’s not as extreme as the “Big Four”.

    The other path is to pick us off, one at a time. It’s not that I disagree with the overall results of this guy. I doubt their are more then a few who don’t realize a prerequisite for those terrorists who wipe out schools, malls, theaters and more. My first thought was “check for domestic violent offenders”. Then I remember one of my Ex’s got a RO, grounds? I owned a gun. I’ve never struck or even shoved a woman. Yet some judge deemed me a dangerous person! Worst I ever did was speeding,LOL. So while this guys thoughts are on the right track you and I KNOW the disarm socialists will find a way to disqualify people who never broke ANY law nor ever was evaluated by an OBJECTIVE mental health practicianer who’s opinion was “He is a nut”. You watch, the left will look for State Attorneys who are anti-gun, MD’s(PhD’s also 🙂 )who will attest that pretty much everyone is nuts, and judges who ignore Constitutional rights (e.g. Barack the First) in order to write new ILLEGAL laws, and rule according to their politics.

    • DanF. April 13, 2015, 10:01 am

      David, you forgot to mention the other great People’s Republic–California. That state, and its dominating cities, is no slouch when it comes to enacting ridiculous and oppressive anti-gun legislation. But when the vast majority of the Legislature comes from the far left wing of the Democratic party and Emperor Moonbeam is in the governor’s house you get what you pay for. And the rest of the state can be ignored.

  • Vernon Rosa April 13, 2015, 8:10 am

    The researchers in this article state:

    “The study, coauthored by us, Ronald Kessler of Harvard, and others, estimates that over 10 percent of the adult population in the U.S. exhibits impulsive angry behavior and has firearms at home. A smaller proportion – 1.6 percent – are angry and carry guns outside the home. ”

    “Estimates” that over 10%… I estimate that over 50% of liberals wet their beds. Is my estimate correct? How in the world would I know? I have not interviewed or investigated all the libs in the US. And the researchers in the quoted study have not interviewed all the gun owners to determine whether their beliefs can be proven.

    A woman was having an affair. Her husband found out about it. He files for divorce and petitions for full custody of the kids. She files a statement that he has threatened her. There is absolutely no proof he did so, but the liberals will classify him as a potentially risky person and confiscate his firearms. It may take him years to recover them. THIS is your idea of making this country safer? Such claptrap makes me angry…oh, wait, no, what I mean is I’m a bit concerned about your hypothesis. Whew! That was a close one.

  • alex gregis April 13, 2015, 7:47 am

    maybe pass laws that kick out of office asshole senators and congressman who keep trying to put stupid laws on the books about an issue they know next to nothing about!!!

  • Ram6 April 13, 2015, 7:40 am

    Wasn’t there a movie with Tom Cruise which depicted a society where people were detained or arrested based on what they MIGHT do? That’s what this study is good for, a movie. It’s the most unrealistic conclusion from mostly supposition we’ve seen to date.

    Another gun grabber comes up with another ridiculous rationale to violate our 2nd Amendment rights. These people will never give up and we mustn’t either.

    • DaveGinOly April 13, 2015, 12:36 pm

      “Minority Report”

  • Martin Bury April 13, 2015, 7:30 am

    Coming from the university that can’t tell a “gang rape” from a hoax….

  • Alan Yates April 13, 2015, 6:37 am

    As in all of their work their stats are unusable as to be worthless. When they include as gun homicides all self defense and righteous police shootings to get their stats and when they use suicides and call them homicides they cannot be trusted to be honest about the issue.
    That is only one of their quirks.

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