Tell the Truth about Mental Health and Gun Violence

Rev. Libby Howe, Congregational Support Coordinator for Peace & Justice Ministries

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I have a mental illness. Along with me, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 Americans can say the same thing. Except for the occasional violent thought toward a dangerous driver that puts my and others’ lives at risk, I am not prone to violence. Neither are nearly all other mentally ill people. And yet, with every (near daily) report of a mass shooting in this country, cries go up about the problem of mental illness and the need for mental health resources. Despite the vast research-based evidence1 that confirms access to firearms is the main (not only) factor that impacts the preponderance of gun-related violence, untreated mental illness is consistently lifted up as the cause.

The false connection made between gun violence and mental illness is reflected in recent legislation. In June 2022, the United States Senate passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. On Senator Lisa Murkowski’s website, in the announcement that she voted for the measure, it states the act is “targeted legislation to address gaps in the law that have enabled mass shootings, including the need for additional mental health and school safety resources.” It also clearly states that “The bill does NOT infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens; and it does NOT create universal background checks, mental health checks or mandatory or de-facto waiting periods.” In other words, the bill does nothing to regulate or limit access to firearms. But it does provide a total of over $13 billion to bolster public safety and programs to help stop tragedies before they occur, mostly through substantial investments in mental health initiatives.

There are two connections between gun violence and mental illness that are rarely spoken of in the national conversation. First, according to a 2021 study by the CDC, most gun deaths are not happening in mass shootings or with rifles, commonly referred to as assault weapons. They are mostly suicides (54%) and homicides (43%) committed using handguns. And since most suicides are related to severe depression, it is fair to say that those who struggle with mental illness are more likely to be the victim of gun violence than the perpetrator of any mass shootings.

A May 2022 article by the New York Times titled “What Gun Violence Does to Our Mental Health” reports that in a 2018 survey conducted by the Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association, 75 percent of young people between 15 and 21 said that mass shootings were significant sources of stress for them. Most adults ranging in age from 22 to 72 said the same. People, especially children, who live near the site of a mass shooting or where gun violence is frequent report PTSD symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, elevated anxiety, and fears about safety in general. So, not only are people with mental illness NOT responsible for gun violence against others, we have evidence that it is the other way around!

Instead of addressing the real problems that contribute to gun violence, like access to firearms and high levels of stress caused by economic insecurity, we have decided to blame mental illness. As someone with mental illness and as a person of faith, this is profoundly troubling. Scripture says, “When you tell the truth, justice is done, but lies lead to injustice…A lie has a short life, but truth lives on forever” (Proverbs 12:17,19).

We need people of faith to insist on the truth about what is happening based on sound research. This misguided approach to curbing gun violence also stigmatizes a group of people who already fight unhelpful misconceptions and stigmas. People with mental illness are not responsible for mass shootings. Full stop. To perpetuate this myth is to bear false witness against our neighbors. And finally, it cruelly binds those who would call out this lie for fear that when we name it, resources to treat mental health issues, which ARE VERY MUCH NEEDED, will be withdrawn or denied. People with mental illness should not have to sacrifice the truth or their dignity to get the help they need.

As people who claim to follow Jesus, this is more than just a pet issue to take up when it hits close to home. We claim to follow the Prince of Peace who did not retaliate as he suffered an unjust and violent death. Without arguing for pacifism, the Jesus people should be people who can be counted on to resist and condemn every kind of violence. Jesus has commanded us to care for the wellbeing of our neighbors, not vilify or stigmatize them, especially using misinformation and lies. In this moment, with Resurrection Sunday not so far behind us, we have been given the gift of eternal and abundant Life. So, while death and violence abound, may we be the ones who find ways to speak and act in just, truthful and life affirming ways for all.

1. Anglemeyer, Andrew; Horvath, Tara; Rutherford, George. “The Accessibility of Firearms and Risk for Suicide and Homicide Victimization Among Household Members: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis” in American College of Physicians Annals of Internal Medicine, January, 2014.

The Not-so-Great Unwinding:

What You Need to Know About Medicaid Re-Enrollment

By Rev. Dan Schultz, Community Health Program

During the official COVID emergency, federal policies barred states from dropping Medicaid recipients from the program. Those policies are now coming to an end, or "unwinding," as it's known.

This means that people receiving BadgerCare benefits will have to apply for benefits again. That could affect up to 300,000 Wisconsin residents, at least temporarily. It could also mean a huge spike in unmet need.

At the same time, bills introduced in the state legislature would "tighten the process" for establishing eligibility for Medicaid benefits. The bills would prohibit automatic re-enrollment and add requirements to application process. They would also make it easier to remove recipients for things like missing a deadline or failing to update their address or phone number, and to keep them out of eligibility longer. (Read my colleague Peter Bakken's rather tart appraisal of the bills for more information.)

Here's what to know and what to share with your community.

  • Update your address. BadgerCare recipients often lose eligibility for failing to give the state up-to-date information. Recipients can provide this info by going to or by using the MyACCESS mobile app. If you have moved within the past two years, make sure the state has your current address.
  • Watch. Read. Act. Another common problem is failing to respond to a renewal notice. The state will send letters to BadgerCare recipients before their benefits end. BadgerCare members must respond within 45 days to maintain their eligibility. It's important to keep an eye out for that piece of mail and to act on it promptly.
  • Renewals are coming back—but not yet. The sheer volume makes it impossible to handle all the renewals at once. Instead, the state will assign BadgerCare members renewal dates between June 2023 and May 2024. They can check out what they need to do on DHS' health care renewal page. But—and this is very important—they should not renew until they have been assigned a date. Recipients remain eligible until determined otherwise, and there is always a risk they will be determined otherwise. It's better to wait and take the benefit for as long as they can.
  • Coverage has not ended for anyone yet. Don't put off necessary medical care. Coverage continues for everyone at least through the end of June. Members will have plenty of notice of their renewal date.

Pray for Our Judicatories as They Gather

Spring in Wisconsin means flowers and a reprieve from snow (we hope!), but it also means it's judicatory meeting season! Many of the WCC's member bodies are hosting their annual meetings where they vote on legislation, worship, learn, and spend together as the Church. Will you be in prayer for them as they gather? Our WCC staff will try to be present at as many gatherings as possible and we'd love for you to say "hi" when you see us!

June 2-3 - ELCA Greater Milwaukee Synod in Milwaukee

June 9-11 - ELCA LaCrosse Synod in LaCrosse

June 9-11 - United Church of Christ in Green Lake

June 9-12 - United Methodist Church in Green Bay

Did we miss your judicatory gathering or other big upcoming event? Let us know and we can add it to our list and be praying for you!

WCC Wednesday: The Poor People's Campaign in Wisconsin

Last Wednesday we were joined by Rev. Peder Johanson (you may recognize him from his previous work at the WCC around refugee resettlement) to talk about the Poor People's Campaign in Wisconsin. This national movement is rooted in the work that Martin Luther King Jr was doing at the time of his death, advocating for the rights of poor people.

Led by the stories and experiences of people who are experiencing poverty, the Poor People's campaign is advocating for justice and inviting clergy and churches to join in the movement. You can listen to the conversation here.

Events from the WCC

Guns to Gardens:

Safe Surrender Events

June 3 &10 | 9:00am-noon | Madison

The United States has a gun problem because so many people have been duped into believing guns will make us more safe by those who stand to profit from gun sales. We are joining with churches across the country to dismantle unwanted firearms. We believe as a Church, we can affirm Isaiah’s call to beat our swords into plowshares and end gun violence. Many people are in possession of unwanted firearms and have no trusted place to discard them without turning them back out into the market. Dismantling your unwanted gun is the only way you can be sure your gun will not be used for harm. Two Madison churches are hosting safe surrender events through the Guns to Gardens program.

Bring your unloaded firearm(s) stored in the trunk of your vehicle to:

Sat, June 3, 9:00am – noon First United Methodist Church (203 Wisconsin Ave., Madison)


Sat, June 10, 9:00am – noon Midvale Community Lutheran Church (4329 Tokay Blvd., Madison)

A volunteer will remove weapons for dismantling. Raw materials are sent to RAWtools to be made into tools. Learn more here and please help spread the word.

We cosponsor a variety of events. You can see a list of upcoming events here.

Interested in cosponsoring an event with the WCC? Email us.

News from our Partners

Emergency Gun Violence Summit

May 25 I Milwaukee

We are now experiencing a gun violence emergency across our state and country. It will continue until we all come together and insist on common sense reform.

Forward Latino and 80% Coalition (of which the WCC is a member) are hosting an Emergency Gun Violence Summit to share important information on: School Safety, Domestic Abuse & Gun Violence, Mental Health & Gun Violence, Violence Prevention Strategies, Faith & Firearms, and so much more.

Join us at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee (333 W. Kilbourn Ave, Milwaukee) on May 25th from 9am - 4pm to be a part of the movement to end gun violence. You are invited to learn more and register at

Do you have news to share? Send us a short description with a link to more information, and we will add it to our weekly e-news. Email with ENEWS in the subject line.

Continue the Work of Collaboration Across our State

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