Kiera Butler

Kiera Butler

Senior Editor

A senior editor at Mother Jones, Kiera covers health, food, and the environment. She is the author of the new book Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids—and How Its Lessons Could Change Food and Farming Forever (University of California Press).


Get my RSS |

In the United States, most people diagnosed with mental illness are allowed to buy guns. While state laws vary, federal law prohibits only those who have been committed to a psychiatric hospital or adjudicated as "mental defectives" from owning firearms.

In most states, even people who have committed violent misdemeanors or have had restraining orders issued against them for domestic violence are allowed to own guns.

But researchers at Duke University suspect that the law is ignoring a group of Americans who could make for potentially dangerous gun owners: people with a history of angry, impulsive outbursts. In a study published this month in the peer-reviewed journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law, the Duke team looked at more than 5,500 interviews conducted in a landmark survey of mental illness by Harvard researchers. From the interviews, they extrapolated that 1 in 10 adults in the United States has an anger management problem—and access to firearms.

One caveat: While it makes intuitive sense that angry people and guns would be a volatile combination, it's important to note that there is no data yet on whether people with anger problems are more likely to commit violent crimes. Still, lead author Jeffrey Swanson believes that the finding is worrisome. "Probably the strongest predictor of violence is previous violent behavior," says Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke Medicine.

Swanson points to the recent shootings of three students near the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The alleged shooter, Craig Stephen Hicks, had a history of threatening behavior. "People who knew him said that he was very angry; they were scared of him," says Swanson.

And yet, in most states, even people who have committed violent misdemeanors or have had restraining orders issued against them for domestic violence are allowed to own guns.

Meanwhile, people with the types of severe psychiatric problems that lead to involuntary commitment, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, commit just 4 percent of violent crimes in the United States. Most people with those acute conditions are not prone to violence.

However, Swanson doesn't believe that isolated incidents of anger should prevent people from buying guns—everyone gets angry once in a while. But "the group that we focus on goes far beyond regular anger," he says. "These individuals are off on the extreme." They often get into physical fights and break or smash things when they become upset.

Some states have tried to address the problem with laws that allow police to temporarily seize weapons from people whom a court deems immediately dangerous based on testimony from those who know the individual and his or her behavior. Currently, just three states—California, Connecticut, and Indiana—have versions of these laws.

In most places, a history of violence isn't enough to make authorities think twice about whether an individual should be allowed to own a gun. "The way the law is set up now, it's missing a lot," says Swanson. "The most volatile people are slipping through the cracks."

Do Your State's Hospitals Serve Big Macs?

Would you like fries with your hospital stay? If so, you're in luck: Many hospitals house fast-food restaurants. Some even offer delivery to patient rooms. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) isn't wild about this phenomenon and made this map, which shows the US hospitals with fast-food chains inside them:

Image by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Of the 208 hospitals—most of them public—that PCRM investigated in its report, 43 had fast-food chains inside, mostly McDonald's, Wendy's, and Chick-Fil-A. PCRM staff dietitian Cameron Wells told me that some of the fast-food joints have contracts that require them to give a certain percentage of their profits to their hospitals, "meaning the more unhealthful food the restaurant sells to patients and their families, the richer the hospital gets," she said. 

Six of the fast-food-serving facilities in the report were children's hospitals. One of those, Children's Hospital of Georgia, offers delivery service from McDonald's straight to patients' beds. "Seeing this in a children's hospital—that's the most vulnerable population," Wells says. "Fast food is not going to help children get better."

The world is using more antibiotics than ever before—and showing no signs of stopping. A new analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science predicts that worldwide consumption of the drugs will grow 67 percent by 2030. Over the same period of time, in Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, the authors expect that antibiotic use will double.

The reason for the dramatic increase in antibiotic use, say the authors, mostly has to do with the planet's ever-increasing appetite for meat. Since the 1970s, meat producers have been dosing livestock with regular, low doses of antibiotics. For reasons not entirely understood, this regimen helps animals grow bigger. In the United States, 80 percent of all antibiotics already go to livestock, and the practice is becoming the norm the world over. This map shows the current global antibiotic consumption in livestock (in milligrams per 10 square kilometer pixels):

Map courtesy of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

As the middle class in the developing world grows, demand for meat—and use of the antibiotics to grow that meat cheaply and quickly—is expected to rise as well.

To get a sense of how quickly our global appetite for meat is growing, take a look at China. There, livestock producers are buying record amounts of corn and soy to feed a growing number of animals:

Jaeah Lee

As antibiotic use skyrockets, experts expect that germs will evolve to resist them. That's scary, considering that some of the same drugs we use on livestock are also our best defense against infections in humans. And suberbugs, several recent studies have shown, can and do jump from animals to people. In fact, another recent study predicted that antibiotic resistant infections will kill 10 million people a year by 2050. 

There's also evidence that antibiotics might soon stop working the way that meat producers want them to: A recent analysis concluded that the drugs are no longer making pigs bigger.

The good news: Despite loose federal regulations around antibiotic use on farms, American consumers are beginning to favor meat grown without drugs. And manufacturers are taking notice: Earlier this month, McDonald's pledged to serve only chicken raised without antibiotics, and Costco quickly followed suit.

Mon Jun. 28, 2010 6:30 AM EDT
Tue Jun. 22, 2010 6:00 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 21, 2010 5:30 AM EDT
Fri Jun. 18, 2010 6:00 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 7, 2010 7:00 PM EDT
Mon Jun. 7, 2010 5:30 AM EDT
Thu Jun. 3, 2010 4:28 PM EDT
Tue Jun. 1, 2010 2:47 PM EDT
Thu May. 27, 2010 2:55 PM EDT
Tue May. 25, 2010 2:23 PM EDT
Mon May. 24, 2010 7:00 AM EDT
Tue May. 18, 2010 3:11 PM EDT
Fri May. 14, 2010 7:00 AM EDT
Thu May. 13, 2010 7:00 AM EDT
Mon May. 10, 2010 4:50 PM EDT
Mon May. 10, 2010 7:00 AM EDT
Thu May. 6, 2010 7:00 AM EDT
Mon May. 3, 2010 5:30 AM EDT
Wed Apr. 28, 2010 1:56 PM EDT
Tue Apr. 27, 2010 4:20 PM EDT
Mon Apr. 26, 2010 5:30 AM EDT
Thu Apr. 22, 2010 4:55 PM EDT
Wed Apr. 21, 2010 1:55 PM EDT
Tue Apr. 20, 2010 6:11 PM EDT
Thu Apr. 15, 2010 3:20 PM EDT
Wed Apr. 14, 2010 5:20 PM EDT
Wed Apr. 14, 2010 5:30 AM EDT
Tue Apr. 13, 2010 1:44 PM EDT
Mon Mar. 29, 2010 5:30 AM EDT
Wed Mar. 17, 2010 1:53 PM EDT
Mon Mar. 15, 2010 2:50 PM EDT
Mon Mar. 15, 2010 6:30 AM EDT
Mon Mar. 8, 2010 3:46 PM EST
Mon Mar. 8, 2010 6:30 AM EST
Mon Mar. 1, 2010 6:30 AM EST
Thu Feb. 25, 2010 8:01 AM EST
Mon Feb. 22, 2010 6:30 AM EST
Thu Jan. 1, 2009 4:00 AM EST