WASHINGTON (AFP) - Around 9 per cent of American adults who have a record of impulsive and angry behaviour have access to guns, says a study out Wednesday.
These researchers also reported that 1.5 per cent of adults acknowledge feeling impulsive anger and carrying guns outside their home.
These people are usually young or middle aged men who sometimes lose their temper, break things or get into fights, said the study, co-authored by psychiatrists at Duke, Harvard and Columbia universities.
The study was published in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law.
"As we try to balance constitutional rights and public safety regarding people with mental illness, the traditional legal approach has been to prohibit firearms from involuntarily-committed psychiatric patients," said Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Duke University in North Carolina and lead author of the study.
"But now we have more evidence that current laws don't necessarily keep firearms out of the hands of a lot of potentially dangerous individuals," he wrote.
The researchers looked at data from 5,563 face-to-face interviews conducted in the National Comorbidity Study Replication, or NCS-R. This is a nationally representative survey of mental disorders in America that was led by Harvard University in the early 2000s.
The study concluded there was little overlap between participants with serious mental illnesses and those with a history of impulsive, angry behaviour and access to firearms.
The researchers found that anger-prone people with guns were at higher risk for a range of fairly common psychiatric conditions such as personality disorders, alcohol abuse, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. But only a very small fraction suffered from acute symptoms of major disorders such as schizophrenia.
"Very few people in this concerning group suffer from the kinds of disorders that often lead to involuntary commitment and which would legally prohibit them from buying a gun," said Ronald Kessler, a professor of health care policy at Harvard and principal investigator of the NCS-R survey.
He and other co-authors argued that a more effective way to prevent gun violence would be to examine a prospective gun buyer's record of misdemeanor convictions, including violent offences and multiple convictions for impaired driving, rather than screening based on mental health treatment history.
In 2012, a total of 11,622 people were killed by firearms in the United States, according to federal statistics.