Comforting Words, But No Action
Terry H. Schwadron
Feb. 16, 2018
President Trump went on national television yesterday to offer anodyne, comforting words for victims of the fatal Florida high school shooting, insisting that school safety would be a top priority for the government. Trump focused his remarks on mental health issues, not guns, not even on semi-automated assault weapons.
In pinning the shooting on a mentally unstable individual, Trump missed a report circulating yesterday that the shooter actually had attended training at a Florida white supremacist camp, though the Broward County sheriff said they were confirming confirm it. A group called the Republic of Florida said that the young shooter had attended a training camp near Tallahassee. Its leader, Jordan Jereb, said his group wants Florida to become its own white ethno-state, though there had been no suggestion of a racial explanation for the school shootings.
As with his occasional remarks on other social problems, Trump’s words were hazy, filled more with air than anything specific, and so obvious that they seemed per forma, tinny and not particularly heartfelt, either personally or politically. These remarks follow a pattern that we saw in Charlottesville, where Trump had trouble calling out Nazis, or even this week’s weak denunciation of domestic violence, almost as a forced after-thought.
An angry president would point out the obvious problem in a country that has more guns than people; a safety-oriented president would demand a full-scale assault on the problems at hand; an analytical president would note that while America may have no more mental health issues than other countries, but we have tons more mass shootings than do other nations.
One can only imagine what the president’s response would have been had the suspect been an undocumented immigrant or someone who had family ties to a majority Muslim nation.
So, while the president was not specific about how to respond, perhaps we need to remember what Trump seems to have forgotten.
· Mental health treatment is part of services enabled by health care insurance, which Trump has vigorously sought to undercut nationwide. All the alternative plans to Obamacare chucked mental health services to the side to offer lower-cost coverage to individuals. For that matter, his new budget proposals treat health badly, from cutting funds for the Centers for Disease Control, to continued attacks on remaining elements of Obamacare.
· Last February, a month after being inaugurated, Trump signed legislation revoking an Obama-era regulation that was designed to make it harder for mentally ill people to purchase guns. The regulation required the Social Security Administration to share information with the national gun background check database about certain people with mental illnesses. The National Rifle Association and civil-liberties groups opposed the measure, citing privacy concerns.
· The notion that some previous touch with mental health systems is all that is needed for confinement of an individual by law enforcement seems out of touch with HIPPA and other medical privacy rules. Acting to confine individuals based on mental health referrals requires much more than having bad thoughts on social media. Medical personnel can refer actual threats and crimes to law enforcement.
· Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis) indicated yesterday he would oppose any new gun control laws in response to the Florida shooting. “There’s more questions than answers at this stage,” he said in an interview. “I don’t think that means you then roll the conversation into taking away citizens’ rights — taking away a law-abiding citizen’s rights. Obviously, this conversation typically goes there.”
· The House still plans a vote on a bill making it much easier to buy gun silencers. it is to muffle the sound of their shooting. The Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act would also ease purchase of armor-piercing bullets and discourage police officers in states with serious gun safety regulations from questioning people about whether they’re carrying a weapon.
· In an intelligence bulletin made public last May, entitled “White Supremacist Extremism Poses Persistent Threat of Lethal Violence,” the FBI warned about continued violence from lone actors and “small cells within the white surpremacist movement. The FBI reported that white supremacists “were responsible for 49 homicides in 26 attacks from 2000 to 2016 . . . more than any other domestic extremist movement.”
These are not the actions of a government serious at halting mass shootings like that in Las Vegas, at Newton or now in Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Indeed, students at a vigil at the school yesterday were calling out Trump over his empty words.
The case for increased gun control is beyond question, whether in baby steps, like effective checking before allowing sales of guns, or in some steps more radical in the current political environment, like banning semi-automated assault rifles once again. That this is the 20th school shooting this year, that there were armed security personnel on campus, that this 19-year-old suspect apparently just walked into a retail store in Florida and bought an assault rifle are just details.
For information on the possibilities for gun control, you might try Everytown for Gun Safety.
It is intolerable that gun violence is what typifies America; it is intolerable that schools and concert audiences and peaceful gatherings are mere outlets for individuals who need to act out lethally.
There is also absolutely no hope that Congress or this president, virtually run on these issues by the NRA and its adherents, will act on guns. Hey, this president did not even mention guns yesterday.
We are Making American Guns great, not Americans.