President Donald Trump appears to think the best response to the problem of gun violence in the U.S. is to focus on mental illness ― specifically, to build more mental institutions.
Before Trump’s reelection campaign rally in New Hampshire on Thursday, the president was asked by a reporter about what kind of executive actions he was prepared to take on gun violence.
“We’re looking at the whole gun situation. I do want people to remember the words ‘mental illness.’ These people are mentally ill. And nobody talks about that,” Trump responded.
“I think we have to start building institutions again,” he added, saying that mental institutions were closed in the 1960s and 1970s and “the people were just allowed to just go onto the streets ― that was a terrible thing for our country.”
“We have to open up institutions ― we can’t let these people be on the streets,” he added.
The suspected shooter in the El Paso massacre is believed to have posted a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto about his motivations, railing against a “Hispanic invasion” of Texas in an echo of the president’s racist rhetoric.
Research shows that most mass killers don’t have severe mental health problems. Experts have also long repeated that most people with mental health issues are not violent but are actually more likely to be victims of violence.
HuffPost reached out to the White House to clarify but did not immediately receive a response.
In his first speech after the Texas and Ohio shootings, Trump said, “Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger ― not the gun.”
Since the shootings this month, Democratic lawmakers and ordinary people have been renewing their calls for legislative action to address gun violence. Gun reform advocates have been repeating their calls for expanding background checks for gun sales.
Trump has said he is pushing for stronger background checks, but he also stated he’s been discussing the issue with the National Rifle Association, which has long lobbied against restrictions on gun purchases. It is unclear how hard Trump is pushing Republicans to support legislation expanding background checks or if he’s willing to take executive action.
Fewer than 5% of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the U.S. from 2001 to 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts have also balked at the idea of mental health treatment ― let alone institutionalization ― as a solution to gun violence.
“You can’t force people into treatment; you can’t necessarily treat them successfully; and you certainly can’t lock them up forever,” Prudence Gourguechon, a former president of the American Psychoanalytic Association, told HuffPost on the topic of gun violence last year.