mental health

Gun Violence Isn’t Just a Mental Health Issue

President Trump is notoriously known for using gun violence to draw attention away from the lack of gun control in America.
April 5, 2018
9 mins read

Three months into 2018 and the number of mass shootings rivals the number of days since New Year’s. Less than 100 days have passed, and there have already been 52 shootings recorded in the gun-violence archive, including the Parkland shooting.

The Parkland shooting led to the March for Our Lives and sparked a fire within the citizens of America, leading to a demand for more gun control. But President Trump has another idea.

Instead of implementing new firearms restrictions, Trump has one go-to: blaming gun violence on mental health. Trump uses the topic of mental health to distract from the lack of gun control in America, but doing so results in hurting more people than helping them.

On Feb. 14, 2018, the day of the Parkland shooting, Trump took to his favorite social media to make a statement about the incident. After briefly tweeting his prayers and condolences, he tweeted again the next day, saying, “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed.” Instead of calling for gun reform, he immediately began to blame mental health.

This is not the first time he has done this. After the Las Vegas shooting in November 2017, Trump spoke about the shooter and called him a “sick, demented man.” At the time, there was no evidence linking the shooter to any past history of mental illness.

Trump has a history of choosing words, or having his words chosen for him, very carefully. The president uses specific vocabulary to manipulate American citizens at times of sorrow. For example, after the Las Vegas shooting in November, Trump said, “The wires were crossed pretty badly in his brain. Extremely badly in his brain. And it’s a very sad event.”

Only days later, when the streets of New York were attacked by a rental truck being driven into a bike lane, Trump was quick to make a statement, calling the attacker an “animal” and a “terrorist.”

When it comes down to it, these are both attacks that were planned and executed in order to sew terror in America, ultimately defining both attackers as terrorists. The difference is their choice of weapon and the color of their skin.

Ultimately, these are both terrorist attacks, but one is being called “sad” and a mental health issue, while the other is immediately labeled as an attack on America.

Trump blames mass shootings on mental health because he constantly grasps for straws that completely avoid any sort of increase in gun control. At some point during his presidency, he realized that blaming mental health would, at least temporarily, absolve the firearms community of culpability for mass shootings, and he has clung tightly to the excuse ever since.

Even though he continues to blame mental health, however, he has made no effort to provide more easily attainable help for the mentally ill. In fact, in February of last year, he revoked an Obama-era bill that required increased gun checks for people with mental illness. For obvious reasons, Trump omits this information from his many short statements following the too-often shootings.

Trump revoked an Obama-era bill that required increased background checks for mentally ill individuals (Image via BBC)

Blaming mass shootings entirely on mental health is unfair. For one thing, scapegoating the mentally ill creates a stigma surrounding mental illness, one that encourages the idea that the mentally unwell are violent, which is, in fact, not true.

In actuality, research has shown that most psychiatric disorders are not linked to violence, and only 3 – 5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to mental health. It is also true that one in five Americans are considered to have a mental illness.

By blaming gun violence on mental health in such a harsh way, it discourages people from seeking help, as they don’t want to be associated with this stereotype. The resulting stigma helps no one, and instead only results in hurting the 20 percent of Americans who do suffer from mental-health problems.

On top of this, if gun violence is a mental-health issue, then why aren’t there more female shooters? Women have been found to be 40 percent more likely than men to develop mental illness, but in the last four decades, only two (now three, counting the YouTube shooting on April 3) mass shootings were committed by females, compared to 88 by males.

But of course, gun violence is obviously just a mental health issue.

Mental health in America is an issue. Especially in secondary schools and colleges, inadequate mental-health resources leave students at risk, leading to more and more mental-health problems going untreated.

By associating mental health with gun control, demagogues like Trump only further impair those already suffering. Support for mental health does need to increase — not because of mass shootings, though, but because many Americans need that help.

This is where Trump’s vocabulary catches him yet again. Mental health is an incredibly broad term, encompassing many different types of disorders and problems. Given the variety of disorders housed under the term mental health, blaming such a broad-spectrum illness proves not only inaccurate but counter-productive.

Yes, America needs to help the millions of people struggling with mental health, but not as some excuse.

Trump uses mental health as an excuse to take the focus off of gun control. By blaming it on mental health, Trump gives himself the opportunity to vaguely say that “something needs to change” and offer help.

But then behind the scenes, he repeals the laws set in place that make it more difficult for people with mental health problems to gain access to guns in the first place and makes no effort to pass new ones, openly being against an increase in background checks for gun sales.

Trump is not wrong about mental health having a hand in gun violence, or that something needs to be done. But placing the idea into people’s heads that this is exclusively a mental health problem is just one big game of hide-and-seek. Trump has chosen a hiding place that is arguably good enough to hide him for a short period of time, but at some point, he is going to be found, and the game will be over.

It’s 2018: the game has gone on too long, and everyone is sick of playing. Unfortunately, it is no longer a game; it is now a matter of life and death, and yet, Trump’s still hiding.

Rebecca Crosby, American University

Writer Profile

Rebecca Crosby

American University


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