The Republican Ohio Senate candidate has flip-flopped on red flag laws, among many other issues.
In a series of tweets on Thursday night, Ohio Republican Senate nominee J.D. Vance dismissed President Joe Biden's call for gun safety legislation and proposed his own solution: locking up people with mental illness. Medical experts say that such an approach is ineffective and not based on evidence.
In the wake of the May 24 mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Biden proposed a series of steps to curb gun violence on Thursday, including stronger background checks, bans on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons, and extreme risk protection orders (commonly known as "red flag" laws) to temporarily disarm those adjudicated to be a threat to themselves or others.
Studies indicate red flag laws can be an effective tool in reducing gun deaths, and about 19 states and the District of Columbia have adopted them — but Congress has not created any uniform national system.
Vance responded to Biden's proposals, without evidence, "None of these would improve the gun violence problem in this country. All of them satisfy the urge to 'do something' without actually doing anything useful, at great cost to the rights of people who follow the law."
He then falsely claimed that red flag laws "allow the government to eliminate peoples' rights without any due process. Say your neighbor calls the police and says you're a bad guy who's about to commit a crime? Or maybe your ex complains about you after an argument? Now the cops can show up and remove your firearms."
Typically, extreme risk protection orders are only granted if a judge agrees a person poses a serious violent threat.
Vance falsely blamed the gun violence problem on people with mental illness, calling them "obviously insane" and for more of them to be involuntarily committed to institutions:
The answer (in part) goes to how we treat mental health and institutionalization. Walk around any big city in America these days and you have a very good chance of meeting an obviously insane person who is a threat to themselves and others. As a society, we ignore them.
But whether they're an isolated teen in Texas or a screaming insane person outside of the New York subway, we need to ignore less and institutionalize more. Is that a strong response? Sure is, which is why we have due process before we commit anyone to a mental institution.
Yet we need to be willing to institutionalize people more, both to clean up our streets and also to help some obviously very sick people. That would be far more effective than any "red flag" law. And we'd respect important rights in the process.
Vance, who used to say he supported the idea of red flag laws, told a group of Republicans in Darke County, Ohio, on March 4, 2018, two and a half weeks after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, "We should make it easier to take those guns out of the hands of people who are about to use them to murder large numbers of people. ... We've got to have the right balance between protecting citizens, protecting our schools, and protecting the kids that go to them, but also protecting our really important and fundamental constitutional liberty."
But as a Senate candidate, he has flip-flopped on this and many other issues. Last June, he called red flag laws "a giant distraction."
Vance is not the only Republican to propose mass institutionalization of people with mental illness as a response to gun violence.
In August 2019, then-President Donald Trump — who has endorsed Vance — abandoned his earlier calls for gun safety legislation and instead said that "the concept of mental institution has to be looked at."
Medical experts panned the idea, noting that only 4% of gun violence involves people with severe mental illness. Dr. Marvin Swartz, a Duke University professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, told "PBS News Hour," "Why you would connect [gun violence] to a decline in psychiatric beds ... I think makes no sense."
In a Psychology Today opinion piece, mental health attorney Carolyn Reinach Wolf labeled Trump's approach "misguided, misinformed, and a huge disservice to the 1 in 5 adults in this country who experience severe mental illness each year."
There is no evidence that people with mental illness are more likely to commit gun violence than those without it. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population."
While Republicans often say there's a link between gun violence and mental illness — especially in the aftermath of mass shootings as they try to change the subject from the proliferation of firearms — the claim is demonstrably false and stigmatizes millions of Americans with mental illness.
Data from other countries also disproves any connection. "It is critical to understand that mental illness is not the cause of gun violence. The United States has similar rates of mental illness to other countries, but has much higher rates of gun violence," the Education Fund to Stop Gun Violence notes in its website's "Quick Facts about Mental Illness and Gun Violence" fact sheet.
Vance will face Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in November in the election to replace retiring Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman.
While Vance now vows, "I will fight the gun grabbers, whether they're federal bureaucrats enacting regulations or multinational companies punishing people for exercising their rights," Ryan supports red flag laws and other gun safety measures.
"In the wake of the 2019 Oregon District shooting in Dayton," Ryan's campaign website notes, "Tim led a caravan of gun safety advocates to Mitch McConnell's hometown to demand the Senate take up gun safety reform legislation, including commonsense proposals to expand background checks and keep guns out of the hands of terrorists and dangerous criminals."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.