On Monday, Trump demonized people with mental illness rather than acknowledge that guns are the problem.
In his absolute refusal to blame guns for the horrific massacres that roiled America over the weekend, Trump returned to one of his perennial scapegoats: people who have a mental illness. He's proposing to lock them up against their will, a scant two years after he overturned legislation making it harder for them to get guns.
In his highly scripted speech on Monday, Trump called for "reform[ing] our mental health laws to better identify disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence." He went on, ominously, to declare that we should "make sure those people, not only get treatment but when necessary, involuntary confinement.”
First, there's the fact that there's no particular evidence either the El Paso or the Dayton shooters were mentally ill and that such a drastic step would have stopped them. The El Paso shooter is a white supremacist whose hateful rhetoric echoed that of Trump's. The Dayton, Ohio, shooter was deeply misogynist and kept a "rape list" and a "kill list."
Neither of these is a mental illness. Rather, they are hate-fueled ideologies. But Trump doesn't want to acknowledge that. Instead, he's proposing to involuntarily commit people deemed "disturbed."
Involuntary commitment is a drastic step, using a civil process to confine people with a mental illness against their will. Notably, states have the right to set their own standards about when someone should be committed, so there are currently 50 different laws, and there is no federal law that governs civil commitment.
Though this appears to be the first time Trump has proposed involuntary commitment, this isn't the first time he responded to a mass shooting by asserting it could be prevented if we hospitalized more people. In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, he refused any call for gun reform and instead called for an increase in mental institutions.
Trump's zeal for locking people up stands in stark contrast to his actions two years ago, when he eagerly rolled back an Obama regulation that would have certain people with mental illnesses on the national firearms background check database.
This is likely because that regulation was targeted at gun possession: Certain people would be restricted from acquiring guns. Trump's involuntary commitment proposal doesn't tackle the gun side of the equation. Instead, it declares the best way to approach the situation is to drastically curtail the physical freedom of certain people.
Notably, his call for locking up "disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence" isn't tied to guns at all. In other words, under this standard, people could be involuntarily committed regardless of whether they have tried to purchase a firearm. It's a far more draconian measure that demonizes people that have mental illness while entirely sidestepping the issue of guns.
Aside from a desire to lock people up, this administration has displayed no real care for individuals struggling with mental illness. The administration backs policies that strip Medicaid funds from people with mental health conditions if they can't meet certain work requirements — depriving them of the coverage they need to treat mental health issues. Trump also proposed raising rents on millions of people that receive federal rent assistance unless they meet work requirements. That could destabilize housing for people with mental health issues.
Of course, Trump also wants to destroy the Affordable Care Act, a move that would severely undercut the provision of mental health services. The ACA requires mental health parity — that all plans offered through exchanges cover mental health services. The act also required rehabilitative services that could help support individuals struggling with "behavioral health challenges." Trump would happily see those requirements overturned, only to replace Obamacare with unregulated plans with ill-defined coverage requirements.
He's never going to do anything about guns.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.