August 6, 2019

President Trump on Monday called for mental health care reform in the wake of mass shootings that occurred over the weekend—but some health care groups are pushing back, and instead calling on policymakers to reform the United States' gun laws.

Two mass shootings

On Saturday morning, a gunman entered a Walmart at a shopping center in El Paso armed with an A.K.-47-style rifle and began firing, killing 22 people and injuring 24. Police have one suspect—Patrick Crusius, age 21—in custody.

According to Greg Allen, chief of the El Paso Police Department, officials are exploring potential capital murder chargers for Crusius, who surrendered to police. The FBI is reviewing evidence to determine whether the shooting was a hate crime, a separate federal crime, or an act of domestic terrorism.

Officials also are investigating an anti-immigrant manifesto posted online to determine whether it was posted by Crusius.

Then, early Sunday morning, Connor Betts, age 24, allegedly opened fire with a .223-caliber high-capacity rifle at a popular entertainment district in downtown Dayton, according to Richard Biehl, Dayton police chief. Ten people were killed, including Betts, and at least 37 were injured.

According to Biehl, local police were in the area when they heard gunfire and engaged Betts within about 20 seconds. "The threat was neutralized at approximately 30 seconds of the suspect firing his first shot," Biehl said. Betts was killed by police fire.

Authorities have said there is no evidence so far of the shooting being a bias crime, though Biehl added that authorities "do not have sufficient information" to determine a motive.

Trump calls for mental health care reform

Trump in a televised address on Monday said the United States needs to reform its mental health care laws to address the rise in mass shootings in the country.

Trump said, "We need to reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence, and make sure those people not only get treatment but if necessary, involuntary confinement." He added, "Mental illness pulls the trigger, not the gun."

A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment to clarify what kind of mental health care reform Trump is seeking.

Observers push back on Trump's call for mental health care reform

But several observers on Monday pushed back on Trump's comments, saying there is no link between mental illness and this weekend's mass shootings.

Paul Gionfriddo, CEO of Mental Health America, said, "There is no correlation, no relationship between these incidents and anything mental health-related at all. It's not helpful to conflate mental illness with violence, or with hatred or racism, either in the short run or the long run."

Separately, Rosie Phillips Davis, president of the American Psychological Association, said, "Routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing. Research has shown that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness."

Policymakers instead should look to reform the United States' gun laws, Davis said. "The rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them. One critical factor is access to, and the lethality of, the weapons that are being used in these crimes. Adding racism, intolerance and bigotry to the mix is a recipe for disaster," she said.

Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association (AMA), on Sunday also called on U.S. lawmakers to address gun violence. "Common-sense steps, broadly supported by the American public, must be advanced by policymakers to prevent avoidable deaths and injuries caused by gun violence. We must also address the pathology of hatred that has too often fueled these mass murders and casualties," she said.

AMA in the past has supported a number of proposals aimed at curbing gun violence, including conducting more thorough background checks, launching gun buy-back programs, and funding research on gun violence. Harris said, "We see the victims in our emergency departments and deliver trauma care to the injured, provide psychiatric care to the survivors, and console the families of the deceased. The frequency and scale of these mass shootings demands action" (Luthi, Modern Healthcare, 8/5; Weixel, The Hill, 8/5; Rappleye, Becker's Hospital Review, 8/5; Diamond, "Pulse," Politico, 8/6).

Topics