Press "Enter" to skip to content

Mental health versus gun control: the perpetual debate

“We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries. But this isn’t a guns situation. I mean, we could go into it, but it’s a little bit soon to go into it. But fortunately, somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise it would have been — as bad as it was — it would have been much worse. But this is a mental health problem at the highest level.”

This is a quote from President Donald Trump at the recent press conference during his trip to Japan. Let’s unpack it a little bit.

The quote is addressing the mental state of the individual who committed a mass shooting at a rural church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where he brutally murdered 26 individuals with a military-style assault rifle, and was later killed. The shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, had served in the United States Air Force but was court-martialed in 2012 due to charges of domestic abuse.

Immediately, Trump is being hypocritical. Just weeks into his presidency, Trump quietly signed a bill rolling back an Obama-era regulation that made it harder for those with mental illnesses to get guns. This regulation placed those who were receiving social security checks for aid with mental illness on the list of those deemed unfit to purchase a gun on the national background check database. If Trump is concerned with the mental health side of the debate, he should not have rolled back that regulation.  

The second line indicates that it is “too soon” to get into whether or not this is a gun issue. It is not too soon — it is already too late. According to CNN, there have already been 307 mass shootings in 2017. Does this still seem too soon? It should not take more shootings, violence and deaths to realize that right now is the time that we should be “getting into” gun issues.

Trump addressed the fact that a neighbor of the church reportedly shot back at Kelley, and hit him, before Kelley got in his vehicle and attempted to drive away. He indicates in his speech that without this other gun, there may have been more violence. While this is true, stricter gun laws may not have prevented the neighbor from owning a gun, and he might have been able to justly use his rifle to return fire at the attacker, as he did. However, stricter gun laws would have prevented the killer from ever obtaining a gun in the first place because he was mentally ill, and was charged with assaulting his own wife and child.

Trump decided to defend the gun in the situation. Instead of focusing on why this man was allowed access to a gun, he shifted the narrative onto mental health. The president has an incredible power to point the focus of the nation onto a specific issue with a single tweet or, in this case, press release. With this release, suddenly headlines are flooded with the question: is mental health the actual problem?

Shifting the narrative from a gun control issue to a mental illness issue promotes the stigma that those who suffer from mental illness are violent. While both political parties tend to agree that those with mental illness should not be allowed to gain access to guns, it is often used as a way to shift the focus off gun control. The United States Department of Health and Human Services states that most people with mental illness are no more likely than any American to be violent. Yet the negative attitude surrounding the mental illness community can prevent legislation from passing that would enforce stricter gun control laws to prevent this too-often-occurring violence.

Get the Maine Campus' weekly highlights right to your inbox!
Email address
First Name
Last Name
Secure and Spam free...