President Donald Trump on Thursday advocated the return of more mental health institutions to combat gun violence, while also throwing his support behind background checks for gun purchases.
Speaking with reporters in New Jersey before heading to a campaign rally in New Hampshire, Trump said that mental health was an under-considered factor in gun violence and that his administration would examine it “at a level that hasn’t been done before.”
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“These people are mentally ill,” Trump said of mass shooters, “and nobody talks about that.”
Mental illness is a frequent talking point among Republican lawmakers when dealing with gun violence, to the consternation of their Democratic counterparts, who argue that the United States’ unique, widespread access to guns is to blame. Critics of the idea that mental illness leads to gun violence also argue that it stigmatizes mental illness and reinforces the unproven idea that mental health correlates with violence.
Trump argued that institutions for people with mental illness — whom “we can’t let … be on the streets” — were necessary to curb gun violence.
“We have to start building institutions again because, you know, if you look at the ’60s and ’70s, so many of these institutions were closed, and the people were just allowed to go onto the streets,” Trump said on Thursday. “That was a terrible thing for our country.”
Several state mental health hospitals were closed in the second half of the 20th century in favor of smaller family- and community-centered care alternatives. The trend has been controversial, with critics saying it left many without access to adequate care.
Trump’s comments come less than two weeks after two separate shootings rocked the nation only hours apart in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. The suspect in El Paso had posted a manifesto shortly before the rampage citing racist ideas against immigrants and Latino Americans.
Another shooting in Philadelphia wounded six police officers on Wednesday after action on a narcotics warrant turned violent.
Trump called the shooter in Philadelphia “insane” and someone who should never have had access to guns, using him as justification for background checks.
“I support strong, meaningful background checks where people that should not have guns, people that are insane, people that are mentally ill, people that are bad, bad people, like this guy in Philadelphia who has been arrested numerous times — he’s a bad guy — where people like that would not have guns,” Trump said.