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Trump blames mental illness for gun violence – the reason is guns

Following two deadly mass shootings in less than 24 hours, the president said social media and mental health for were the reason for hate in America

In times of tragedy, countries look to their leaders for guidance, support, and motivational speeches that promise things will get better from here. But in the United States, words no longer suffice as the number of mass shootings in 2019 overtakes days in the land of the free.

This weekend saw 31 people in the US shot dead in less than 24 hours in two separate massacres, thousands of miles apart. As of today (August 6), statistics show there have been 252 mass shootings this year alone (20 of which defined as deadly by the FBI), with over 33,000 incidents in total and 8,837 deaths. 

As is protocol with these depressingly common assassinations, the president is required to make a speech, and unfortunately for the US, their president is Donald Trump. Seemingly forgetting his racist, misogynistic, and homophobic rhetoric, Trump told reporters “hate has no place in our country” before declaring mass shootings to be “a mental illness problem”.

Addressing the nation at the White House yesterday, Trump elaborated: “In one voice our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy.” As someone with a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to his racism, it’s rich for the president to chastise these heinous attitudes, though unsurprising he would skirt around the fact that both shooters were white men, one of whom posted an anti-immigrant manifesto online before his attack.

Trump, who tweets several times a day to 62.8 million people, also went on to denounce the internet and social media, stating: “We must recognise the internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalise disturbed minds and perform demented acts… The perils of the internet and social media cannot be ignored.” 

He’s right that the dangers of the internet mustn’t be ignored, but he’s looking in the wrong place. Most Americans agree that racism has increased under Trump’s leadership, in no small part because of his non-stop Twitter tirades – the “online radicalisation” he referenced in his speech reflects most brashly in his own digital braindumps. Trump even held a social media summit in July, didn’t invite anyone from social media companies and complained that tech CEOs were censoring right wingers.

Despite a 2016 study proving that mass shootings by people with mental illnesses account for less than one per cent of yearly gun-related homicides, politicians continue to plow on with this knee-jerk reaction, much to the detriment of those genuinely suffering.

With mental health issues increasingly in the public eye, legitimate attempts at removing stigma have too often been replaced by scapegoating and gaslighting. Blaming mental health for mass shootings enables leaders – and, more importantly, gun rights advocacy groups like the NRA – to present the attacker as an ‘insane’ lone wolf whose actions don’t mirror that of wider society. It’s less scary to think someone would commit such crimes because they are of unsound mind, rather than as a result of the cruel policies and violent hyperbole (see: any tweets by Trump) encouraged by those in power.

“Politicians continue to plow on with this knee-jerk reaction, much to the detriment of those genuinely suffering”

Mental health services are in crisis in both the US and the UK, with less than half of those suffering in America actually receiving any kind of support. Despite his faux concern, Trump has repeatedly tried to roll back laws like the Affordable Care Act that increase access to services. By conflating mental health issues with mass violence – when sufferers are actually more likely to harm themselves than others – Trump is again alienating those who need help, potentially discouraging them from seeking treatment.

This continual connection between male violence and mental health not only takes the blame away from the perpetrators, but thrusts it onto the victims who are questioned about why they didn’t reach out and help the man suffering in silence. Women are frequently blamed if their partners commit suicide, as well as for leading on men who eventually take their rejection out through murder, while school children are reproached for not befriending the boy who goes on to kill 17 of their classmates.

It’s blindingly obvious that stubborn gun laws and a racist government are the catalysts behind most mass shootings, which makes Trump’s declaration that “mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun” even more gross and negligent. There is a worldwide issue with mental illness, and hatred springs forth globally – we’ve just ‘elected’ Boris Johnson, FFS – but there have been significantly more mass shootings in America than anywhere else in the world, and Trump can’t deny the role of lax gun laws in that statistic.

Indicting white supremacy with mental health issues gives perpatrates an excuse and platform for their behaviour, and leaves innocent people as sitting ducks. White supremacists know exactly what they’re doing, and seeing the president of the United States paint them as victims will only serve to further a dark, deadly mission.