After the two shootings this weekend, “mental health pulls the trigger, not the gun,” says President Trump.
This morning, President Trump gave a statement on this weekend’s mass shooting. The first, Saturday’s shooting El Paso which left at least 20 people dead. The second, in Dayton, Ohio happened early Sunday morning and left nine people dead. Trump, mistakenly, referenced Toledo instead of Dayton several times throughout his speech.
The shooter in the El Paso shooting is suspected of posting a racist manifesto on 8chan. For this reason, this shooting has been ruled “domestic terror” by federal authorities, who are considering federal charges against the suspect. Trump, in his remarks, condemned the “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” which appear to have motivated the attack.
Internet and youth radicalization
The President went on to address what he sees as the causes of the attack. The internet, the president said, plays a role in radicalizing young minds. He called for the government to work with social media companies to improve early detection of what he called “red flags.” He went on to condemn “grisly,” violent video games, which, he went on, also play a role in this process of radicalization.
The President’s criticism was, at heart, a cultural one. The culture, he stated, must change to stop “glorifying violence.” This cultural change is, he said, driven by individuals: “every person can choose,” can refuse to embrace violence, to build a culture of life.
Gun violence, according to the President, is the result of mental illness. “Mental Illness pulls the trigger, not the gun.” He called for bipartisan action to strengthen mental health laws, and to ensure that mass shooters receive the death penalty.
Mental illness pulls the trigger but not the gun. Social media and video games pull the trigger but not the gun. The shooter, the internet, the healthcare system, the video game industry, American culture can all be blamed for mass shooting and, moreover, can all be disarmed with legislation; it’s reasonable, in the President’s eyes, to take away video games because they cause shootings, to close our borders because “criminals” are coming over, to surveil the population in order to detect the mental health issues that cause shootings: to take away privacy. It’s okay to take away anything to stop a shooting except the thing that shoots.
Trump mentioned his support for legislation which would prevent those suspected of mental health issues from purchasing firearms, so-called “red flag” laws. He also drew attention to his support of the ban on Bump stocks. He did not use the word Gun control and did not mention further measures to restrict gun access. Trump has also undone Obama-era regulations that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase firearms.
“In the two decades since Columbine, our Nation has watched with rising horror and dread as one mass shooting has followed another, one after another, decade after decade.” The President said this after his remarks on the internet and before his call for bipartisan support. Given the context, it seemed as if the President was asserting that the internet, since Columbine, has been the cause of the rise of mass shootings. The president called this rise, a “contagion.”
Mass shootings in the United States do present a public health crisis. The response to mass shootings, however, does not resemble a public health intervention. When a crop of lettuce last year was found to contain E. Coli, you remember, lettuce stopped being sold. The same has not been true of the vector of spread for mass shootings.
American Presidents have adopted all sorts of manners when addressing mass shootings. Obama was moved to tears when discussing Newtown. This was seen as appropriate: presidential effect after a shooting often makes the news. Regardless of the content of his remarks, President Trump’s manner today was appropriate. He delivered his speech—this President who has spoken so much of his high-energy—in the somnambulant tone of an old, tenured lecturer. He sounded exhausted, and this was appropriate.
In decades after this, the era we are living in will be, most likely, of anthropological interest. America in the early 21st century has become uniquely acclimatized to senseless violence. Mass shootings no longer shock. When you first found out about Aurora or Newtown, you were smacked with surprise. You remember. Sometime after that though, maybe after Parkland or Tree of Life but realistically long before any of the shootings I’ve named, you remember, too, when that smack turned into a thud. This thud, the dull sadness, and resignation that, except for those closest to the violence, never reaches into grief is an emotion we have manufactured, today in the US, that hasn’t existed before or elsewhere.
Trump’s remarks today suggest no possibility of real policy to change the circumstances that have given rise to the thud, and mass shootings have lost their ability to inspire action.