Late Sunday night, east coast time, Donald Trump appeared droopy, disengaged, sweaty and occasionally irritated during a joint press conference with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, eventually contradicting his own actions on gun control during a response to a question about the devastating gun massacre in Texas.
First, picture the image of a dignified statesman. Trump was the exact opposite. During a painfully awkward moment of spontaneity, too, Trump insulted Abe by insisting that the American economy will always be stronger than Japan's -- that Japan's economy will always be second. Trump said, “I don’t know if [Japan’s economy is] as good as ours. I think not. Okay? We’re going to try to keep it that way. And you’ll be second.” Abe, stonefaced, wasn't amused.
Currently, China is second. So, not only did Trump insult Japan, he also demoted China. Nicely done, Biff.
Later, Trump was asked about the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Specifically, he was asked about why such horrifying murders continue to occur here, to which Trump replied, “This isn’t a guns situation. This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It’s a very, very sad event.”
A mental health problem at the highest level, he said. So, it's not a stretch to conclude that Trump believes we need legislation to address the goal of preventing Americans with severe mental illnesses from attaining AR-15 rifles and the like. (By the way, the church shooting in Texas is just the latest in a list of dozens of shootings involving the AR-15, literally the best selling firearm in America.)
It turns out, Trump already signed legislation addressing this "highest level" problem. Only, he didn't make it harder for the mentally ill to purchase firearms, he made it considerably easier. Let's review...
After the Sandy Hook massacre, Wayne LaPierre, the fire-and-brimstone chief spokesman from the firearms marketing firm known as the NRA, told supporters that a national database of mentally ill people might’ve prevented the shooting at the elementary school. LaPierre declared, “How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame from a national media machine that rewards them with wall-to-wall attention and a sense of identity that they crave, while provoking others to try to make their mark.” He continued: “A dozen more killers, a hundred more? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?”
In the days following the Navy Yard shooting less than a year later, LaPierre appeared on Meet the Press and screeched, “We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed. We have no national database of these lunatics.”
What LaPierre has repeatedly left unmentioned, however, is that the Gun Control Act of 1968 has long sought to prevent Americans with severe mental illnesses from legally purchasing firearms. Various state laws have attempted to backstop the law -- though it’s been more than challenging to maintain an accurate database, given how the reporting of victims suffering from mental illness is too often sketchy.
Enter Barack Obama. During the lame duck final days of his presidency, Obama authorized a new rule for augmenting the National Instant Criminal Background Check Improvement Amendments Act of 2007. The rule required the Social Security Administration to provide the names of citizens receiving disability payments for mental health issues and who aren’t personally managing their affairs, indicating serious psychological incapacity.
It’s not the answer to the crisis by any means, but it was intended to help compose a more comprehensive and enforceable background check database -- you know, like Wayne LaPierre repeatedly demanded. As the Associated Press reported:
The Obama rule would have prevented an estimated 75,000 people with mental disorders from being able to purchase a firearm. It was crafted as part of Obama's efforts to strengthen the federal background check system in the wake of the 2012 massacre of 20 young students and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
It didn’t take long, however, for the Republican-led Congress to pass federal legislation overturning the Obama rule. Back in February, President Donald Trump signed into law a bill that overturned the Obama rule.
"This is a mental health problem at the highest level."
To repeat: the Obama rule was squarely in keeping with the NRA’s demand for a more robust and functional mental health database. Put another way: Wayne LaPierre wanted the Obama rule -- perhaps not by name, but in spirit. We’re to assume that allowing severely mentally ill people to potentially stockpile an armory of AR15s will somehow make America great again.
The AP continued: “Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, spearheaded the repeal effort, saying the regulation unfairly stigmatizes the disabled and infringes on their constitutional right to bear arms.”
Curiously, however, the NRA didn’t think a heartier mental health database was unconstitutional back in 2013. Then again, fast forward to 2017 and, yes, of course, the NRA flipflopped and supported the repeal of the Obama rule. Why? The most likely explanation is that it was authorized by a black president with a funny name. In other words, it’s constitutional unless Obama and the Democrats support it. Once again, the NRA was Lucy holding the football and Obama was Charlie Brown.
It goes without saying the NRA and the GOP will continue to move the goalposts on gun control. It used to be that reasonable regulations were permissible. Over the last three decades, however, the line in the sand has been incrementally compromised and moved back, loosening regulations and growing the $13.5 billion firearm industry, thanks in part to the NRA and its exploitation of the Second Amendment as a skeleton key clearing the way for more gun sales.
After the repeal of the Obama rule, and following the horrendous shooting in Sutherland Springs, what excuse will the NRA roll out, now that augmenting the database has been abandoned? Who the hell knows. But we can safely say that Trump's followers, as well as rank-and-file gun rights activists, will return to the "mental health" argument, completely overlooking what the Trump Republicans got away with last February, and the epidemic of gun massacres will continue with increased regularity.