HA Goodman, Donald Trump, And Why Mental Health Can’t Predict Shooters

Having researched the cesspool of the far left for almost two years now, there’s few among its ranks more repugnant than HA Goodman. Formerly a contributor at Salon and The Huffington Post, Goodman wrote hundreds of misleading pieces claiming that Hillary Clinton would be indicted for her emails and Bernie Sanders would still get the nomination, even after it was impossible for him to do so. Since then, he has devolved from a “progressive” into a hard-line right winger, even though he insists he’s neither – but would anyone who once considered themselves “progressive” tweet something like this?

I take some credit in Goodman’s decision to shed the progressive label, because he only dissociated himself of it after I wrote this article last October accusing him of appropriating right-wing talking points on gun control after the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Although he has repeatedly blasted both myself and the Banter as “nobodies” he still finds us important enough to merit 20-minute YouTube response videos whenever we write about him, and even then he can’t get his facts right (he believes that Bob Cesca runs the site and not Ben Cohen). I won’t be surprised if he drops another video about us after this article is published, because in the wake of yesterday’s shooting in Florida, Goodman now shares the same talking points as Donald Trump, both believing that gun violence is a mental health issue. 

In his video on the subject, Goodman argues that passing safer gun laws will not stop shooters like Nikolas Cruz from causing violence, because mental health is at the root of whatever motivated him:

“You need to find out why these things are taking place in a human being’s mind. What is it that snaps?…There are people in China who go into kindergartens with knives…stabbing children…You can enact any law you like and a crazy person will circumvent that law and trying to wreak havoc…It doesn’t matter what you do to ban guns or high-capacity magazines or anything like that. Insane people and criminals will find a way to circumvent it…We need to find out why people snap.”

A few hours after dropping that video, Trump tweeted this:

As with Goodman, Trump’s desire to classify gun control through the lens of mental health is nothing new. Following the shooting in Texas last November that left 26 dead, he said, “Mental health is your problem here…This isn’t a guns situation…This is a mental health problem at the highest level,” conveniently omitting that he had revoked an Obama order blocking the mentally ill from obtaining firearms in his second month in office. I don’t know if Trump ingests Goodman’s videos the way he does Big Macs and Fox and Friends, but their agreement suggests that they both either don’t know, or ignore, the fact that mental health is an unreliable way to predict who will become a mass shooter.

Jonathan M. Metzl, co-author of the book Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms, responded to Trump’s November remarks in a strongly worded article for Politico, arguing that while many mass shooters have psychiatric histories that should prevent them from accessing guns, psychiatrists do not attribute mental illness as the cause of their crimes. He blames Republicans and Democrats equally for pushing this talking point, and for once, both sides deserve it – Andrew Cuomo’s bill that forced mental health experts to report “dangerous patients” to state officials to prevent gun violence led to a deluge of more than 34,000 names, many of whom shouldn’t have been on there. Metzl and others in his field believe that extra-clinical factors like drug use and domestic violence are better predictors of mass shooters than “mental health.” 

Nikolas Cruz had been in and out of mental health facilities before he committed his crime, but there were other signs of his propensity for violence. He used to break things in school, like toilets and windows. He brought bullets and knives to campus and was not allowed to carry a backpack. He’d posted photos on Instagram of animals he had killed. He is even suspected to have written “I am going to be a professional school shooter” in a YouTube comment last September that caught the attention of the FBI. While Cruz is clearly mentally disturbed, his predilection for violence, as well his blatantly honest comment (presuming it came from him) should have been more of a tip-off that he’d perform actions like this more than the state of his mental health. But that doesn’t matter to Trump or Goodman, who would rather distract us from the issue at hand with a red herring that will do nothing to solve the disease of gun violence that has engulfed our nation. 

And that brings me to the fallacies at the center of Goodman’s reasoning that lays waste to his arguments. As he said, gun control laws are useless because bad people will still find ways to purchase weapons illegally. The idea that gun laws won’t reduce gun violence is nonsense, as indicated by this chart from a Guardian article from 2016 comparing gun homicides in the United States to countries with stronger laws:

More insidiously, Goodman’s implication that “bad people” will still be able to buy guns even if we make it harder for them can be disproved with one highly disturbing fact: Nikolas Cruz obtained his gun legally. Yes, in the state of Florida, where Marco Rubio and Rick Scott bow to the will of the NRA, Cruz was able to buy the AR-15 that he used to shoot up Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. 

So, let’s attempt this syllogism:

1. Countries that have strict gun control laws have less deaths from gun violence.

2. Nikolas Cruz bought his gun through legal means.

3. If the United States had stricter laws, Cruz would not have been able to purchase his gun, and 17 people would still be alive today.

Trump and Goodman can push their lies as much as they want if it helps them sleep at night, because to lie awake comprehending their words would fry what’s left of their mental faculties. As long as we want to stem this country’s violent impulses, we must resist the urge from both the far right and the far left to classify this as a mental health issue, and come November, send a harsh message to any Republican who dares agree with it.

Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.