Guns, Trump and Mental Illness

One of the few people to shamelessly state his true feelings about the recent Oregon school shootings was GOP front-runner Donald Trump, whose comments on MSNBC were not widely circulated beyond that forum for reasons that do not warrant sustained reflection.[1] They did however surface on at least on website, where they were reported in detail.[2]

In this instance we should be grateful that Donald Trump says openly what a lot of people say in private, and those who have to bear the brunt of the stigma against past and present sufferers of mental illness actually have an opportunity to respond directly.

According to the Newsmax website, Trump had said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program that there were ‘already strong laws on the books where firearms are concerned’, but that ‘you’re always going to have problems’ on account of the fact that ‘we have millions of sick people all over the world.’

Since there were ‘millions of sick people all over the world,’ as Trump put it, the Oregon shootings were nothing special. ‘It can happen all over the world,’ he claimed.

‘It does happen all over the world, by the way,’ he added, before inexplicably contradicting himself, and then continuing as if nothing had happened. But this is sort of unique to this country,’ Trump admitted, ‘the school shootings and you’re going to have difficulty no matter what.’

This glaring self-contradiction was not picked up either by MSNBC or Newsmax, and Trump was allowed to continue unchallenged despite having admitted why his own arguments were profoundly ignorant, much less to say intellectually dishonest.

Instead, Trump was permitted to continue spouting hateful garbage, commenting that he anticipated news of the Oregon shooter, 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer, to the effect that ‘gee whiz, they were loners and they were probably sick.’

Trump’s cute addition of a quelle surprise here suggested not only that this was a norm for the mentally ill, but that they chose social isolation rather than having it forced on them by the stigma that surrounds mental illness — one created by precisely the kind of irresponsible demonizing of which his comments represent a textbook example.

Not that he was going to let mere fact get in the way.

On the contrary, Trump as reported by Newsmax actually dialed it up a few notches. In support of his belief that mental illness and not gun culture was to blame for mass shootings, Trump claimed to be aware of numerous instances in which the ‘attacker’s neighbors’ said ‘often’ that they thought the shooter ‘really looked like he could be a problem.’

Despite this amazing clairvoyance on the part of unnamed persons, a difficulty still remained, Trump said, on the grounds that ‘it’s awfully hard to put somebody in an institution for the rest of their lives based on the fact he looks like he could be a problem.’

One could perhaps understand Trump’s dilemma; it was indeed ‘a terrible situation’ not being able to profile the mentally ill on the basis of arbitrary surface appearances the way one can with, say, black people. One wondered if Trump’ would have preferred the introduction of an identification system such that law enforcement could tell if a person was mentally ill before a professional diagnosis was given — perhaps with the addition of, say, a yellow star.

Trump’s comment to the effect that, ‘It’s huge, mental illness,’ suggests he might.

Again not done with shifting the blame for the catastrophic consequences of gun culture onto the mentally ill, Newsmax reported Trump as bringing out the ‘politically correct’ card, a point of view they appeared to endorse by adding their own paraphrase to the effect that ‘there will always be difficulties when it comes to the mentally ill.’

‘People are going to slip through the cracks,’ Trump was reported as saying, ‘and even if you did great mental health programs, people are going to slip through the cracks.’ Reiterating his earlier slander of the mentally ill, Trump said of them that ‘I’m sure it’s going to be found these people seem to be loners [and] they have all sort of difficulties.’

Again this was not because of the stigma associated with mental illness inflamed by the propensity of white billionaires to play the victim, but because the mentally ill ‘call people and nobody wants to go out with them.’ ‘It’s the same old story,’ Trump the psychology expert claimed. ‘There’s many people like that.’

Winding up, Trump again pointed out the complete illogic of everything he had just said, remarking ‘what are you going to do? Institutionalize everybody?’ Obviously you can’t, which, in addition to the lack of evidence for the claim that mental illness is to blame for mass shootings and the mass of evidence to suggest that lack of gun control is, is why his entire theory is little more than ableist scapegoating.

Having suddenly developed some semblance of insight into the human condition, Trump pointed out one thing that did in fact appear to be true — nowhere more so than where his demonization and scapegoating of the mentally ill was concerned: So you’re going to have difficulties,’ he said. ‘You’re going to have difficulties with many different things, not just this,’ because ‘that’s the way the world works and by the way, Willie, that’s the way the world always has worked.”

Trump was definitely right about that; scapegoating other people for problems you don’t have the courage or ability to confront definitely creates many difficulties for those you victimize. Trump’s own commentary on the Oregon shootings certainly demonstrates that this is the way the world works and always has worked, so on that count he was correct again.

This, of course, does not mean it is the way the world should work, or can work if we are to move forward. In contrast to the narcissistic rantings of a clownish, attention-hungry billionaire, the plain fact is that the Chris Harper-Mercer, the Oregon shooter, didn’t shoot 9 people because he was mentally ill, he shot them because of the ready availability of guns and the general habit of using violence to solve your problems as modeled for the nation and the world by the US government.

Obtuse, willing ignorance of the Donald Trumps of the world and others of his ilk notwithstanding, the fact of the matter is that gun culture has about as much to do with defending liberty in a second amendment sense as mass shootings have to do with mental illness.

In the first place, the NRA and other advocates of so-called gun rights are that silent on popular xenophobia that one gets the impression they would welcome a police state if it was implemented in the name of anti terrorism.

In the second, any home stash of weapons is hardly going to be any match for the military if they decide to implement an open police state.

Gun culture is purely and simply about cowards who need guns to feel big. The tragedy here is that it becomes so nihilistic and permissive that, not only do people need to die en masse for the sake of their privilege, but that scapegoating and blame shifting of the mentally ill becomes permissible.

This being the case it is ironic then that gun advocates accuse anyone else either of being out of their minds, or of being a threat to others.




Ben Debney is the author of The Oldest Trick in the Book: Panic-Driven Scapegoating in History and Recurring Patterns of Persecution (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).