Unwilling or unable to displease the NRA by supporting commonsense legislation to combat the frequency and ferocity of mass shootings, President Donald Trump imagines that a mental health-related study might do the trick.
This is yet another move to avoid acknowledging the actual problem of too-much easy access to too many military-style firearms, another dodge by an administration that instead should heed the call by Walmart and 150 other big American businesses for beefed-up background checks and other sensible responses to our ever-rising national body count.
If the proposed research subjects were the minority of gun fanciers like those running the NRA, such a study might make sense. Or perhaps angry, socially isolated young white men obsessed with big and bigger guns would be more suitable research subjects, given how regularly the massacres are the work of individuals fitting that profile.
But under the hastily concocted proposal the president promoted last week, researchers would examine whether small changes in the behavior of mentally ill people could predict violence. Shades of “Minority Report,” the 2002 sci-fi movie about a dystopian near-future where cops preemptively arrest people they predict will commit murder.
The Washington Post reported last week that the proposal to study the possibility of pre-violence detection technology was generated by advocates for a proposed Health Advanced Research Projects Agency at the request of Ivanka Trump and others interested in exploring out-of-the-box ideas for fighting the epidemic of mass shootings. HARPA would be modeled on DARPA, which gave us the internet, and indeed may well prove capable of yielding useful technology to combat a range of diseases. And research into violent behavior is much needed, and potentially valuable.
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But aside from its mega-clunky acronym SAFEHOME (Stopping Aberrant Fatal Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes), the three-page proposal the advocates provided to the administration is more alarming than reassuring. There’s apparently interest in monitoring mentally ill folks to preempt violence by, among other things, digital snooping of phones and smart watches. Besides raising extraordinary civil liberties concerns. it’s yet another attempt by the president to shift blame for America’s summer of blood away from the proliferation of civilian arsenals of military-grade weaponry, and toward a misunderstood and marginalized group of human beings who are living with a medical condition. And whom studies consistently show are no more inclined to commit violence than other people.
Guns seem to “possess even more rights than persons do,” author Garry Wills writes in the latest New York Review of Books, and one might easily conclude as much, were the White House, the Congress and the state legislatures the sole potential sources of ideas and action.
More Republicans across the country are embracing sensible gun laws in the wake of massacres in Ohio and Texas. Wisconsin's senior senator should, too. He's in an ideal position to make a difference.
But late last week, the apparent decision by NASCAR — hardly a lefty hangout — to not accept certain gun ads for publication in its souvenir programs was more evidence of how business is beginning to drive for a change the White House is desperate to avoid. The country is leaving Washington, D.C., and state capitals like Harrisburg, Pa., behind as it searches for not one but perhaps many solutions to this national nightmare.
There may be hope on the horizon at last.