Rochester mental health official challenges Trump's blame on mental health for mass shootings

Aug 7, 2019

In the wake of two mass shootings this past weekend, President Donald Trump said it was mental illness and hatred that pulled the trigger, not the gun. An official with Rochester's Mental Health Association says this misses the point. 

President Donald Trump suggested the law reforms in a speech Monday morning.
Credit Spectrum News

After a total of 31 people were killed by gunmen in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, Trump said law reforms are needed to prevent people with mental illness from accessing guns. He also suggested involuntary confinement “as needed.”

Melanie Funchess, director of engagement for the Mental Health Association, says that the conversation around gun laws should not target a particular group of people, and that scapegoating people with mental illness misses the point

“Hate is not a mental illness,” Funchess says. “We only have these conversations in our country around mental illness when the shooter is white and male. If the shooters in these cases were brown, were black, they would not be, we would not be having the mental health conversation right now.”

Funchess says this rhetoric steers conversations away from national issues of hate and racial bias and further marginalizes people with mental health challenges.

“It increases the stigma around mental illness so that people who are suffering with mental illness will not come forward for fear of being characterized as violent,” she says

The shooter in El Paso posted a 2,300 word racist, anti-immigrant manifesto before the attack happened in a Hispanic-majority town.

While the attack is being treated as domestic terrorism, there is currently no federal domestic terrorism law.

In July, the FBI said violence of this kind is increasing, and that most of it is motivated by white supremacist ideology. Funchess says this is not a mental health issue.

“White nationalism is not a mental illness," she says. "It is an illness of the heart of hate,” she says.

The Anti-Defamation League says that at least 50 killings last year were linked to right-wing and far-right extremists including the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October. The ADL recommends that states enact comprehensive hate crime laws, and that public officials speak out against extremism.