Republicans are trying to have it both ways on guns and mental illness, making it easier for people with mental illness to get guns while insisting that the Parkland school shooter shouldn’t have had a gun because of his presumed mental illness. That’s the White House position and it’s the position of the NRA's Dana Loesch:
“I don’t believe that this insane monster” — alleged Parkland, Fla., shooter Nikolas Cruz — “should have ever been able to obtain a firearm, ever,” she said. “I do not think that he should have gotten his hands on any kind of weapon. That’s No. 1. This individual was nuts, and I, nor the millions of people that I represent as a part of this organization, that I’m here speaking for, none of us support people who are crazy, who are a danger to themselves, who are a danger to others, getting their hands on a firearm.”
He shouldn’t have been able to obtain a firearm, ever, said a representative of the organization dedicated to ensuring that firearms are always available to anyone who wants them, although if police then shoot law-abiding but suspiciously non-white gun carriers, said organization won’t really mind. There are … other problems with Loesch’s position, as Philip Bump reveals with a look at data from Mother Jones:
Of the 96 [mass shootings killing more than three people] included in their list, 57 of the assailants exhibited some signs of instability or emotional distress by our assessment of Mother Jones’s numbers. Seventeen didn’t; for 22, it’s unclear.
We can break that down further, cross-referencing mental illness with the legality of the weapon (or weapons) used in the attack.
Fewer than half of the shooters exhibited mental issues before the attacks and are known to have bought guns legally. That’s the group Loesch is apparently targeting — meaning that the other 51 incidents are not necessarily addressed by the restriction she proposes.
Now, look, if a policy could cut mass shootings nearly in half I’d be all for it, but the NRA does not actually support such policies. And there is so much evidence that mental illness is not the primary driver of mass shootings—as many people have pointed out, women with mental illness somehow don't commit mass shootings, and other countries with mental illness rates similar to the U.S. don’t have mass shooting rates similar to the U.S. So while it’s reasonable to say that people with certain mental illnesses or instabilities should not have access to guns—a position the NRA would only take briefly in response to a mass shooting before fighting to keep it from becoming law—it’s not actually the answer to mass shootings. No, that answer has a little something to do with the guns.