No, Trump Did Not Make It Easier for Mentally Ill People to Buy Guns
Shooting revives deliberately misleading talking points about a bad regulation both the NRA and the ACLU opposed.
In the wake of yesterday's deadly school shooting in Florida, President Donald Trump tweeted that there were signs that alleged shooter Nikolas Cruz was "mentally disturbed." Trump encouraged people to report bad behavior to authorities.
In response, a Twitter and media parade of people spouted misleading claims about an Obama-era regulation that Trump and Congress rolled back:
are you aware that one of the regulations you got rid of made it more difficult for mentally ill to get guns? https://t.co/r5lRKZHhnd
— Christopher C. Cuomo (@ChrisCuomo) February 15, 2018
.@CeciliaVega: "One of the only major actions that Pres. Trump has taken on gun control is to block an Obama-era rule that made it harder for the mentally ill to have access to guns." https://t.co/NDrJeM9R3E pic.twitter.com/r3WLKP4GS8
— ABC News (@ABC) February 15, 2018
almost a year ago Trump signed a bill rolling back Obama measure making it harder for mentally ill to get guns
— Jennifer Rubin (@JRubinBlogger) February 15, 2018
A year ago today, the Senate rolled back an Obama regulation that would have prevented 75,000 severely mentally ill people from buying guns and put them "in the hands of people too mentally unstable to manage their own bank accounts" wrote @cliffschecter https://t.co/57YCKPDiqf
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) February 15, 2018
None of this is a remotely accurate description of what happened. A year ago, Congress and Trump eliminated a proposed rule that would have included in the federal government gun background database people who received disability payments from Social Security and received assistance to manage their benefits due to mental impairments.
This is a regulation that potentially deprived between 75,000 to 80,000 people of a right based not on what they had done but on the basis of being classified by the government in a certain way. The fact that these people may have these impairments did not inherently mean that they were dangerous to themselves or others and needed to be kept away from guns.
As I noted when the regulation was repealed last March, this rule violated not just the Second Amendment but the Fourth, because it deprived the affected people of a right without due process. The government does have the power to restrict and even deny gun ownership to people, but it has to show that these people have engaged in behavior that makes weapons dangerous in their hands.
That's why the regulation was opposed not just by National Rifle Association (NRA) but by several mental health and disability groups and by the American Civil Liberties Union. Pundits largely ignored the latter groups' opposition to the rule, preferring to play up the power of the NRA and their influence on Republicans to turn the issue into a partisan fight.
It was hackery then, and it is still hackery today. It's shameful to ignore the serious constitutional problems of this poorly conceived rule just to sow panic and implicate one's political opponents.