Mass Shootings

Trump Mulls Orwellian Proposal to Stop Mass Shootings by Monitoring 'Mentally Ill People' for Signs of Imminent Violence

The program would try to develop a surveillance system based on predictive tests that don't exist.


The Trump administration is reportedly considering a pitch from former NBC Chairman Robert Wright, a presidential pal, for a research program aimed at preventing mass shootings by electronically monitoring people who have received psychiatric diagnoses. That Orwellian plan may or may not be defeated by its utter impracticability.

Wright has dubbed his idea SAFEHOME—an acronym for Stopping Aberrant Fatal Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes. The Washington Post reports that his three-page proposal imagines using "technology like phones and smart watches" to "detect when mentally ill people are about to turn violent." The idea, the paper says, is to look for "small changes that might foretell violence."

The Post notes that "only a quarter or less" of mass shooters "have diagnosed mental illness." But that is only the beginning of the difficulties with this half-baked scheme.

The larger problem is that the percentage of "mentally ill people" (a group that, by some estimates, includes more than a quarter of the U.S. population in any given year) who will use a gun to commit mass murder is approximately zero. Likewise for the general population, since mass shootings are very rare events, accounting for less than 1 percent of gun homicides.

2012 study that the Defense Department commissioned after the 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood in Texas explains the significance of that fact in an appendix titled "Prediction: Why It Won't Work." The appendix observes that "low-base-rate events with high consequence pose a management challenge." In the case of "targeted violence," for example, "there may be pre-existing behavior markers that are specifiable." But "while such markers may be sensitive, they are of low specificity and thus carry the baggage of an unavoidable false alarm rate, which limits feasibility of prediction-intervention strategies." In other words, even if certain "red flags" are common among mass shooters, almost none of the people who display those signs are bent on murderous violence.

The Defense Department report illustrates the problem with a hypothetical example. "Suppose we actually had a behavioral or biological screening test to identify those who are capable of targeted violent behavior with moderately high accuracy," the report says. If "a population of 10,000 military personnel…includes ten individuals with extreme violent tendencies, capable of executing an event such as that which occurred at Ft. Hood," a test that correctly identified eight of those 10 dangerous people would wrongly implicate "1,598 personnel who do not have these violent tendencies."

That scenario assumes a predictive test that does not actually exist. "We cannot overemphasize that there is no scientific basis for a screening instrument to test for future targeted violent behavior that is anywhere close to being as accurate as the hypothetical example above," the report says.

The research program imagined by Wright is aimed at developing a predictive test. But even in the unlikely event that it succeeded, the enormous false-positive problem would remain.

"According to a copy of the SAFEHOME proposal," the Post says, "all subjects involved [in the research] would be volunteers," and "great care would be taken to 'protect each individual's privacy,'" while "'profiling of any kind must be avoided.'" It is hard to see how profiling can be avoided, since the whole premise of the project is that people who fit a certain psychiatric profile are especially prone to mass murder.

Once the research has been completed, of course, the resulting information would be pretty useless if it could be deployed only against volunteers. So how would that work? Would people with certain psychiatric diagnoses be legally required to carry electronic monitors aimed at detecting "small changes that might foretell violence"? How could such a requirement be reconciled with due process or the Fourth Amendment?

Maybe the requirement would be limited to people who pose an especially high risk of violence. But how would they be identified? Since mental health specialists are notoriously bad at predicting violence, SAFEHOME would have to develop two kinds of tests: one that identifies people who are prone to violence and one that predicts when those people are about to commit a crime. "I would love if some new technology suddenly came along that would help us identify violent risk," Marisa Randazzo, former chief research psychologist for the U.S. Secret Service, told the Post, "but there's so many things about this idea of predicting violence that [don't] make sense."

The Post also interviewed Johns Hopkins neurologist Geoffrey Ling, who advised Wright on his proposal. "To those who say this is a half-baked idea, I would say, 'What's your idea? What are you doing about this?'" Ling said. "The [worst] you can do is fail, and failing is where we are already." Given the potential for mass stigma, invasions of privacy, and violations of due process, I'd say we can do a lot worse than failing.

NEXT: Boston Judge Smacked Down for Overruling D.A. Who Tried To Drop 'Straight Pride' Protest Charges

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. What we really need is a politician monitoring system to predict when they are about to turn dangerous to liberty.

    1. Wouldn’t that automatically coincide with their election?

      1. No grasshopper, it does not.

        1. It coincides more with their filing papers to run for office.

          1. Yes! I agree!

            Also, Trump should FAIL the psychological tests here! HERE below is WHY I say that… And the hell with gun ownership! THIS particular dangerous “disordered personality” is carrying the nuclear football!

            Trump Is Not Well
            Accepting the reality about the president’s disordered personality is important—even essential.

            1. You post almost exclusively from far left sites…

              1. Yes, I know, everything except Breitbart is all extreme left-wing…

                Can you say “confirmation bias”?

            2. This is why The Donald’s “personality disorders” should be causing us to shit our pants!
              Democracy has become doomed by stupid people’s unwillingness to think!!!

              “Democracy is hard work and requires a lot from those who participate in it. It requires people to respect those with different views from theirs and people who don’t look like them. It asks citizens to be able to sift through large amounts of information and process the good from the bad, the true from the false. It requires thoughtfulness, discipline and logic. “

              “When (editorial insert: STUPID people, not ALL people!) people are left to make political decisions on their own they drift toward the simple solutions right-wing populists worldwide offer: a deadly mix of xenophobia, racism and authoritarianism.”

              “Right-wing populists don’t have to make much sense. They can simultaneously blame immigrants for taking jobs away from Americans while claiming that these same people are lazy layabouts sponging off welfare. All the populist followers care is that they now have an enemy to blame for their feelings of ennui.”

              1. Yawn. Haha. Yes, by all means, shit your pants and call people stupid. Awesome.

                Don’t change a thing!

                1. I do feel sympathy for the staff at his home that have to clean his ass and change his diapers.

                  1. Yes, The Donald’s infantile droolings and poopings ARE a mess to clean up! We should indeed sympathize with his caretakers! But we should try to vote ADULTS into political power!

                    1. You’re very fond of exclamation points. Is your 1 key not worn right out yet?

                    2. Squirrely, you are in no way familiar about what it means to be an adult.

      2. It makes WAY more sense to ban guns and criminalize 50 million Americans who have never misused a firearm than to monitor people with a history of mental illness.

        1. The NRA won’t go for this at all. Too many customers have a history of mental illness. If they NRA won’t go for it, there’s not a chance Trump will push it.

    2. Alarm fatigue comes to mind.

    3. Precrime. It didn’t work in the movie…and it won’t work here either.

      Democrats want to take away the guns, while Republicans want a surveillance state. The foolishness never ceases to amaze.

      1. Your writings smell of pre-crime to me!!!

        If’n ye see something, say something!


    4. I’d say that the moment a politician decides to run for office is when they become dangerous to liberty.

    5. You mean an unsubsidized media? Don’t be silly!

  2. you could say that Trump is trying by working on ideas that don’t work just like the left does all the time to signal that they care. The problem comes about though when everyone takes the crazy ideas and puts our tax dollars behind it since once something is funded it is never unfunded no matter how scatter brained it may be

    1. Both New York and Maryland shut down their useless and counterproductive ballistic fingerprint databases.

      Programs never solved a crime, but used up funds that would have been more productive applied elsewhere.

      One Maryland politician claimed it did have the effect of raising the cost of buying a gun by $50 and for that reason should have been kept even tho’ the Maryland State Police informed the Legislature they refused to waste man-hours on it.

  3. The Post notes that “only a quarter or less” of mass shooters “have diagnosed mental illness.”

    Not a problem, they intend to use this to monitor everyone anyway.

  4. “In response to my colleague’s SAFEHOME bill, I would like to introduce my NAH, BRAH bill, which stands for Not Allowing Homies with Bills with Ridiculous Acronyms Here.”

    1. Well, I found it amusing. One ridiculously contrived acronym deserves another.

  5. Psychology is not a real science. About half of the published studies can not be reproduced. They created names for stuff (which they keep changing), count things, and suppose what they do is science, because they think that is what the big boys over in the chemistry and physics departments do.
    Unlike those other guys, who accurately predict outcomes based on present conditions and inputs, the psychologists can not tell you what anyone will or won’t do. They will cheerfully explain what happened after the fact, but can not be trusted with any policies.

    1. You’re missing the point. Question is whether AI can be trusted with any policies.

  6. Thought crime will get bipartisan approval.

  7. “To those who say this is a half-baked idea, I would say, ‘What’s your idea? What are you doing about this?'” Ling said.

    Well, Democrats have a plan. Punish tens of millions who are innocent, and confiscate their property, for the actions of a few people. What could go wrong?

    1. I set my house on fire. If that doesn’t stop the gun violence, I’m planning on setting my neighbor’s house on fire. Criticize if you want, but I don’t see you doing anything.

  8. The idea, the paper says, is to look for “small changes that might foretell violence.”

    Like registering as a democrat?

    1. Voting. Voting indicates a willingness to have violence done to your fellow countrymen in order to implement your preferred policies.

  9. Of course Trump’s “mulling” this idea. Aside from the fact that an 8 second attention span means everything’s a snap decision and Trump’s incapable of mulling, there’s tons of ideas he gets pitched all the time that he’s required to at least think about. Doesn’t mean he’s seriously thinking about them. Kind of like how every few years, somebody “discovers” that the Pentagon has secret plans to invade Canada. Of course the Pentagon has a secret plan to invade Canada, they’ve got a thousand contingency plans for all sorts of ridiculous scenarios. It’s sort of their job to be prepared for anything. (And it’s not like we haven’t invaded Canada before.)

    1. Canada burned down the White House in 1812 or so… They’ve got it coming to them!!! Payback, baby!!! Karma!!!

  10. ‘profiling of any kind must be avoided’ is a sure sign that the speaker doesn’t have the slightest clue what he’s talking about. The entire premise of Big Data analytics is that we can create profiles with predictive power. That’s all they do.

    And, as the article points out, even when they do them reasonably well, the false-positive rates are outrageously high for low base-rate behaviors.

  11. Mental health as a weapon against the people is communist in origin..

    Dominate the psychiatric profession and use mental health laws as a means of gaining coercive control over those who oppose Communist goals.

    Deceptive Transformation: The Truth of Soviet Influence in America and Gun Control…The idea of using mental health as a weapon against the people is communist in origin, and the social sciences, or the studying of human behavior has its roots in early twentieth century Russia when Ivan Pavlov developed his “classical conditioning” theories. In fact, Pavlov was disturbed that Vladimir Lenin would use these conditioning methods against the people in order to get them to accept communism. Since that time the social sciences have been used as a means of maintaining control over populations and getting them to accept their own down fall. This is happening today in the United States as our universities and public schools have long ago adopted educational techniques based on the social sciences and classical conditioning methods. Subjects like White Privilege and Multiculturalism are used to demoralize our population, create a guilt consciousness and silence us into accepting a new agenda based on the idea that we have been unfair, and our lifestyles are oppressive, and offensive to others. This agenda dates back to the early twentieth century; however, it saw some of its most major advances in the mid 1900’s after the U.N. was created in 1945. While many people today view the Democrat Party as being made mostly of communists or socialists; the sad truth is that the Republican Party is just as responsible for what we are seeing in education and culture in the United States today.

    1. Everything is so terrible and unfair. So much guilt and grievance. If only someone could tell us all how to get along!


  12. So the connection of this to the trump administration is what again?

    No Trump fan here but this is ridiculous.

    1. From the actual article at WaPo:

      Former NBC chairman Bob Wright, a longtime friend and associate of President Trump’s, has briefed top officials, including the president, the vice president and Ivanka Trump, on a proposal to create a new research arm called the Health Advanced Research Projects Agency (HARPA) to come up with out-of-the-box ways to tackle health problems, much like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) does for the military, according to several people who have been briefed.

      After the recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, Ivanka Trump asked those advocating for the new agency whether it could produce new approaches to stopping mass shootings, said one person familiar with the conversations who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss them.

      Advisers to Wright quickly pulled together a three-page proposal — called SAFEHOME for Stopping Aberrant Fatal Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes — which calls for exploring whether technology including phones and smartwatches can be used to detect when mentally ill people are about to turn violent.

      Using his personal connections to Trump and others, Wright has pushed his HARPA proposal to the White House and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and several senators and House members, according to two people involved in the effort. Last month, on the presidential campaign trail, former vice president Joe Biden also advocated for creating such an agency.

      What the guy has been pushing is HARPA, a general public health research initiative, and the SAFEHOME proposal sounds half-baked because it is half-baked – it’s just some shit he threw together at the last minute as an example of what HARPA might do. The emphasis of the Reason article is misplaced.

    2. Misanthropic Global Warming, silly! The Nixon law using federal tax money to subsidize kleptocracy parties dedicated entirely to the initiation of force clearly has nothing to do with violence.

  13. Will this mean of the end of the comment section for Reason articles? If they are willing to monitor social media to confiscate guns, they are well on their way down the slippery slope to using ‘The System’ to find and prosecute those woodchipper threats against federal judges.

  14. >But even in the unlikely event that it succeeded, the enormous false-positive problem would remain.
    Sounds like a feature, not a bug. Just look at the War on Terror. People born after 9/11 are old enough to vote this year and the TSA still hasn’t stopped a single terrorist, but yet has convinced an entire generation that they must be pants shittingly (pants gropingly?) terrified of air travel and conditioned them to assume the position whenever someone with a badge uniform looks at them funny. This isn’t about stopping mass shootings. It’s about getting everyone to be terrified THE MENALLY ILL just like they are of THE TERRORISTS and acquiesce to absolutely any and every jackbooted measure “necessary” to stop “them”.

  15. Democratic Politicians: BAN ALL GUNS!
    Democratic Voters: BAN ALL GUNS!
    Republican Politicians: We’re considering maybe a red flag thing, but it probably won’t happen
    Republicans Voters: We oppose all gun restrictions, including red flag laws

    Libertarians: BOTH SIDES ARE EQUALLY BAD!!!

    1. Republican Posing as Libertarian: VAST OVERSTATEMENT OF THE EVIL OF THE LEFT
      Republican Posing as Libertarian: VAST UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE EVIL OF THE RIGHT
      Republican Posing as Libertarian: ACCEPT MY PREMISES AS FACTUAL DAMMIT

    2. “Both sides are bad” is not the same as “BOTH SIDES ARE EQUALLY BAD!!!”. Republicans are clearly better on guns and I don’t recall Reason ever claiming otherwise.

  16. First problem here is that mentally ill people are more likely a danger to themselves than to other. That is they are more likely to commit suicide than murder. So this might help reduce suicides. As most fatal suicides are impulsive you could solve a big problem with a waiting period for firearm purchases and advice to store guns in a manner that makes access difficult (gun in safe with trigger locks installed). As far as wasting time and money on some predictive system you instead could put the money into better access to mental health care.

    1. The below is why I object to your idea of “…you instead could put the money into better access to mental health care.”

      Yes, I am an asshole… I have bribed some shrinks to explain that I have a “personality disorder” instead. So whenever I act like an asshole, I can whine and moan to the courts, and they will let me off!!! Then the taxpayer will pony up, and I will go and see my fave shrink-therapist-recipient-of-my-rivers-of-tears-of-self-pity… And I will steer the taxpayer monies to my fave uncle-shrink!!! He’ll therapueutricize my assholeishness, ooops, I mean, my “personality disorder”!!! He’ll give me a kickback, and we’ll laugh all of the way to the bank!
      Also, for all of you who believe everyone who acts like an asshole has a “mental problem” that can be properly treated by a shrink or therapist, that they should be forced to get Obama-care-mandated, taxpayer-funded drug addiction (or other) “therapy” from the likes of “Chris Bathum”, see ,
      Malibu ‘Rehab Mogul’ Guilty on 31 Criminal Counts
      Christopher Bathum’s rap sheet includes a long list of charges, from fraud to forcible rape.
      Your tax and health-insurance money at work!!!

  17. Have you considered the possibility that this “mulling” is SharpieGate for the libertarian press?

  18. A psychiatric diagnoses could amount to anything and that could follow a person around the rest of their lifetime.

    Why the big importance of a psychiatric evaluation in the first place? This profession is built on subjective evaluations, not science. In fact, their presidents (from the APA) have testified before Congress that they don’t know how to cure any mental illness and never have. So why listen to them?

    Maybe we should pay attention to the fact that over 95% of these mass shootings have been done by people under the care of a psychiatrist, taking their Big Pharma psych meds. One could then surmise that it would be better to get rid of psychiatry and Big Pharma’s psych meds. That would handle the problem of mass shootings more than gun control “solutions” or following people electronically in this New World Order.

    1. Please. Psych meds are overprescribed but they are also very effective for some people who need them. This whole “mental illness is a myth just willpower yourself out of it” attitude is nonsensical. You can do a brain scan of someone with serious depression and it is scientifically different than someone without. These are organic illnesses. Not everyone who claims they have a mental illness has one (yes some are just assholes). However, mental illness is an objectively real thing.

  19. Maybe what we should be doing is figuring out why many countries with high gun ownership rates (eg Switzerland, Finland, Israel, Serbia, etc) also have very low homicide rates.

    Maybe the result of that will simply be to throw up our hands and say Americans are a hopelessly violent people and if so the solution is to hope we all kill ourselves and each other out of existence. But my guess is that we will find there is something psychotic in our CULTURE (and I don’t mean Hollywood or the arts) not in our individual minds.

    1. Agreed… “…something psychotic in our CULTURE…”

      Many things might fill this blank… Here’s one stab at it: If something is wrong, the LAST thing I will be encouraged to blame, is myself! That might hurt my self-esteem! But if the blame belongs on precious MEEEE… I need to suck it up, learn my lessons, forgive myself, and then move ON, and NOT repeat my sins!!! Do NOT blame others! If I am the one that fucked up… Don’t blame Government Almighty (I’ll ‘fess up to that one now and then), don’t blame the illegal sub-humans, don’t blame the not-me tribe, and don’t blame unfair trade tactics by China! Not your parents or your therapist either!

      Blame yourself for your own sins, and no one else!

    2. Maybe what we should be doing is figuring out why many countries with high gun ownership rates (eg Switzerland, Finland, Israel, Serbia, etc) also have very low homicide rates.

      Good idea. The first three countries (I don’t know about Serbia) have generous social safety nets supported by progressive taxes that lead to greater harmony and social cohesiveness. When you lose your job in Finland it’s not as if you are out on your own after your unemployment insurance dries up. You’ll be supported by a European-style social safety net and thus less likely to shoot your former colleagues in the face upon termination of your employment.

      1. LOL you’re replying to yourself………

  20. The Trump administration is reportedly considering a pitch from former NBC Chairman …is as far as I need to read to know Trump is being gracious but would not fall for this tripe.
    Only sane persons know that every law and strategy etc that will stop violence with guns or lower the low numbers is not even worth listening to. Let the rest waste their time but do not waste mine.
    You pinheads trying to out-think others or slam Trump by attributing some behavior to him will lose your pinhead status soon be demoted to shitheads. Infuckingcredible…

    1. Only sane persons know that every law and strategy etc that will stop violence with guns or lower the low numbers is not even worth listening to.

      Why not. The weight of the evidence from peer-reviewed literature is that more rigorous gun control laws result in a small, but detectable drop in gun homicides and a statistically-significant to the point of overwhelming evidence that gun laws prevent suicides. That’s not worth debating?

  21. the technology is all in place — phones that track your every move, smart speakers that record your every sentence, social media that creates dossiers of your political views, known associates and mental states. In the Orwellian world Big Brother depended on party loyalists and your neighbors to snitch on you. In our world it can all be done by artificial intelligence.

    1. Well… live by the free market, die by the free market I guess.

  22. Thanks for sharing for more info Visit

  23. The problem is frustrated losers that blame everyone else but themselves for their problems, not known mentally ill people already being watched.

  24. You know who else entrusted government agents to identify “mentally ill” citizens so that the broader society (and the Party) could be kept safe?

  25. Any mental illness idea advanced by Phillip K Dick merits consideration; he should know.
    Then again, experts agree that letting a schizophrenic repeatedly drop acid would not make him into a self-supporting writer and Holywood’s go-to Boy Wonder for movie ideas.

  26. Relatively Trump is an order of magnitude maybe two orders or magnitude less “Orwellian” than any idea that comes out of a Democrat’s mouth.

    Yet I guess we have to have a daily dose of THIS article.

    Reason is pathetic.

  27. Sad thing is the Fort Hood attack was entirely predictable (preventable). The guy practically announced his intentions. Lots of warnings are ignored. How about working on that guys.

  28. Trump is unfit to defend gun owners and ownership. He is wishywashy on guns and a politically opportunist who will go with the control freaks if he thinks gun control has become popular with the electorate, which the fake-news boys and girls will assure him is the case.

  29. I am developing a first rate half of time financial advantage from home with the aid of using running my PC . I even have used an internet system and presently I clearly have created $18987 This month. all of us of you’ll be Able to use this home income device and earn extra from intention Half Time. test this website for added data regarding developing cash….but earlier than this you need to visist the following website online ………… https://Www.Ework7.Com

  30. If the use of antidepressants is the criteria for mental illness most of the country is suspect.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.