Trump Touts Background Checks Changes to Include Mental Illness

In the wake of two mass shootings within 14 hours with 29 victims dead, discussions of gun violence in the United States and background checks have once again taken center stage. That’s part of what has become the normal progression of dealing with mass shootings in our nation.

Trump Background Check Tweets Aug 9 2019The simple fact there exists enough of a statistical sample to provide an accurate “normal progression” should trigger a national call to action for rational discussion and proposal and acceptance of at least an attempt at a resolution.

Yet, there hasn’t been enough legislative enthusiasm for ANY changes since the assault weapons ban signed by Bill Clinton in 1994. That ban came about mostly in response to the Cleveland Elementary School shooting, which left 5 children dead and 30 other people wounded. The weapon used was a Chinese made AK-47 style rifle.

That ban expired in 2004 during the GW Bush administration and all attempts at renewal have failed.

Donald Trump Responds

The president offered two tweets this morning bolstering some of his earlier comments regarding a potential change of his position regarding strengthening background checks in the “permit to purchase” system of vetting weapons purchases.

All of these “background checks” would be performed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

In a later White House driveway “chopper talk” event, the president Trump reaffirmed his position that now is the time to revise the background check system be revised, stating with his usual attention to adjectives there should be “…meaningful background checks so that sick and demented people don’t carry around guns.”

A predictable mix of reactions from the predictable mix of individuals and groups welcomed the presidential words.

There remains no evidence mental illness is a significant factor in mass shootings, however. It’s usually brought forward as the reason when a white male is the shooter.

Federal law still prohibits someone “who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution” from buying or possessing a gun.

The Cynical Position

It’s clear at this point Trump administration statements are often, perhaps even usually, not followed up with actual results. The classic example is “the wall”, which arguably was a prime factor in the election victory, and Mexico paying for that wall.

But, there’s a more direct reason to doubt the veracity of the claim.

The Obama Background Checks Rule

One of the first actions of the current administration was to sign a resolution that killed an Obama executive action rule regarding background checks. The rule was to add information to NICS to enable identification of people adjudicated to have a sever enough impairment to require a third party to manage their finances.

Executive action was necessary because there was no stomach in the legislature to buck the NRA as elections loomed and donations were on the line.

The controversial rule, estimated to potentially affect 75,000 people, required the Social Security Administration to submit information to the federal background check database.

Individuals included were persons aged 18-65, receiving Social Security disability, and required to have assistance managing their benefits from a third party.

So, people receiving benefits AND adjudicated to be unable to manage their own finances AND with a mental impairment limiting their ability to work would be reported to NICS.

The list of those impairments was broad, including afflictions as innocuous as an eating disorder.

Many felt the rule was too broad, including this writer. However, the effect would be at worst not being able to purchase a weapon. That’s not a life changing event, really. A negative decision could be appealed in any case.

At least it was an attempt at a positive change.

It’s Already Illegal

The Gun Control Act (GCA) already prohibits entire groups of people from shipping, transporting, receiving, or possessing firearms or ammunition.

One group includes any person “who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution;

The problem is identifying those people BEFORE they are in possession of weapons or ammunition. Identifying them after a crime is much less helpful.

The NRA Position

The National Rifle Association (NRA) spent $1.6 million in the first half of this year lobbying Congress against any stricter background checks. So, we know what the NRA position is on this matter.

NRA History on Background Checks

The NRA, to defuse arguments circling social media each time a mass shooting garners national attention, cites the fact the organization proposed an instant background check system. That is true.

What they always neglect to mention is the reason the NRA proposed the system.

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was on the verge of a nearly certain passage through Congress in 1994. One component of “The Brady Bill” was a seven day waiting period for a weapon purchase.

The NRA felt an “instant background check” system, for which technology really didn’t exist, should be implemented instead.

Remember that the next time you hear that argument from an NRA supporter.

Official NRA Position Today

Embattled NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre released a statement today with predictable language.

This is the tenor of the short release:
“But I can confirm that the NRA opposes any legislation that unfairly infringes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens. The inconvenient truth is this: the proposals being discussed by many would not have prevented the horrific tragedies in El Paso and Dayton. Worse, they would make millions of law abiding Americans less safe and less able to defend themselves and their loved ones.”

The Parties Positions

The Democrats, in control of the house, sent a bipartisan enhanced background check bill (HR8), to the Senate on February 28.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to let that bill see the light of day.

Senate Democrats have called for McConnell to cut short the summer Senate vacation to return to DC to deal with HR8.

McConnell has refused to make that happen.

It’s status quo for the Republican party. Still, McConnell did offer some vague language about coming to some agreement about something. Okay, Mitch.

So, Same Old, Same Old… Right?


Somehow it feels different. Maybe THIS is the opportunity to make some positive changes.


Mid-term elections were an eye opening experience for the Republicans. They lost their advantage in the House of Representatives. Their confidence they will reclaim it appears weak, with unexpected GOP retirements one of the leading indicators.

The 2020 elections are beginning to take shape. Current poll results for the GOP include a presidential approval rating that’s astonishingly stable at an awful number.

Let’s accept the GOP, including their leader, may be willing to listen and perhaps even negotiate. The reason why doesn’t matter.

“But, the president…”

Yes, there’s that.

An olive branch of reasonable language has been extended. It should be accepted on face value. We should buckle down and assume the best. Time to hold people to their word for something important and easily measured.

This is a great opportunity to close gaps and relearn how to converse.

Let’s get to work.