Donald Trump's Response To The Virginia TV Shooting Is As Misguided As You'd Expect

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called the WDBJ7 shooting in Virginia "really, really sad," but not before he blamed the crime on one thing: mental illness. Trump talked about the tragic shooting with CNN's Chris Cuomo, saying, "This isn't a gun problem, this is a mental problem." Trump's response to the WDBJ7 shooting is not only misguided, it's also harmful to anyone who struggles with mental illness — who are more likely to be the victims of crimes than the perpetrators of them.

Trump told Cuomo, "It's not a question of the laws, it's really the people," and said he was opposed to tightening gun laws in the U.S. Trump said that, instead, we should put more resources toward addressing mental illness to prevent shootings.

Though the idea that we should put more resources toward actually discussing and addressing mental illness is a good one, the notion that the mentally ill are the ones who most often commit crimes is dangerously misguided. Specifically, a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that less than 3 to 5 percent of U.S. crimes involve people with mental illness, and the percentages of crimes that involved guns were lower than the national average for people not diagnosed with mental illness. The University of Washington also found that, sadly, statements like Trump's contribute to widespread stigma and discrimination against the mentally ill.


Trump didn't offer specifics on what exactly he would do to expand care or acceptance of mental illness. He said that Vester Flanagan, the gunman, probably should've been institutionalized and that people who knew him should have recognized this, according to CNN:

In the old days they had mental institutions for people like this because he was really, definitely borderline and definitely would have been and should have been institutionalized. At some point somebody should have seen that, I mean the people close to him should have seen it.

The study published in the American Journal of Public Health also found that it's difficult for anyone — even psychiatrists — to predict when someone with a mental illness could become violent. Additionally, what can psychiatrists even do to help prevent gun crimes if most gun crimes aren't committed by the mentally ill? If mental illness isn't killing people, and the evidence shows overwhelmingly that it's not, then it seems we should provide a different solution to gun violence in light of tragic events like the WDBJ7 shooting.