Forget banning assault weapons. Forget preventing people from obtaining “countless magazines,” or banning the manufacture of high-capacity clips, or expanding background checks for both guns and ammunition. Forget all of these commonsense measures that could prevent mass shootings like the one Wednesday in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people. President Donald Trump, who got $30 million worth of help from the National Rifle Association on his way to the White House and is, in so many ways, the NRA’s dream president, will not do any of these things—nor will his Republican allies in Congress.
Typically, Republican policy responses to mass shootings involve anything but new gun laws: There are calls for improved mental-health services and outreach, and we hear that the government should just enforce the laws that are already on the books.
In his address from the White House Thursday morning, Trump called for action on mental health and said, “It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference. We must actually make that difference.” House Speaker Paul Ryan noted that there are already laws that keep people with mental illness from obtaining guns, and that “if there’s someone who’s getting a gun who shouldn’t get a gun, we’ve got to look at those gaps.”
But the policies advanced by these two men will hamstring the government on even these measures. As Trump swings a sledgehammer to the hated “administrative state,” with Ryan’s support and encouragement, he is destroying or attempting to destroy some of the very modest programs the government does undertake to prevent mass shootings and violence in schools—even when it comes to enforcing current laws or improving mental-health services.
Trump would cut billions from Medicaid, and not long before he spoke at the White House Thursday, his secretary of health and human services testified on Capitol Hill that the administration hasn’t bothered to investigate how those cuts will impact people with mental-health or substance-abuse problems.
Trump’s proposed massive federal-spending cuts have led many federal departments and agencies to look at scuttling noncontroversial programs aimed at preventing massacres like the one in Parkland. For example, under Obama’s “Now Is the Time” initiative to slow gun violence, which was part of the administration’s response to the Sandy Hook massacre, HHS began distributing grants under the aegis of something called Project AWARE. In fiscal year 2017, the program awarded almost $65 million to state education authorities “to promote comprehensive, coordinated, and integrated state efforts to make schools safer and increase access to mental health services.” These included grants that would help teachers recognize and understand students’ mental-health problems, and to help school systems connect students who have behavioral health issues with the right services. The program also funded significant initiatives to prevent youth violence.