Paul Ryan, the shameless political careerist who has surrendered the US House of Representatives to campaign donors and lobbyists, has a well-documented history of doing everything in his power to prevent meaningful debate about gun violence. But it’s getting harder for the speaker of the House to game the system on behalf of his benefactors.
Ryan knows that his traditional “thoughts and prayers” response to mass shootings does not work any longer. People are on to the fact that his pious pronouncements in the aftermath of massacres are never followed up by meaningful action to prevent future massacres.
But Ryan, who as a top Republican fund-raiser is well aware that the National Rifle Association PAC now devotes roughly 99 percent of its campaign spending to the election of the sort of Republicans who keep the speaker in power, is still doing what he can to mangle discussions about the role that guns play in shooting sprees like the one that killed at least 59 people and left more than 500 others injured in Las Vegas.
Ryan will go only so far as the NRA allows, which, at this point, is toward a constrained discussion of regulating “bump stock” devices that modify rifles so that they can fire bullets as rapidly as machine guns. Beyond that tangential response, the speaker is determined to change the topic.
After the October 1 massacre, the speaker tried to do just that when he announced that “One of the things we have learned from these these shootings, “is that often underneath this is a diagnosis of mental illness.”
“It’s important that as we see the dust settle and we see what was behind some of these tragedies, that mental health reform is a critical ingredient to making sure that we can try and prevent some of these things from happening in the past,” added Ryan, who may have meant “in the future.”
No matter how he phrases it, it should be understood that Ryan is talking about “mental-health reform” in order to avoid talking about guns.
That’s problematic on a number of levels.
For one thing, as the Department of Health and Human Services reminds us, “Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3 percent–5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.”