Trump Left A Lot Unsaid About Mass Shootings, Domestic Terrorism — And His Own Words
President Trump went before cameras on Monday in highly anticipated remarks following the mass shootings in Ohio and Texas over the weekend. In his remarks at the White House, Trump used the words "domestic terrorism" and "white supremacy." He did not acknowledge his own rhetoric.
The president targeted violent video games and drew a connection between mass shootings and mental health, though the research does not back up his assertions.
Trump touted what he has already done on trying to limit gun violence and called for the passage of red flag laws, intended to temporarily take guns from those who pose a threat to themselves or others.
But he stopped short of calling for new gun restrictions such as a ban on assault-style weapons, high-capacity magazines or even stricter background checks.
"Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger," Trump said, "not the gun."
Here is some of what the president left out, and the context to what he said.
"Words do matter": Trump acknowledged "white supremacy," but ignored his own rhetoric
In his remarks at the White House, Trump denounced racism, calling out an anti-Hispanic screed apparently written by the suspect in the El Paso, Texas, shooting.
"The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto online, consumed by racist hate," Trump said. "In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America."
Yet Trump has faced sharp criticism for his own comments, particularly about immigrants, from the inception of his political rise.
In a tweet in October of last year, for example, he wrote of people migrating from Central America: "This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!"
Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border. Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2018
"When you're people in power, words do matter," said Daryl Johnson, the former lead analyst at the Department of Homeland Security for domestic terrorism. "When you dehumanize your opponents, whether Democrats, the news, immigrants, people of faith, of different faiths, you're running the risk of someone taking your words and acting upon it."
Johnson wrote a report on right-wing domestic violent extremism in 2009 that became embroiled in controversy. That report concluded that right-wing extremist groups, spurred by a downward trending economy and the first black president, were recruiting and were on the rise.
Conservatives pushed back hard against the report, which also concluded that veterans coming home from war could be susceptible to recruitment efforts. Johnson wrote in an opinion column in 2017 that the Obama administration essentially "caved to the political pressure"; his unit was disbanded and by 2010, he noted, there were zero intelligence analysts working on domestic terrorism at the Department of Homeland Security.
Johnson said that with Trump in office the recruitment, prevalence of the groups and hate crimes have spiked. He said rhetoric referring to people as "invaders, rodents, from craphole countries — this is the type of talk I see in racial chat rooms."
After multiple Mexican nationals died or were injured in the El Paso shooting, Mexico threatened legal action against the United States to protect its citizens.
Trump cut funding to an agency dealing with domestic terrorism partnerships
The Trump administration actually cut funding for programs that targeted white supremacy and white nationalism.
Soon after Trump took office, his administration canceled a pair of grants. One was aimed at helping people leave neo-Nazi groups, and another "would have been used to create media campaigns to undermine violent radicalism on U.S. soil," NPR member station WUNC reportedin 2017.
The Trump administration slashed the budget of the agency that administered the grants, as The Atlantic reported, from $21 million to $3 million.
The Office of Community Partnerships was renamed the Office of Terrorism Prevention Partnerships.
Researchers have never found a link between video games and mass shootings
For 20 years, since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, politicians — Republican and Democrat — have called for restrictions on violent video games to curtail mass shootings. The shooters at Columbine played the game Doom.
Trump did it again Monday in his remarks. "We must stop the glorification of violence in our society," he said. "This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this, and it has to begin immediately."
And yet, researchers have never found a direct link between violent video games and mass shootings.
Andrew Przybylski, an experimental psychologist and director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute, has studied the potential link between video games and aggressive behavior in teens.
"Mainly, we found a whole bunch of nothing," he told NPR's Andrew Limbong. "So we found pretty convincing evidence that it didn't really matter what kinds of games teenagers played. Boys and girls, violent games, nonviolent games — that wasn't really a useful piece of information about whether or not a parent saw aggressive behaviors in their young person."
There's also no evidence that either the El Paso or Dayton shooter was a fan of video games.
Trump ties shootings to mental health treatment, intervention
Trump said there's a need to "reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment but when necessary involuntary confinement."
Most mental health professionals would dispute the notion of a direct link between gun violence and mental health, NPR's Alison Kodjak reported in 2017. In fact, the majority of people with mental health problems are not more likely to be violent.
"Blaming mental illness for the gun violence in our country is simplistic and inaccurate and goes against the scientific evidence currently available," Arthur C. Evans, CEO of the American Psychological Association, said in a statement.
He pointed out that the United States is a "global outlier" in mass shootings.
"This difference is not explained by the rate of mental illness in the U.S," Evans said. "The one stark difference? Access to guns."
And, he said: "The president clearly said that it is time to stop the hateful rhetoric that is infecting the public discourse. We ask that he use his powerful position to model that behavior."
Pushing for red flag laws
Trump also called for adoption of extreme risk laws, or red flag laws, which allow police to temporarily seize guns from people who are determined to be a risk to themselves or others.
"We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms, and that, if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process," Trump said. "That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders."
The laws are so far seen to be effective in reducing gun-related suicides, though a federal school safety commission noted in December, "We do not know whether they impact gun violence more generally."
The administration's past actions — and inaction
Trump touted what his administration has already done on the issue of gun violence, but said "there is so much more that we have to do."
He noted that the Justice Department has banned bump stocks, devices that can increase the rate of fire. He pointed to the 2018 STOP School Violence Act and the Fix NICS Act.
Congress passed the STOP School Violence Act after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in February 2018. It provided $50 million a year to the Justice Department for state-based grants that would help with school training and security infrastructure, as well as creating "anonymous reporting systems for threats of school violence, including mobile telephone applications, hotlines, and internet websites."
The Fix NICS bill was intended to strengthen the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It encourages agencies to fully participate in the reporting system and upload data.
After Parkland, Trump said he would be "strongly pushing" for "comprehensive background checks," raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21 and for ending the sale of bump stocks.
I will be strongly pushing Comprehensive Background Checks with an emphasis on Mental Health. Raise age to 21 and end sale of Bump Stocks! Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue - I hope!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 22, 2018
Of those commitments, the administration only acted on ending the sale of bump stocks.
Trump did tweet again about background checks on Monday, but left out that call in his televised remarks.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.