On Trump’s Excellent Speech

Paul has noted the comments that President Trump made on the weekend’s two mass shootings this morning. His post embeds a video of the president’s speech, which is 10 minutes long. I recommend that you watch it. It was thoughtful, measured, and, in my opinion, struck all the right notes.

It consisted in large part of denunciations of the murderers and sympathy for their victims. Beyond that, Trump’s comments were notable in several ways.

First, Trump attacked white supremacism without noting that socialism, the doctrine of the Ohio murderer, was equally fatal in this case. That was probably sound from a political standpoint, and perhaps manifests the president’s conviction that the Democrats will get nowhere by trying to tie him to the El Paso murderer.

Second, the president expressed determination to do something about mass shootings. He said that on this issue, as elsewhere, America will “win.” It is easy to be skeptical about this promise; as I wrote in May, the United States does not have an unusual number of mass shootings on a per capita basis. We rank 56th in the world in that regard, far behind countries like Norway, Switzerland, Finland and Russia. Mass murders are so rare that it is easy to be cynical about our ability to do much about them, even though we have cut the overall homicide rate in half. Still, it was bracing to hear the president express confidence that the problem can successfully be addressed.

Third, Trump called for capital punishment for mass hate-murderers. This isn’t going to happen, but it puts liberals in a box. Most people think death is the appropriate punishment for mass murderers like the El Paso and Dayton shooters. Liberals don’t agree, but they have a hard time explaining to the average voter their reticence when it comes to punishing the actual murderer, as opposed to people who disagree with them politically.

Fourth, Trump did not take the easy way out by endorsing more useless gun control measures. Rather, he came out in favor of the one thing that actually might make a difference: so-called “red flag” laws. Such legislation has, I believe, been enacted in a few states and introduced in others. The basic idea is that if you think someone is mentally ill and dangerous and therefore should not possess firearms, you can go to court on an expedited basis, potentially without notice to the “dangerous” person, and obtain an order that 1) bars that person from possessing firearms, and 2) directs police officers to go to his residence and confiscate any firearms they find there.

It is easy to imagine circumstances in which a procedure of this sort might actually work. Mass shooters are pretty much all as nutty as fruitcakes. In most cases, it is obvious to everyone who encounters them that they are crazy and might be dangerous. Sometimes (like the Parkland murderer) they advertise their intent to commit mass murder on social media. So in some cases, a “red flag” process might actually work.

On the other hand, the potential for abuse is equally obvious. How many ex-wives would take advantage of the opportunity to turn in their ex-husbands as potentially dangerous? How can an allegedly deranged person receive due process sufficient to prevent gross miscarriage of justice? And what are the consequences of sending police officers to someone’s home to confiscate his firearms, perhaps in circumstances where he has no notice of what is going on? The sometimes-disastrous history of the no-knock raid comes to mind.

Personally, I am open to the idea of “red flag” legislation if the details can be worked out. I don’t think such laws would do a lot of good, but they might do some, unlike stupid bans of arbitrarily-defined firearms or firearm accessories.

But there is a broader issue here: the United States does not have a mental health care system. Decades ago, we emptied our mental hospitals in a fit of “liberation” driven by silly movies like One Few Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and King of Hearts. At the time, it was a triumph of liberalism, but I haven’t heard liberals taking credit for it lately.

Today, involuntary commitment borders on the impossible. (This is why “universal background checks” are useless. Hardly anyone has been involuntarily committed or adjudged mentally incompetent, so hardly anyone other than convicted felons, who don’t try to buy guns legally, is on the government’s prohibited list.) Crazy people are remitted to the care of their families, who can’t possibly cope with them. Just ask poor Nancy Lanza. From there, they often wind up on the streets, where our real mental health professionals–police officers–are stuck with dealing with them. If they commit enough felonies, they will finally be sentenced to prison, where, if they are lucky, they will be diverted to a prison-associated mental hospital. That is how it goes in our liberated 21st century.

“Red flag” laws may be a good idea, but it would be better if dangerously crazy people could be hospitalized and cared for, not just deprived, temporarily, of firearms. Who knows? Maybe liberals have gotten over their romantic infatuation with mental illness, and might be willing to collaborate on a rational mental health care system. It isn’t likely, but we can hope.

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