Republicans Blame Mental Health for Allen Mall Mass Shooting | Dallas Observer


Critics Blast GOP Lawmakers for Blaming Allen Shooting on Mental Health: 'It's Sick'

Protesters against gun violence gather outside of the Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church where a vigil for the victims of the Allen shooting was held. The shooting on Saturday, May 6, 2023, left eight people dead, including multiple children.
Protesters against gun violence gather outside of the Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church where a vigil for the victims of the Allen shooting was held. The shooting on Saturday, May 6, 2023, left eight people dead, including multiple children. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Eight people were killed, including multiple children, in Saturday’s mass shooting at an outlet mall in Allen. The gunman reportedly wielded an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle, which is often used to carry out such slaughters.

But rather than blaming guns, Texas Republican lawmakers are condemning another culprit for the uniquely American mass-shooting epidemic: mental health.

On Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott decried “mental health problems” as essentially being the “root cause” of mass shootings during an interview with Fox News. He did the same amid the aftermath of last year's Uvalde school massacre, which claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers.

GOP Texas Congressman Keith Self, who represents Allen, echoed that sentiment on Saturday while speaking with CNN: “Since this nation made the decision that we were going to close the mental health institutions, many of these situations are based on that.”

It’s unclear what, exactly, Self meant — who made that decision and when? Which mental health institutions and where? — and his office hadn’t returned the Observer’s request for clarification by publication time.
Instead of championing mental health, critics say that Republicans regularly do the opposite. Case in point: Last year, Abbott cut around $211 million in funding from the agency that oversees mental health programs.

But Abbott also claimed during his Sunday interview with Fox that Texas added almost $25 billion over the past three legislative sessions to address mental health, and that he expects another $3 billion to go toward it in the current session. He didn’t make clear in the interview how that money has been applied.

To learn how Texas Republicans have treated mental health over the years, just look at the numbers, said Kendall Scudder, the Texas Democratic Party's vice chair for finance.

“Texas is [No.] 48 in mental healthcare spending. We are 50th in access to mental healthcare,” he said. “There have been eight mass shootings under Greg Abbott's tenure as governor, and there are currently zero priority bills from Republicans to address the mental health crisis.”

Scudder also noted that, in the event of mental health crises, experts create a safety plan — including the removal of lethal means. He argued that if Texas Republicans really want to handle this as a mental health issue, they should treat it like one and implement stronger gun safety measures.

WFAA reported that the 33-year-old Allen killer was booted from the Army in 2008 “due to mental health concerns.” The gunman, killed on Saturday by an officer on the scene, was also suspected of being a “neo-Nazi sympathizer” with far-right extremist ties.

“If you're really pro-family, if you're really pro-life, if you're really supporting kids, we're going to make sure we get weapons of war off the streets.” – Kendall Scudder, Texas Democratic Party

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Polls show that the overwhelming majority of Americans support universal background checks on firearm purchases, as well as other gun-control efforts, Scudder said. Yet GOP politicians in the state and U.S. legislatures have instead passed laws to “protect guns, not to protect our kids,” he added.

“If you're really pro-family, if you're really pro-life, if you're really supporting kids, we're going to make sure we get weapons of war off the streets,” Scudder said. “Democrats are ready to do it, waiting for Republicans to work with us to get it done.”

Schroeder Stribling, president and CEO of Mental Health America, told the Observer via email that people with mental illnesses are 10 times more likely to become victims of violence than members of the general public. Of all violent occurrences, just 3%–5% are carried out by someone with a serious mental illness.

The issue of mental health is regularly dragged into news headlines, but one major point shouldn't be left out of the conversation, Stribling said: “When the political prescription for hate-motivated mass violence is 'more focus on mental health,' it is at best ill-informed and misleading, and at worst a convenient bypass for addressing violence in other ways. Hate is not a mental illness, and hate-based violence against any specific group of people is ideologically based behavior.”

State Sen. Nathan Johnson, a Dallas Democrat, lauded the idea of boosting mental healthcare in Texas in a Sunday news release, but Johnson also said that it “certainly won’t solve the problem of gun violence.

“It’s a rhetorical pivot from the underlying reality that we have a more general and pervasive problem with gun violence in our culture,” he continued. “What’s more, to attribute gun violence to ‘mental health problems’ in Texas is to falsely stigmatize the millions who struggle with mental health and distract from the mission of mental healthcare professionals.”

On social media, critics are railing against Texas Republicans. Many are tired of hearing conservative lawmakers point the finger at mental health and not at guns.

MSNBC tweeted a clip of Allen-shooting witness Steven Spainhouer, who said he was initially “heartbroken” by the slaughter. That devastation then turned to anger.

“Mental health didn't fire that gun,” he said. “Those people were killed with bullets. I saw the bullets. That’s what killed those kids. Maybe [the shooter] had a mental health issue, maybe it was treatable. But if that gun wasn’t on the streets, chances are he might not … have had access to it.”
One of Abbott’s biggest political foes, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, further blasted Republicans’ scapegoating of mental health.

“Good morning,” the Democratic leader tweeted early Monday. “This is your reminder that while the @GOP run around talking about mental health care, their budget proposal: -Cut $325 million from mental health programs -Put 34 million kids at risk of losing guaranteed mental health care.”
Others argued that congressional conservatives’ voting records don’t mesh with the idea that they genuinely support improved services for mental health.
MSNBC's Joe Scarborough slammed Abbott during a video clip that went viral on Monday morning. The news anchor pointed out that other places, like Britain and Belgium, also have people with mental health problems but don’t experience regular mass shootings.

“The thing is, Abbott will do anything but talk about the issue that is in front of him,” Scarborough said. “The murders in Texas since 2014 by guns have skyrocketed, and all this guy does is say he wants more guns in the state of Texas. It’s sick. This is a sickness.”
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Simone Carter is a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer who graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter

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