President Donald Trump is calling for more mental health facilities to combat gun violence in the wake of deadly shootings in Texas and Ohio.
Trump decried the closing of "institutions" at least twice on Thursday, when he held a rally in Manchester, N.H.
“Years ago, many cities and states I remember so well closed mental institutions for budgetary reasons. They let those people out onto the street,” he said during the rally. “We’re going to have to give major consideration to building new facilities for those in need. We have to do it."
In a conversation with reporters prior to the rally before Air Force One departed from Morristown, N.J., Trump made a more explicit reference to the facilities that existed in the United States decades ago.
“If you look at the ’60s and ’70s, so many of these institutions were closed," he said. "And the people were just allowed to go onto the streets. And that was a terrible thing for our country. … But a lot of our conversation has to do with the fact that we have to open up institutions. We can’t let these people be on the streets.”
Trump has made a number of remarks linking mental illness to violence in the wake of recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, including on Thursday:
"We are working very hard to make sure we keep guns out of the hands of insane people and those who are mentally sick and shouldn’t have guns."
But such remarks drew strong reactions from advocates.
"Talking about reinstitutionalization only further marginalizes and isolates the one in five people with mental illness," Angela Kimball, the acting CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, wrote in a statement.
Closures of mental health facilities have been due to a variety of factors, Kimball said. Among them are reports of inadequate care, sub-par conditions and the development of new treatment methods that could address the mental health concerns of patients. Specifically, a shift toward community-based care was discovered, Kimball said in an interview with USA TODAY, responding to Trump's comments to reporters in New Jersey.
"When it was discovered that there are effective evidence-based interventions including medication that worked, there was a laudable move to close down psychiatric institutions that were basically warehousing people with mental illnesses," Kimball said.
But Kimball says the number of available spaces in psychiatric hospitals across the country has declined since the last major recession.
“Instead of investing in community-based solutions, we essentially institutionalized people with mental illness in our jails and prisons,” Kimball said. "Today, we're seeing people languish for days and even weeks in the emergency department with no intensive care available."
They ask, "How does this happen? Is it video games? Is it mental health care? Is it both sides?" No. It's the lack of sensible gun laws, it's the open racism, and it's the Commander-in-Chief of this country. pic.twitter.com/sNSF8nv0DT— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) August 15, 2019
But experts warn against pinning the blame for violent crime on mental illness.
"Research shows that folks that are suffering from mental illness are no more likely to exhibit violent behavior," said Jaime Diaz-Granados, deputy CEO of the American Psychological Association. "In fact, they are more likely than the general population to be victims of violent behavior."
Diaz-Granados said more research should be done to get to the root causes of gun violence instead of blaming those with mental illness. The APA supports background checks and red-flag laws with a focus on removing guns from individuals with a history of past violence.
Trump's focus on mental health facilities appears to be part of his plan. He's also indicated support for gun control measures like expanded background checks and red flag laws, or the ability of police to remove guns for people who pose a threat to themselves or others. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the issue of background checks would be “front and center” when session resumes in September.
Trump advisers have said they would recommend a veto on two House Democrat bills on background checks that have been sitting in the Senate since February.
Following the shootings, Trump spoke with NRA leader Wayne LaPierre and has pledged to include the NRA in conversations on gun control measures. The NRA has in the past linked mental health and violence.
"It has been the NRA’s long-standing position that those who have been adjudicated as a danger to themselves or others should not have access to firearms and should be admitted for treatment," The NRA wrote in a statement after the shootings.
At the New Hampshire rally, Trump reiterated his commitment to the Second Amendment.
“We can’t make it harder for good, solid, law-abiding citizens to protect themselves," he said. "We will always uphold the right to self-defense and we will always uphold the Second Amendment.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump pushing for mental health facilities to after shootings