The Trump White House is looking into a cutting edge but “controversial” proposal that seeks to prevent mass shootings prompted by mental illness.
With studies finding that about a quarter of mass shooters have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness, Trump has repeatedly pointed to psychological as well as ideological causes behind many mass shootings. In his speech following the horrific shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Trump outlined a series of steps his administration is promoting to address the growing problem, including “reform[ing] our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence, and mak[ing] sure those people not only get treatment, but when necessary, involuntary confinement.” He added, “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”
One of the new ways of proactively addressing the issue that the administration is considering involves the development of a new research agency and the use of a technology that will help detect those suffering from mental illness who may pose a risk to themselves or others.
“The White House is considering a controversial proposal to study whether mass shootings could be prevented by monitoring mentally ill people for small changes that might foretell violence,” The Washington Post reported Monday.
The proposal, presented by former NBC Chairman and long-time Trump associate Bob Wright, seeks to create a new agency called HARPA to “come up with out-of-the-box ways to tackle health problems,” the Post reports.
In a three-page proposal presented to Health and Human Services Sec. Alex Azar and other administration officials, Wright introduced a plan called “SAFEHOME” (Stopping Aberrant Fatal Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes), which researches how technology, including cell phones, might be used to detect warning signs of violence from those suffering from mental illness.
The SAFEHOME proposal stresses that all of the subjects of the research would participate on a volunteer basis and the program would prioritize protecting individuals’ rights and avoiding “profiling of any kind.”
The Post spoke with some authorities on the concept and found some heavy skepticism, including from a former chief research psychologist for the U.S. Secret Service who warned against the possibility of false positives. Noting that three-quarters of mass shootings are carried out by people who are not diagnosed with a mental illness, she also pushed back on the premise.
But the lead researcher behind the HARPA proposal, Geoffrey Ling, suggested that while there might be some controversial aspects to the program, he hasn’t seen many better ideas for addressing the problem.
“To those who say this is a half-baked idea, I would say, ‘What’s your idea? What are you doing about this?'” Ling said in comments reported by the Post. If the program proves unsuccessful at preventing mass shootings, he maintained, it might end up helping address other issues, like suicides or child abuse. “The worst you can do is fail, and failing is where we are already,” he added. “You need to find where the edge is so you can push on that edge.” (Read the full report here.)