President Trump said Thursday in response to mass shootings that the U.S. needs to build more mental institutions to keep sick, dangerous people off the streets and away from access to guns.
“We have to start building institutions again,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “So many of these institutions were closed [decades ago], and the people were just allowed to go onto the streets. And that was a terrible thing for our country. We have to open up institutions. We can’t let these people be on the streets.”
The president was responding to questions about his plans for gun control, such as expanded background checks, after shootings this month in Texas and Ohio.
Mr. Trump also noted the standoff in Philadelphia on Wednesday. A man with a long criminal history is accused of shooting six police officers.
“Bad people like that guy in Philadelphia — he shouldn’t have been on the streets,” Mr. Trump said.
The president said he has been speaking with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican lawmakers about proposals for limiting gun violence.
“We don’t want to see crazy people owning guns,” the president said. “Mental illness is something that nobody wants to talk about. They pull the trigger. The gun doesn’t pull the trigger. We want to look at mental illness, so we’re doing that. I’m talking to many Republicans. They want to see something happen. They don’t want to have insane people, dangerous people … having guns. Republicans agree with me on that.”
Mental health advocates have criticized the president for linking gun violence with mental illness. They say the mentally ill are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of shootings.
The president repeated the idea of building more mental hospitals at a campaign rally in New Hampshire on Thursday night.
“We are working very hard to make sure that we keep guns out of the hands of insane people and the mentally sick who shouldn’t have guns,” he said. “We’re going to have to give major consideration for building new facilities for those in need. At the same time, we will be taking mentally deranged and dangerous people off the street so we won’t have to worry so much about them. We don’t have those institutions anymore, and people can’t get proper care.”
Mr. Trump said he doesn’t want gun laws that affect the rights of law-abiding citizens.
He added to cheers, “We will always uphold the right to self-defense, and we will always uphold the Second Amendment.”
The U.S. attorney in Philadelphia on Thursday blamed the shootings of the six police officers on the city’s George Soros-backed district attorney for fostering a culture against police.
U.S. Attorney William McSwain said in a statement that District Attorney Larry Krasner, a Democrat, has “promoted and championed … a new culture of disrespect for law enforcement in this city.”
“It started with chants at the DA’s victory party — chants of ‘F—- the police’ and ‘No good cops in a racist system,’” Mr. McSwain said. “We’ve now endured over a year and a half of the worst kinds of slander against law enforcement. The DA routinely calls police and prosecutors corrupt and racist, even ‘war criminals’ that he compares to Nazis. This vile rhetoric puts our police in danger. It harms the good people in the city of Philadelphia and rewards the wicked.”
Mr. McSwain said the man accused of shooting the officers, Maurice Hill, 36, “is a previously convicted felon with a long rap sheet.”
“We have plenty of criminal laws in this city, but what we don’t have is robust enforcement by the district attorney,” he said. “Instead, among other things, we have diversionary programs for gun offenses, the routine downgrading of charges for violent crime and entire sections of the criminal code that are ignored.”
He said existing gun and drug laws should be aggressively enforced. The U.S. attorney’s office prosecuted 70% more violent crime cases this year compared with last year “in response to the district attorney’s lawlessness.”
Mr. Krasner received about $1.5 million from liberal billionaire George Soros in his 2017 campaign for district attorney.
The president has been discussing “red flag” laws that generally allow family members to petition a court to confiscate guns from people who are deemed unstable or dangerous.
Asked by reporters whether he is pushing for universal background checks on firearms purchases, the president replied, “I support strong, meaningful background checks where people that should not have guns: people that are insane, people that are mentally ill, people that are bad.”
He was less clear about the prospects for legislation next month when Congress returns from its summer recess. Mr. Trump said he fears Democrats will play politics with the issue.
“I’m afraid that if we came up with a good bill, I think the Democrats then might ‘up’ it and then do things that can’t be done, and that the public wouldn’t want done,” the president said. “I hope that wouldn’t happen, but that’s happened in the past.”