- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2019

President Trump responded Monday to the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio by calling for a crackdown on “gruesome and grisly” video games, proposing tougher laws to deny firearms from mentally ill people and denouncing white nationalism espoused in a screed posted online before one of the shootings.

In a televised address to the nation from the White House, the president said he supports “red flag” laws to make it easier for authorities and families to take away guns from people deemed dangerous. He also directed the Justice Department to work with law enforcement agencies and social media companies to identify people who are potential threats.

“We can and will stop this evil contagion,” the president said. “We must seek real, bipartisan solutions. That will truly make America safer and better for all.”

Mr. Trump avoided mentioning a prominent bipartisan gun control proposal in the Senate: universal background checks on firearms purchases. But another bipartisan agreement emerged in the Senate for a “red flag” measure to encourage states to confiscate guns from dangerous individuals, as Democrats pressed Republican leaders to return to Washington from their August recess to deal with the issue.

“Senate Republicans are prepared to do our part,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday evening.

He said he directed top committee chairmen to try to craft legislation to combat gun violence, but he didn’t give any specifics about measures he would like included.

Mr. Trump’s failure to invoke universal background checks during his nationwide address led critics to complain that he isn’t serious about addressing gun violence.

“Let’s be clear: This is not about mental health, it’s not about video games, it’s not about movies,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “Those are all NRA talking points. This is about easy access to guns.”

Police said the shooters who killed at least 31 people in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, bought their firearms legally.

For the second time in office, Mr. Trump found himself under enormous political and media pressure to console the nation and propose solutions for mass killings carried out by young men with military-style weapons. Democratic presidential candidates are blaming him for “racist” rhetoric fueling violence, and the Rupert Murdoch-owned, conservative New York Post tabloid called on Mr. Trump on its front page Monday to “Ban Weapons of War.”

The president plans to visit both cities on Wednesday.

After the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018, the president convened a commission on school safety that recommended schools consider arming themselves. On Monday, the president cited four potential solutions in his address, primarily focusing on early identification of dangerous people and making it easier to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

Citing one concern that has long troubled conservatives, Mr. Trump said the producers of video games must stop “glorifying” violence.

“It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence,” Mr. Trump said. “We must stop, or substantially reduce this, and it has to begin immediately. Cultural change is hard, but each of us can choose to build a culture that celebrates the inherent worth and dignity of every human life. That’s what we have to do.”

Police believe the man accused of the El Paso shootings, Patrick Crusius, posted a manifesto online citing the video game “Call of Duty.” It is a military-themed, first-person shooting game whose trailer bears the warning: “Blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, suggestive themes, use of drugs.”

The manufacturer of “Call of Duty” is Activision Blizzard, whose stock price plummeted about 7% on a day when trade fears caused steep market losses across the board.

The video game industry denied any connection between violent games and violent behavior.

“More than 165 million Americans enjoy video games, and billions of people play video games worldwide,” the Entertainment Software Association said Monday. “Yet other societies, where video games are played as avidly, do not contend with the tragic levels of violence that occur in the U.S.”

Other Republican officials, including Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, have cited violent video games as a problem in recent days.

It’s not clear how Mr. Trump would compel companies to reduce their depictions of violence in video games. The Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that a California law restricting the sale of violent games violated the First Amendment. The justices also said research on video game violence was “not compelling.”

“These studies … do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively … and most of the studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said blaming the two shootings on video games and mental illness ignores the real problem.

“People suffer from mental illness in every other country on earth; people play video games in virtually every other country on earth. The difference is the guns,” she tweeted.

Former President Barack Obama said tougher gun laws should make a difference.

“No other nation on Earth comes close to experiencing the frequency of mass shootings that we see in the United States,” Mr. Obama said. “No other developed nation tolerates the levels of gun violence that we do.”

Mr. Obama also blamed “racist sentiments” of some U.S. leaders but did not mention Mr. Trump.

The president specifically addressed white nationalism amid accusations from Democrats that his anti-immigrant rhetoric incited white supremacists and prompted the shootings. The manifesto posted just before the Texas killings espoused a hatred of immigrants. Several Mexican nationals were among the dead.

“The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto online consumed by racist hate,” Mr. Trump said. “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro, Texas Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said the president’s proposed solutions don’t “make up for the years of attacks by President Trump on Hispanic Americans and our immigrant communities.”

“During the president’s address, he blamed the internet, news media, mental health, and video games, among others, for the conditions that led to these events,” Mr. Castro said. “Unfortunately, he did not take responsibility for the xenophobic rhetoric that he has frequently used to demonize and dehumanize Hispanic Americans and immigrants over the past four years. The language in the terrorist’s manifesto is eerily similar to the language that President Trump has used at campaign rallies, press conferences and in paid Facebook ads.”

Mr. Trump rejected suggestions that the problem of mass shootings is new. He pointed to a timeline of tragedies that long predates his push for tighter restrictions on immigration.

“The perils of the internet and social media cannot be ignored, and they will not be ignored,” he said. “In the two decades since Columbine [in 1999], our nation has watched with rising horror and dread one mass shooting has followed another, over and over again, decade after decade. We cannot allow ourselves to feel powerless.”

In his remarks, Mr. Trump focused on mental illness. He called the shooter in El Paso “a wicked man” and the gunman in Dayton “another twisted monster.” He also got a heavy dose of ridicule on social media for mistakenly referring to Dayton as “Toledo” at one point in his address.

“We must recognize that the internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds and perform demented acts,” Mr. Trump said. “We must shine a light on the dark recesses of the internet and stop mass murders before they start.

“Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”

Advocates for people with mental illnesses said the president’s views on the subject are wrong.

“Routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing,” said American Psychological Association President Rosie Phillips Davis. “The rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them.”

Mr. Trump said he is “open and ready to listen and discuss all ideas that will actually work.” But he devoted much of his remarks to the question of “red flag” laws, or extreme risk protection orders that would make it easier for authorities or families to take away firearms from people who may pose a danger to themselves or others.

“We must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence, and make sure those people not only get treatment, but when necessary, involuntary confinement,” he said. “We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms, and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process.”

Former NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch said gun owners have many questions about red flag laws.

“Who can petition for ERPO/red flag? It varies state by state,” she tweeted. “Are there protections for abuse? I haven’t seen any in the legislative proposals I’ve read. It takes months, perhaps years even to clear one’s name if falsely accused.”

The president said his administration has already taken more steps than most others to curb gun violence. He noted that he signed bills last year to encourage federal agencies to report to a national criminal background database and administratively banned rapid-fire “bump stocks.”

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