As Republicans rushed to oppose President Obama’s gun violence prevention proposals on Wednesday, several lawmakers released statements echoing the National Rifle Association’s suggestion that “fixing our broken mental health system” is actually the best way to prevent future gun crimes. But when Congress considered a landmark mental health access bill in 2008, many of the same Republicans voted against it.
Accessing mental health services in the United States is harder than accessing a gun. In 2008, Congress took a step toward addressing that issue by passing the long-delayed Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which required most health insurance plans to start treating mental health services in the same way they treat all other medical care. The bill included exemptions for small businesses and those who opted not to cover mental health coverage at all, but House Republicans still overwhelmingly opposed the effort, 145 to 47.
Now, several of those opponents are criticizing President Obama, who co-sponsored the Wellstone Act, for not doing enough to address mental health in his gun violence proposals — even though several of the executive orders in the package do just that. They include:
- SEN. JOHN BOOZMAN (R-AR): (voted no as a then-Representative): “Firearms are the tools, not the cause. If we are serious about reducing gun crimes, we need to get to the root cause which includes addressing mental health issues in our country. That is where we need to focus on finding a solution.” [1/16/2013]
- REP. JOE BARTON (R-TX): “The gun control movement hurts honest citizens and businesses, not the criminals who care nothing for the law. I believe we can better reduce the misuse of firearms by strongly enforcing laws already on the books. We also need to improve our mental health screening system so troubled, violent individuals can be identified and treated more quickly.” [1/16/2013]
- REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN): “We need to have a serious conversation about mental health, psychiatric drugs, and the potential impact violent video games and movies have on our kids. I will closely review the President’s proposals, however I am concerned his approach is a pre-determined attempt to redefine our Constitution. I am not going to allow this administration to trample on the Second Amendment or put new restrictions on the rights of law-abiding citizens to own firearms and ammunition.” [1/16/2013]
- REP. HOWARD COBLE (R-NC): “Mental illness is an enormous factor in most of these tragedies, including the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Federal and state governments must address the issue of gun access by those who are mentally ill and find ways to curtail violence in our culture.” [1/16/2013]
- REP. ANDER CRENSHAW (R-FL): “I think we can all agree: no one wants to see another needless, senseless death committed in this country with a firearm. Along the road to that goal, a complex and multi-layered debate over firearms, education, mental health, Second Amendment rights, and more is unfolding.” [1/16/2013]
- REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TX): “Mental health issues that have languished for decades may be a fertile ground for bipartisan efforts to make a true difference. Perhaps, a good first step toward curbing gun violence may well be rebuilding the sanctity and importance of the family and the home where there can be education, training and an honest conversation about guns, without treading on the Constitutional protections from criminals intent on invading the home.” [1/16/2013]
- REP. TOM LATHAM (R-IA): “In upholding our Second Amendment rights, we must also be mindful not to diminish the tragedy of recent events and the work to find sensible ways to prevent such horrors from occurring in the future. No person of sound mind could commit mass gun violence, and it is important that we consider mental health and other root causes that contribute to these terrible crimes as we move forward with this debate.” [1/16/2013]
- REP. TOM PRICE (R-GA): “All Americans want our communities to be safe places to live, learn, work and play. As we review how best to prevent mass shootings and the loss of innocent lives we should make a robust analysis of America’s mental health system a priority. A proper diagnosis and comprehensive treatment are critical to ensure we are identifying indicators of violent behavior that may lead to horrific crimes. To do otherwise would mean we continue to fail not only those afflicted with mental illness, but also their families, our communities and our nation.” [1/16/2013]
- REP. MAC THORNBERRY (R-TX): “I believe a more responsible approach is to take significant steps to address mental illness and the root causes of such violence in our society.” [1/16/2013]
Obamacare also expanded the mental health parity rules — though these nine lawmakers joined every other Republican in Congress in opposing the health care reform law.