NRA-backed Republicans have been saying for years that mass school shootings are not a guns issue, they are a mental health issue. And on Thursday, 205 House Republicans voted against the Mental Health Matters Act to increase students’ access to mental health care and substance use services.
The bill is, frankly, urgent in the wake of a traumatic, depressing pandemic: Over 40% of young people “experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness,” and almost 20 percent of them “seriously considered attempting suicide” in 2021, according to the CDC. The bill will fund grants for schools to hire more mental health professionals, connect students with trauma-informed therapy and support systems, and identify effective intervention methods in early childhood programs.
Democrats managed to pass the legislation despite Republican opposition—all 219 of them and one Republican voted for it. I want to give an old fashioned shout-out to the lone House GOPer, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, who was like, “Wait, I’m actually down with kids not wanting to die or hurt others.” You’re on a sinking ship, bud! Hop off now!
Republicans took issue with a provision of the bill that would allow the Department of Labor to penalize sponsors of health plans if they don’t meet certain mental health requirements. “This money would be better spent on compliance assistance instead of targeting employers based on ambiguous standards,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.).
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What’s truly frustrating about 99 percent of GOP congressmen voting against HR 7780 is that after every mass school shooting–and there are a lot of ‘em!–Republicans point to mental health as the solution in lieu of dealing with guns. After the Uvalde school shooting, where 19 students and two teachers were murdered, Texas governor Greg Abbott said, “We as a government need to find a way to target that mental health challenge and to do something about it.” First of all, and this is beside the point, it’s deeply tragic Abbott can’t make a statement about ending gun violence without using the word “target.” But more importantly, the GOP fell in line behind that messaging only to now pooh-pooh a bill that was like, “OK, bet.”
Experts agree that mental health is only a small factor in gun deaths and that our country’s perverted obsession with guns, which is only topped by our perverted access to guns, is what actually drives our mass shooting epidemic. “If we magically cured all these serious mental illnesses tomorrow, which would be wonderful — imagine the alleviation of suffering — our violence problem would go down by about 4%,” Duke University behavioral sciences professor Jeffrey Swanson told Bloomberg. But of course, just because poor mental health isn’t the main culprit of America’s mass shootings doesn’t mean it isn’t also worth dealing with. It is very worth dealing with!
Republican hypocrisy is so pervasive it sometimes doesn’t even feel worth pointing out. But when kids are being killed at school, grappling with suicide, and being given little to no support to deal with any of it, it feels irresponsible not to call them out. It feels, at this point, as if they might vote no on schools existing at all.