In the wake of one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history, which happened in Las Vegas Sunday, House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked what Congress could do to prevent these tragedies in the future. Ryan answered with what Congress has already done.
“One of the things we have learned from these things, we have learned from these shootings, is often a diagnosis of mental illness,” Ryan told reporters at his weekly press conference Tuesday. (We still do not know whether mental illness played a factor in the mass shooting in Las Vegas.)
In 2016, the House and Senate passed the bipartisan Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, from Reps. Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), which codified Medicaid coverage for inpatient mental health coverage, mental health education programs, and grants. It was widely accepted as a “good start.”
This is why we spent years working on mental illness reform — Congressman Murphy’s bill — and that’s why the House of Representatives passed landmark mental health reform just a year ago. That law is not being implemented. I think it’s important that as we see the dust settle and we see what was behind some of these tragedies that mental health reform is a critical ingredient to making sure we can try and prevent some of these things that have happened in the past. That is just one example of things that Congress has done.
But in his review of past mental health legislation, Ryan left out that Republicans actually made it easier for people with mental illness to purchase guns this year.
As Vox’s German Lopez explained, in February the House and Senate blocked a last-minute regulation from President Barack Obama’s administration that required the Social Security Administration to disclose to the FBI information about people who are getting disability benefits due to severe mental illness.
“The rule is meant to make it a bit easier for the FBI to flag those with severe mental illness while doing a background check on a firearm purchase,” Lopez writes. The Republican-led effort was backed by the National Rifle Association and American Civil Liberties Union, which argued the rule violated Second Amendment rights of people with mental illness.
On Tuesday, Ryan, who first tried to ignore a follow-up question on this very action, was forced to answer by another reporter.
“There were people whose rights were being infringed,” Ryan said about the move. “Protecting people’s right was very important, and that’s what that issue was all about.”
Watch Ryan’s full response (he begins to take questions from reporters at the 9:50 mark):