Aug 23, 2019

White House considers new mental illness project to target violent behavior

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The White House is eyeing a proposal that would try to identify early warning signs of violent behavior in people with mental illness, the Washington Post reports. Supporters see it as a way for President Trump to address mass shootings without making changes to gun laws.

Why it matters: As we've written time and again, most mentally ill people are not violent, and the majority of mass shooters have not been diagnosed with a mental illness. And while the stated intention of the proposal is a good one, there are reasons to question whether it'll work.

The big picture: This proposal is part of a larger push to create a new agency called the Health Advanced Research Projects Agency, or HARPA. It would be modeled on DARPA, the research arm of the Pentagon.

  • The administration first discussed creating HARPA in 2017. It's gotten new momentum following recent mass shootings, per the Post.
  • Trump reportedly likes the idea of HARPA, but Congress would have to act to create a new agency.

Details: The mental-illness proposal would use artificial intelligence to try to identify changes in someone's mental state that could make that person more likely to become violent.

Yes, but: AI excels at identifying hidden patterns in huge amounts of data, and has been used before to help identify mental conditions — like finding the imperceptible vocal qualities that might suggest depression, Axios' Kaveh Waddell writes.

  • But scientists warn that people often have different tells, and that applying the same test across large populations can give rise to costly mistakes.

Go deeper: America's mental health problem isn't mass shootings

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What the deadliest mass shootings have in common

Data: U.S. Mass Shootings, 1982-2019: Data From Mother Jones’ Investigation; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

The deadliest mass shootings in recent history have had one thing in common: the perpetrator used an assault rifle.

Why it matters: These weapons possess an incredible amount of killing power, and amplify the destructive will of the person who carries out an attack. Nine people died and 27 were injured in a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio in an attack that lasted 32 seconds. The killer used an AR-15 style assault rifle.

Go deeperArrowSep 7, 2019

Democrats step up pressure for Republicans to act on gun control

House Judiciary Committee Rep. Jerry Nadler speaks to members of the press. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Democrats increased pressure on Republicans Tuesday to act on gun control, advancing new measures and sending a letter to Sen. Mitch McConnell. But McConnell made clear after meeting with President Trump on the issue that the decision rests with Trump, ABC News reports.

Why it matters: Gun violence has become a hot-button issue after August's mass shootings in El Paso, Dayton and the West Texas sister cities of Odessa and Midland. Per Reuters, there's a coordinated Democratic strategy to press McConnell to allow a vote on gun control bills.

Go deeperArrowSep 11, 2019

West Texas shooter reportedly purchased firearm through private sale

Police cars and tape block off a crime scene near to where a gunman was shot and killed at Cinergy Odessa movie theater in Odessa, Texas, following a mass shooting in the area. Photo: Cengiz Yar/Getty Images

Authorities tell ABC News and other media outlets that the gunman who killed 7 people and injured 22 others in a drive-by mass shooting in the West Texas sister cities of Odessa and Midland on Saturday afternoon obtained his firearm through a private sale.

Why it matters: The suspect, 36-year-old Seth Aaron Ator of Odessa, had tried to buy a firearm in January 2014 but was denied, the Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement Tuesday. The agency said it could not legally disclose why, but a law enforcement official told AP it was due to a "mental health issue." The revelation is sure to drive the political debate over closing background check loopholes like the one that allows private vendors to sell weapons without asking about the buyer's legal status.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Sep 3, 2019