President Trump Sticks to the Script in Invoking Mental Health in Response to Latest Texas Shootings

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Failures of the mental health system24%
Current gun laws21%
Drug use2%
Violence in popular culture5%
Spread of extremist points of view on the internet13%
Insufficient security at public buildings5%
Inflamatory language from political commentators4%
Unstable family situations5%
Media attention given to perpetrators10%
Don't know/no opinion10%

While President Donald Trump has cultivated an image among his followers for defying the conventions of politics, his initial response to yesterday's mass killings by a gunman in Sutherland Springs, Texas, strictly followed the conventional script used by GOP elected officials in the wake of mass shootings. Following the initial solemn offer of thoughts and prayers, he opted to explain the killing in terms that have become familiar.  Per the CNBC write-up:  "This isn't a guns situation," he said, before adding, "This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It's a very, very sad event."  

The syntax is Trumpian, but the content is poll-tested, textbook GOP messaging, as Josh Blank and I wrote after the Las Vegas shootings earlier this year and after the shootings at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs in 2015.  The political success of this increasingly rote rhetorical turn suggests we'll be writing about it again unless public opinion changes. 

While there have been signs that events sometimes trigger some shifts in attitudes toward the strictness of guns laws -- see the results posted after the media clips -- given the ways that gun attitudes, partisanship, and the balance of power among relevant interest groups intersect, durable changes in either attitudes or the legal framework around gun purchases and possession seem unlikely.


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More strict52%
Less strict13%
Left as they are now31%
Don't know/no opinion5%

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More strict86%38%25%
Less strict4%16%19%
Left as they are now6%41%51%
Don't know/no opinion4%5%5%

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More strict36%
Less strict22%
Left as they are now36%
Don't know/No opinion5%

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More strict69%28%12%
Less strict6%26%34%
Left as they are now19%32%52%
Don't know/No opinion6%14%2%