Fox News falsely claimed the Obama administration had done little to address issues of mental health following recent mass shootings, hiding the fact that gun violence prevention legislation backed by President Obama included mental health provisions and that the president has signed multiple measures aimed at increasing Americans' access to mental health services.
On September 17, President Obama called on Congress to strengthen background checks for gun purchases following the mass shooting at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard by a former Navy reservist who had clearance to access the base as a civilian contractor and who had passed a background check to purchase the gun he brought with him.
On September 18, Fox & Friends criticized the call for stronger gun laws following the tragedy, with co-host Brian Kilmeade saying "the focus really should be on mental illness" and accusing doctors of letting dangerous individuals out "wild in society." Co-host Steve Doocy then criticized President Obama over the tragedy, saying that "[a]fter the Newtown massacre, what did the President of the United States say? He said his administration, quote, 'would bring mental illness out of the shadows.' What have they done so far? They've had a conference in June. Nothing has happened."
Doocy and Kilmeade's fixation on mental health as the solution to gun violence is misplaced, as studies have shown that people with mental health conditions are more often the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. In fact, 96 percent of violent crimes "are committed by people without any mental-health problems at all."
But Doocy was also wrong: Obama and Senate Democrats have supported gun violence prevention legislation which addressed mental health issues, and Obama has signed multiple measures to increase access to mental health services for those who need them.
Obama supported a bipartisan bill that would have strengthened background checks and would have made it more difficult for individuals with severe mental health conditions to acquire a gun, if they had been deemed a danger to themselves or others or had been involuntarily committed. The legislative package sought to improve the records stored in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the FBI-administered criminal background check system for gun purchases from licensed dealers. The bill also supported the creation of a National Commission On Mass Violence that would study issues relating to mass violence, including mental health. Before Republicans led a filibuster that stopped the bill in April, Doocy had criticized Obama for supporting gun violence prevention legislation.
Furthermore, President Obama has signed multiple executive orders aimed at increasing gun safety, including addressing issues of mental health. In January, the President signed orders including "clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover" and committing to "finalizing mental health parity regulations."
The president's 2014 budget included proposals to supply aid and resources to teachers and adults in helping students with mental health conditions, to support state-based mental health programs, and to "train 5,000 additional mental health professionals with an emphasis on serving students and young adults."
Finally, the Affordable Care Act includes provisions to help more Americans have access to mental health services. Most health plans will be required to cover preventive services like depression screenings for adults, and insurance companies will no longer be able to deny health care coverage to anyone because of a pre-existing mental health condition.
Currently, many uninsured Americans with mental health conditions aren't receiving treatment, and between 2009 and 2012, "states cut a total of $4.35 billion in public mental-health spending from their budgets." As Mother Jones reported, these cuts have resulted in "a severe shortage of services, including housing, community-based treatment and access to psychiatric medications." The new health care law is expected to help address these problems, but further efforts from congressional Republicans to sabotage implementation of the law will only continue to threaten Americans' access to these necessary health services.