In the wake of every mass-shooting -- events that occur with heartbreaking regularity in the United States, but no other industrialized democracy -- political rhetoric tends to follow a predictable trajectory. Democratic officials, in general, raise the prospect of new policies to curtail gun violence.
And Republican officials, in general, decry such efforts as anti-freedom, preferring to focus on practically anything else. For some on the right, mass shootings serve as an excuse to renew conversations about violent entertainment (though plenty of other countries enjoy similar cultural fare without violent consequences). For others, gun massacres are reason to start merging religion and public schools (as if the Second Amendment is inviolate, but the First Amendment is malleable).
But in recent months, a focus on mental health -- which must have tested well with focus groups -- has become one of the GOP's principal talking points. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), the day of the mass-shooting in Oregon last week, urged President Obama to back Cornyn's bill "to address mental health factor in mass violence incidents."
In the Washington Post over the weekend, University of Chicago professor Harold Pollack described some provisions of Cornyn's proposal as "helpful and constructive," but highlighted a missing piece of the puzzle.
Cornyn's proposal does not address the most glaring issue in American mental health policy: the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion. Medicaid expansion was always the public health cornerstone of ACA. It remains the single most important measure to expand access to mental health and addiction treatment, serving severely vulnerable populations such as the homeless, addressing the complicated medical and psychiatric difficulties of many young men cycling through our jails and prisons.
I suspect that for many Republicans, the idea of "Obamacare" playing a meaningful role in preventing mass-shootings must sound ridiculous. After all, "Obamacare" is inherently bad, even when it's good, and all of its provisions must be rejected because, well, just because.
But Pollack is entirely correct, and if GOP officials are going to ignore gun-safety measures to focus on mental health, they should probably grow up and reconcile their mental-health rhetoric with their mindless, knee-jerk hostility towards Medicaid expansion through the ACA.