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The problem with Paul Ryan's focus on mental health and guns

Paul Ryan is turning his attention to mental health just eight months after he advanced a measure to make it easier for the mentally impaired to buy firearms.
Image: Ryan Speaks on Trump's Leaking of Classified Information to Russians, James Comey
epa05969869 Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks to the media about President Trump's disclosure of classified information to the Russians, along...

Following every high-profile mass shooting, much of the public naturally turns to policymakers to ask what, if anything, they're prepared to do to help save lives. Yesterday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had an answer in mind.

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.

The Wisconsin congressman went on to talk about various mental-health reforms lawmakers have pursued in recent years, which he's supported.

And at first blush, this may have sounded like a sensible response to the question. If we assume at the outset that Ryan will never consider measures to limit access to firearms, focusing on helping those with mental illness at least appears to be a constructive approach to the situation.

The trouble, however, comes when we look a little closer at the details. We could start, for example, by noting that the House Speaker has pushed for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act's essential health benefits, which includes mental-health treatments. We could also note that Ryan has pushed aggressively for deep cuts to Medicaid, which provides mental health treatments to many low-income Americans. If the Republican leader is serious about this piece of the puzzle, he should probably reconsider some of his budget priorities.

But let's put that aside and focus on the bill Ryan helped pass in February that expanded gun access to the mentally impaired.

As regular readers may recall, when an American suffers from a severe mental illness, to the point that he or she receives disability benefits through the Social Security Administration, there are a variety of limits created to help protect that person and his or her interests. These folks cannot, for example, go to a bank to cash a check on their own.

The Social Security Administration reports the names of those who receive disability benefits due to severe mental illness to the FBI’s background-check system -- and one of the House Republicans' first priorities for this Congress was passing a measure to undo that reporting. With overwhelming GOP support, this passed and received Donald Trump's signature.

To be sure, there's nothing to suggest the Las Vegas gunman took advantage of this policy. Indeed, we have very little information about the shooter's motivation or the state of his mental health.

The point, however, is that Ryan's argument is disjointed: asked about a brutal mass murder, the House Speaker turns his attention to mental health just eight months after he advanced a measure to make it easier for the mentally impaired to buy firearms.

He's going to need some better talking points.