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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Mental health advocates push back against GOP focus after shooting

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Good morning, Early Birds! Tips? earlytips@washpost.com. Thanks for waking up with us.

In today’s editionPoll Watch: Support for stricter gun laws has wavered for three decades … The Post's Annie Linskey and Josh Dawsey on the rematch between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams … momentum for police reform fades on the 2nd anniversary of George Floyd's death … but first …

On the Hill

Mental health advocates push back against GOP focus after shooting

Many Republicans reacting to the massacre of 19 schoolchildren and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, continue to focus on making mental health the culprit for the killings as they reject Democrats' calls for new gun laws.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during a news conference said local law enforcement told him, “we have a problem with mental health illness in this community.”

Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Tex.) who represents Uvalde said on Fox News, “The root of a lot of these issues is mental health.”

But mental health advocates pushed back. They said the Republican argument is misguided and stigmatizes people with mental illness. 

  • “There's often a conversation that people with mental illness are violent and that's not the case,” Hannah Wesolowski, chief advocacy officer at the National Alliance of Mental Illness, told The Early. “A person with mental illness is more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator of violence.”

Wesolowski said blaming mental illness is “an excuse” and that “mental illness does not cause people to do these acts” and noted that according to the CDC there are many risk factors for violence in addition to mental health, including “toxic stress” from living in poverty, food insecurity, racism, lack of access to health care, violent homes and substance abuse. 

Gov. Abbott said that he'd double the mental health resources for the community of Uvalde in the aftermath of the shooting. Texas ranked last in the country for access to care, according to a 2022 report by Mental Health America.

It is unknown whether the 18-year-old who carried out the killing in Uvalde was diagnosed with any mental health conditions or sought treatment for any.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans who are pointing to mental health have not specified what legislation they would support that would address mass shootings. 

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said he is working to compromise legislation and would be open to a mental health component, but has also dismissed the idea that it is a dominate factor in mass shootings. He argued other nations have a comparable level of mental health cases but have much fewer gun deaths.

During an interview with Washington Post Live on Wednesday, Murphy said the shooting tragedies are creating their own form of mental anguish and stress for people affected by the killings.

“In a nation that has a spiraling rate of violence, we also have a spiraling rate of need for intervention,” Murphy said. “We have a lot of folks who are going through really awful traumas that need a lot of help.”

The latest on the debate in Congress

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that he will hold a vote in the Senate on guns. But first, he is giving Murphy and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) the space to try to reach an agreement. The Senate is expected to leave town on Thursday for ten days for their Memorial Day recess. 

Murphy and Manchin plan to use that recess to keep talking to their Republican colleagues, including Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) about red flag laws and background checks in an attempt to gain the support of 60 senators. 

Romney said he is open to conversations about both red flag laws and background checks. Toomey called the discussions “freewheeling” at this early stage. But the talk are likely to be narrow and not include broad sweeping changes to gun laws, including an assault weapon ban. 

  • “I'm just going to be very willing to be part of a conversation about compromise in the coming days and weeks because I think we do need to show parents in this country that, you know, we're not just ignoring this, that we are going to try to bridge our differences, and that's my commitment,” Murphy said during The Washington Post Live interview.

But discussions are happening, even though lawmakers are pessimistic that anything will come from them. The aftermath of the shooting at the Tops grocery store in Buffalo on May 14 where 10 people were killed and 13 were injured, which prompted no discussion among lawmakers about potential legislation. 

In response to Buffalo, the Senate is scheduled to take a procedural vote Thursday on the Preventing Domestic Terrorism Act, which the House passed last week. The vote is expected to fail due to Republican opposition.

House Democrats have already passed two pieces of gun legislation — a universal background check bill and a measure that would extend the background check wait time from three days to 10. 

Still, Democrats in the House “are feeling reinvigorated to pass more legislation in response to the Uvalde shooting, with leaders sifting through proposed 'red flag' laws to consider when they return to Washington next month,” our colleague Marianna Sotomayor reports. “It would allow concerned 'family members and law enforcement to obtain an extreme risk protection order to temporarily remove access to firearms for those who are deemed a danger to themselves or others by a federal court.'” 

The measure was authored by Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) whose son, Jordan Davis, who was Black, was murdered in Florida in 2012 after Michael Dunn, a white man, confronted Davis for playing loud music in his car.

More from The Post on the Uvalde shooting

Poll Watch

Support for stricter gun laws has wavered for three decades

From Post polling analyst Emily Guskin: Tuesday’s shooting spurred fresh calls for stricter gun laws from President Biden and other Democrats, as well as renewed frustration with Congress’ lack of action on the issue. But what do Americans think about increasing gun restrictions?

In 2021, Gallup found that 52 percent of Americans said that laws covering the sale of firearms should be made “more strict,” down from 57 percent in 2020 and a high of 78 percent when Gallup first asked the question in 1990.

Support for stricter gun laws increases after mass shootings at schools: In March 2018, shortly after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., 67 percent said laws should be more strict — an increase from 60 percent who said the same in October 2017. Support for stricter laws jumped from 43 percent to 58 percent after the December, 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. After the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999, 66 percent of Americans said gun laws should be more strict, up from 60 percent two months earlier.

But support usually goes down months and years after shootings: In October 2018, seven months after the Parkland shooting, the share saying gun laws should be made more strict dipped back down to 61 percent. Similar shifts occurred in the years after Newtown and Columbine.

And partisans have turned in opposite directions over the last 20 years: In 2001, a record-high 44 percent of Republicans said that laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict. That has declined to 24 percent in 2021. On the other side, in 2001, 61 percent of Democrats said that firearm laws should be more strict. That’s up to 91 percent in 2021. 

In contrast to support for gun restrictions in general, support for expanding background checks has stayed very high over time: A Pew Research Center poll last year found 81 percent of Americans supported making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks, including 70 percent of Republicans and 92 percent of Democrats. A smaller 63 percent majority supported a ban on assault-style weapons, including 83 percent of Democrats and less than half as many Republicans (37 percent).

The campaign

Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams are in a rematch. A lot has changed since 2018.

Our colleagues Annie Linskey and Josh Dawsey dive into the rematch in the Georgia gubernatorial race between Stacey Abrams and Gov. Brian Kemp, which will be one of the mostly closely watched races in November.

Annie and Josh write that while the candidates are the same, the race will take place in a different political environment than when the two faced each other in 2018.

  • “The anti-Trump fervor that buoyed Democrats in the last midterm election and nearly lifted Abrams to the governor’s mansion has faded. This time, it’s Republicans who are eager to register their displeasure with President Biden’s policies.”

Kemp enters the race the favorite after soundly defeating former president Donald Trump's chosen candidate, David Perdue, in Tuesday's primary, but Abrams' supporters said they see an opening for their candidate despite the bad political landscape for Democrats.

  • “Abrams’s allies say she has become an even more formidable candidate over the past four years, emerging as a leader in the Democratic Party on voting rights and becoming a massive fundraising draw. In Georgia, she started two initiatives that have eased medical debt for nearly 70,000 state residents, helped small businesses and helped bring coronavirus vaccines to communities,” Annie and Josh write.

At the White House

Momentum on policing fades on the 2nd Anniversary of George Floyd's death

In Minneapolis: Since the death of George Floyd in 2020, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D) “has enacted numerous reforms to rein in a department long accused of racism and excessive force against people of color — including a ban on chokeholds and limits on traffic stops that predominantly targeted Black residents” our colleagues Holly Bailey and Tess Allen report.

But recent state investigation found the Minneapolis police continued to engage in “discriminatory, race-based policing” — targeting and using force on Black people at a higher rate than Whites, and routinely failed to hold its officers accountable for bad behavior, despite the mayor’s promised reforms.

Still, residents remain deeply divided over the future of public safety despite widespread calls for police reform in the aftermath of Floyd’s death.

  • “Minneapolis voters last fall rejected a ballot initiative that would have replaced the police department with a new department of public safety — a vote deeply influenced by rising crime in the city and fears that the department, which has struggled to respond to basic 911 calls due to hundreds of officer departures, could plunge further into crisis,” Holly and Tess write.

Elsewhere around the country:

  • New York City: “Police came under fire for their brutal tactics toward racial justice demonstrators in 2020, many of the promised reforms in response to Floyd’s death have not come to pass — including increased transparency about officer misconduct” and many of the colorful murals of Floyd that have been painted over.
  • Grand Rapids, Mich.: Tensions remain high after the fatal police shooting of Patrick Lyoya during an April traffic stop, which has revived complaints of a history of harassment and racist behavior from Grand Rapids officers toward Black residents.

The Media

What we're reading:

Viral

Thanks for reading. You can also follow us on Twitter: @LACaldwellDC and @theodoricmeyer.

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