WASHINGTON - Facing another deadly mass shooting, President Donald Trump is deflecting on gun control.
Over the weekend, he pointed to mental illness as a likely culprit behind recent shootings in Odessa, Texas, and elsewhere, even though criminologists routinely point to gun ownership as a far better predictor of public mass shootings than indicators of mental illness. There were no immediate indications Sunday that mental illness contributed to the shootings that killed 7 and injured 22 others in Texas, a state with one of the most lenient gun control laws.
Trump also repeatedly marveled over Hurricane Dorian’s size, incorrectly telling the public about its potential path and suggesting he’s never heard of a “category 5” storm before. Dorian, in fact, is the fourth category 5 storm to happen under his watch.
The claims capped a week of distortion by Trump on various fronts, from the economy to Iran and North Korea.
TRUMP: “In addition to Florida - South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” — tweet Sunday.
TRUMP: “The original course was dead into Florida. Now it seems to be going up toward South Carolina, toward North Carolina. Georgia’s going to be hit. Alabama’s going to get a piece of it, it looks like.” — remarks to reporters Sunday.
THE FACTS: Trump goes astray in warning of trouble for Alabama, which is expected to be spared. As of Sunday, the National Hurricane Center forecast Dorian to be 40 to 50 miles (64 to 80 kilometers) off the Florida coast on Tuesday and Wednesday, with hurricane-force wind speeds extending about 35 miles (56 kilometers) to the west.
“Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian,” tweeted the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama. “We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.”
Few, if any, meteorologists put Alabama in its path.
Asked if Trump had been briefed about the impact to Alabama, Christopher Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, wrote in an email: “The current forecast path of Dorian does not include Alabama.”
TRUMP: “I’m not sure that I’ve ever even heard of a category 5. I knew it existed and I’ve seen some category 4′s. You don’t even see them that much. But a category 5 is something that I don’t know that I’ve ever even heard the term other than I know it’s there.” — remarks Sunday at FEMA headquarters.
THE FACTS: In his third hurricane season as president, Trump has had plenty of exposure to category 5 storms.
He made the same claim two years ago, saying he wasn’t aware of category 5 storms until Hurricane Irma. “In Florida, you got hit with the strongest winds ever recorded. It actually hit the Keys with a_it was a Category 5. I never even knew a Category 5 existed,” Trump said in September 2017.
Since then, he’s repeatedly marveled about the size of the storms — and by extension, his administration’s response to it — including category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, Michael in 2018 and now Dorian.
Having four category 5 hurricanes in three years is actually more than any other president in history. George W. Bush had eight such hurricanes in eight years. Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan only had one during their two terms in office, while George H.W. Bush had two in four years and Carter had three in four years.
TRUMP, on hurricane aid: “Will it ever end? Congress approved 92 Billion Dollars for Puerto Rico last year, an all time record of its kind for ‘anywhere.’” — tweet Tuesday.
TRUMP, on Puerto Rico: “Congress approved Billions of Dollars last time, more than anyplace else has ever gotten.” — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: His figure of $92 billion is wrong, as is his assertion that the U.S. territory has set some record for federal disaster aid. Congress has so far distributed only about $14 billion for Puerto Rico.
It’s a false claim he’s made repeatedly. The White House has said the estimate includes about $50 billion in expected future disaster disbursements that could span decades, along with $42.7 billion approved.
That $50 billion in additional money, however, is speculative. It is based on Puerto Rico’s eligibility for federal emergency disaster funds for years ahead, involving calamities that haven’t happened.
That money would require future appropriations by Congress.
Even if correct, $92 billion would not be the most ever provided for hurricane rebuilding efforts. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 cost the U.S government more than $120 billion — the bulk of it going to Louisiana.
Trump frequently inflates and complains about the amount of disaster aid that Congress “foolishly gave” Puerto Rico after the deadly destruction from Hurricane Maria in 2017. He has talked as if he doesn’t recognize the U.S. territory as American and, in an April tweet, said Puerto Rico officials “only take from USA.”
Hurricane Dorian inflicted limited damage in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands before intensifying on its track toward the U.S. mainland.
TRUMP, addressing the mass shooting in Odessa, Texas: “For the most part, sadly, if you look at the last four or five going back ... five or six or seven years for the most part, as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it. So it’s a big problem. It’s a mental problem.” — remarks Sunday.
TRUMP: “Our goal must be to identify severely disturbed individuals and disrupt their plans before they strike.” — remarks Sunday at FEMA headquarters.
THE FACTS: He’s oversimplifying the role of mental illness in public mass shootings and minimizing the ease with which Americans can get firearms. There was no immediate indication Sunday that mental illness was a factor in shootings in Texas.
Most people with mental illness in fact are not violent, and they are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators.
A country’s rate of gun ownership is a far better predictor of public mass shootings than indicators of mental illness, said Adam Lankford, a University of Alabama criminologist who published a 2016 analysis of data from 171 countries.
“The key of what’s going on here is access to guns for people who are dangerous or disturbed,” Lankford said. Red flag laws make it easier to disarm people believed to be a danger to themselves or others, “but sometimes there are not clear warning signs or those signs are not reported to the authorities until after an attack,” he said.
Last month, the U.S. Secret Service released a report on mass public attacks in 2018, finding that “no single profile” can be used “to predict who will engage in targeted violence” and “mental illness, alone, is not a risk factor.”
Trump has offered contradictory messages in reacting to recent mass shootings. Days after the El Paso shooting last month, he said he was eager to implement “very meaningful background checks” on guns and told reporters there was “tremendous support” for action. He later backed away, saying the current system of background checks was “very, very strong.”
TRUMP: “On this very day — I just saw a number — almost 160 million people are working. The most ever in the history of our country. I mean, we have incredible numbers.” — remarks to reporters Friday.
THE FACTS: He’s correct, but that’s only because of population growth.
A more relevant measure is the proportion of Americans with jobs, and that is still far below record highs.
According to Labor Department data, 60.7% of people in the United States 16 years and older were working in July. That’s below the all-time high of 64.7% in April 2000, though higher than the 59.9% when Trump was inaugurated in January 2017.
TRUMP: “General Motors, which was once the Giant of Detroit, is now one of the smallest auto manufacturers there. They moved major plants to China, BEFORE I CAME INTO OFFICE. This was done despite the saving help given them by the USA. Now they should start moving back to America again?” — tweet Friday.
THE FACTS: That’s inaccurate on several counts.
Still a giant, GM did not close factories in the U.S. and move them to China. It set up and expanded operations in China primarily to serve that market.
And by many measures, it is the largest U.S. automaker. The company made more money last year than crosstown rivals Fiat Chrysler and Ford, and GM sold more vehicles in the U.S. than the other two.
It remains the largest Michigan-headquartered employer in the state, with a workforce of 52,000 outpacing that of Ford, the state government and Fiat Chrysler, according to an analysis this year by Crain’s Detroit Business. In southeast Michigan, it was No. 2, behind Ford, and ahead of Fiat Chrysler.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: “Watching those 55 small, flag-draped caskets come off the plane was an extraordinary experience. We brought back — we brought back our heroes, and there’s more to come.” — remarks Wednesday to the American Legion veterans group.
THE FACTS: No remains of U.S. service members have been returned since last summer and the U.S. suspended efforts in May to get negotiations on the remains back on track in time to have more repatriated this year. The U.S. hopes more remains may be brought home next year.
The Pentagon’s Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency, which is responsible for recovering U.S. war remains and returning them to families, “has not received any new information from (North Korean) officials regarding the turn over or recovery of remains,” spokesman Charles Prichard said last month.
He said his agency is “still working to communicate” with the North Korean army “as it is our intent to find common ground on resuming recovery missions” in 2020.
Last year, in line with the first summit between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un that June, the North turned over 55 boxes of what it said were the remains of an undetermined number of U.S. service members killed in the North during the 1950-53 war. So far, six Americans have been identified from the 55 boxes.
U.S. officials have said the North has suggested in recent years that it holds perhaps 200 sets of American war remains. Thousands more are unrecovered from battlefields and former POW camps.
The Pentagon estimates that 5,300 Americans were lost in North Korea.
TRUMP on North Korea’s leader: “With respect to North Korea — Kim Jong-un, who I’ve got to know extremely well, the first lady has gotten to know Kim Jong-un and I think she’d agree with me, he is a man with a country that has tremendous potential.” — news conference on Aug. 26 with French President Emmanuel Macron.
THE FACTS: Melania Trump doesn’t know Kim. They have never met.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham clarified the president’s comment, saying Trump confides in his wife on his relationship with Kim and “feels like she’s gotten to know him, too.”
TRUMP on Iran: “We gave them $150 billion and $1.8 billion and we got nothing. ... Look at what they did to John Kerry and to President Obama. Look what happened, where they’re bringing planeloads of cash, planeloads, big planes, 757s, Boeing 757s coming in loaded up with cash. What kind of a deal is that?” — news conference with Macron.
THE FACTS: It’s the kind of deal that did not actually take place.
When Iran signed the multinational deal to restrain its nuclear development in return for being freed from sanctions, it regained access to its own assets, which had been frozen abroad. There was no $150 billion gift from the U.S. treasury or other countries. Iran was allowed to get its money back.
The $1.8 billion refers to a separate matter, also misstated by Trump going back to before the 2016 election.
A payout of roughly that amount did come from the U.S. treasury. It was to pay an old IOU.
In the 1970s, Iran paid the U.S. $400 million for military equipment that was never delivered because the government was overthrown and diplomatic relations ruptured. After the nuclear deal, the U.S. and Iran announced they had settled the matter, with the U.S. agreeing to pay the $400 million principal along with about $1.3 billion in interest.
The $400 million was paid in cash and flown to Tehran on a cargo plane. The arrangement provided for the interest to be paid later.
In Trump’s telling, one cargo plane with $400 million that was owed to Iran has become “big planes, 757s, Boeing 757s,” loaded with a $1.8 billion giveaway. Kerry was then secretary of state.
TRUMP: “We’re, right now, having the cleanest air and cleanest water on the planet.” — remarks on Aug. 26 with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
THE FACTS: That’s not true. Air quality hasn’t improved under the Trump administration and dozens of nations have less smoggy air than the U.S.
Water? One measure, Yale University’s global Environmental Performance Index, finds the U.S. tied with nine other countries as having the cleanest drinking water.
But after decades of improvement, progress in air quality has stalled. Over the last two years the U.S. had more polluted air days than just a few years earlier, federal data show.
There were 15% more days with unhealthy air in America both last year and the year before than there were on average from 2013 through 2016, the four years when the U.S had its fewest number of those days since at least 1980.
The Obama administration set records for the fewest air-polluted days.
The nonprofit Health Effects Institute’s State of Global Air 2019 report ranked the United States 37th dirtiest out of 195 countries for ozone, also known as smog, worse than the global average for population-weighted pollution. Countries such as Britain, Japan, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Albania, Cuba, Russia, Vietnam, New Zealand and Canada have less smoggy air.
The U.S. ranks eighth cleanest on the more deadly category of fine particles in the air.
On environmental quality overall, the Yale index put the U.S. 27th, behind a variety of European countries, Canada, Japan, Australia and more. Switzerland was No. 1.
TRUMP: “I feel that the United States has tremendous wealth. The wealth is under its feet. I’ve made that wealth come alive. ... We are now the number one energy producer in the world.” — news conference with Macron.
THE FACTS: Sole credit to himself is not accurate. The greatest energy revolution of the past half-century happened on Obama’s watch as U.S. petroleum and natural gas production achieved preeminence.
In 2013, the U.S. became the world’s top producer both of natural gas and petroleum hydrocarbons, says the government’s U.S. Energy Information Administration. As for crude oil specifically, the agency says the U.S. became the world’s top crude oil producer last year. That is largely attributed to the shale oil boom that began late in George W. Bush’s administration and proceeded apace during the Obama years.
The boom came because of fracking and other technology, such as horizontal drilling, that made it possible to find much more oil and gas without drilling more holes. As well, Obama lifted a decades-long ban on shipping U.S. oil overseas in 2015, helping increase demand for U.S. crude.
TRUMP, on addressing climate change: “I feel that the United States has tremendous wealth. The wealth is under its feet. ... I’m not going to lose it on dreams, on windmills, which frankly aren’t working too well.” — news conference with Macron.
THE FACTS: In criticizing wind power, Trump misidentified his target. Wind turbines produce energy. Windmills mill grain and flummox Don Quixote.
Trump has ascribed a variety of evils to wind power over the years, usually with scant evidence, while praising coal, a well-documented cause of health problems.