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Experts Question Plan to Link Mental Illness, Shootings

The White House is considering a controversial proposal to study whether mass shootings could be prevented by monitoring mentally ill people for small changes that might foretell violence, the Washington Post reports. Former NBC chairman Bob Wright, a friend of President Donald Trump, has briefed top officials, including the president, the vice president and Ivanka Trump, on a proposal to create a new Health Advanced Research Projects Agency (HARPA) to come up with out-of-the-box ways to tackle health problems. After recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ivanka Trump asked those advocating for the agency whether it could produce new approaches to stopping mass shootings. Wright pulled together a three-page proposal called SAFEHOME for Stopping Aberrant Fatal Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes to explore whether technology like phones and smartwatches can be used to detect when mentally ill people are about to turn violent.

Wright has pushed his proposal to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and several senators and House members. Former vice president Joe Biden also advocated for creating such an agency. The plan alarms experts. “I would love if some new technology suddenly came along that would help us identify violent risk, but there’s so many things about this idea of predicting violence that [don’t] make sense,” said Marisa Randazzo, former chief research psychologist for the U.S. Secret Service. Beyond the concerns about monitoring people through their gadgets, even if the technology could be developed, such a program would probably flag tens, or hundreds of thousands, more possible suspects than actual shooters. How would you sort through them? And how would you know you were right, given the difficulty of proving something that hasn’t happened? Most concerning, she said, is that the proposal is based on the flawed premise that mental illness is directly linked to mass shootings.