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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

NCIL Response to Executive Action to Reduce Gun Violence: Scapegoating People with Psychiatric Diagnoses Will Not Reduce Gun Violence!

The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) would like to express our serious concern with some of the actions in President Obama’s recent proposal to reduce gun violence. We are incredibly dismayed and alarmed by the false implication that individuals with mental illness are a significant source of the country’s gun violence problem. This goes against decades of research that shows that people with psychiatric diagnoses are no more likely to be violent than people without, and are in fact much more likely to be victims of violence. The rhetoric being used is dangerous and discriminatory, and it only furthers the stigma that our community already faces.

Specifically, NCIL opposes the effort to include individuals with mental illness who have representative payees to manage their Social Security benefits in the gun background check database. Not only are people diagnosed with mental illness no more likely to be violent than those without a mental health diagnosis, but there is also no evidence that having a representative payee has any connection to violence. Therefore, taking this step would have no impact on gun violence in this country. Since the action does not require the Social Security Administration (SSA) to report these individuals, we urge SSA to consider conforming to this measure thoughtfully.

While NCIL is encouraged to see the President propose $500 million to increase access to mental health care, the presence of such an initiative in a gun control proposal serves to further reinforce the false connection between mental health and gun violence. Continuing to single out people with mental illness – referred to in the President’s recent remarks as the “few mentally unstable people who inflict harm on others” – takes attention away from the significantly more pressing issues facing our community today. If Congress does choose to support President Obama’s $500 million proposal, NCIL urges that it be used towards increasing access to services and supports that will improve true community integration. Support systems for people with psychiatric disabilities are fractured at best, and the focus must be on expanding community-based, consumer-directed services.

NCIL supports the President’s overall efforts to deal with the gun violence crisis in our country. However, NCIL opposes any legislation or administrative action that continues or strengthens denial of rights based solely on a diagnosis or disability and any deprivation of liberty based on disability rather than criminal activity. We hope that in the future, the President and his Administration will address this issue in a manner that is in line with their previous commitment to people with disabilities.

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