Disability rights groups expressed deep concern over President Obama’s new gun safety executive order, calling its focus on people with mental illness unfairly stigmatizing and overreaching.
“People with mental illness are responsible for less than five percent of violence, and are not more likely than their neighbors to engage in violence…,” the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law wrote in a news release. “Making these false connections simply reinforces the fears and prejudices that have kept people with mental illness out of jobs, housing, and participation in many aspects of mainstream life. In fact, people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. ”
The Executive Order includes a range of initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence, including an expanded interpretation of the types of firearm dealers required to conduct background checks and measures to improve gun safety technology, according to a fact sheet accompanying the executive order. It calls for Congress to allocate an additional $500 million for mental health services, which although unlikely to happen during the coming legislative session, received praise from the National Council on Disability.
However, the Executive Order’s announcement that the Obama Administration would move forward with a controversial proposal to restrict firearms for certain Social Security disability benefit recipients was uniformly slammed by disability advocates, including by the NCD, an independent federal agency.
Federal law prohibits a person from obtaining firearms if that person has been involuntarily committed or found by a “court, board, commission, or other lawful authority,” to lack “the mental capacity to manage his own affairs.”
Under the proposal, first reported in July by the Los Angeles Times, the category of people “unable to manage their own affairs” would, for the first time, encompass Social Security disability recipients that have been appointed fiduciaries to oversee their finances, otherwise known as representative payees.
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network argues there is no precedent for using the payee system for such classifications, and it would likely deter recipients from using the payee’s services. The American Association of People with Disabilities expressed similar concerns, stating that the proposal “unfairly stigmatizes millions of Americans with disabilities who make tremendous contributions to our society and pose no threat of violence.”
“While we share President Obama’s desire to reduce gun violence, the National Disability Rights Network believes that some of his executive actions violate the rights of people with psychiatric disabilities…,” NDRN Executive Director Curt Decker, said in a news release. “People with mental illness routinely face stigma and discrimination in many areas of their lives, including housing, employment, and education.
“We are deeply concerned that these actions will discourage them from seeking care or assistance out of a fear of being added to the NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check System] or having their privacy violated.”
Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of Rooted in Rights, is the designated protection and advocacy agency in Washington, and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.