This is a Day in Washington #Disability #Policy Podcast.
The President’s Executive Order on Gun Violence and Mental Health
Hello and welcome to Day in Washington, your disability policy podcast. I’m your host, Day Al-Mohamed working to make sure you stay informed. Today, I want to talk about the President’s Executive Orders on gun violence.
There are a lot of things that are rolled up into that so I thought it might be useful to break them open a little bit, look at them and see what might be of interest here to the disability community.
One of the first things on there is that it talks about processing background checks 24 hours a day, seven days a week and improving notification of local authorities when certain persons unlawfully attempt to buy a gun. This sounds like a really good idea; I know there have been backlogs and it’s been difficult to keep up and checks are going through as well as they can, so it really offers some substantial change. Again, the creation of the Internet Investigation Center to better track illegal online firearm sales as well as additional ATF agents for the enforcement and prosecution of gun laws – all sound really good. Of course that one in particular, it will come down to implementation. Does this actually get implemented to ensure it works effectively?
Now this next one is the point that made me think; it specifically says: “Increase mental health treatment and reporting to the background check system.” Whoa, so including mention, automatically connects the two, “mental health” and “violence.” The disability community has repeatedly cited statistics from research and from the government’s own reports showing that individuals with mental health conditions are actually more likely to be victims of violence. So the presence of it here sets an expectation that could be problematic.
The Administration is proposing a $500 million investment to increase access to mental health care. That sounds pretty good.
So here’s the real kicker, Social Security will include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons. Riiight (said sarcastically). Social Security will “include information.” I have a problem with that.
Reading through, there are a few other issues. One was smart gun technology and also anyone who is “engaged in the business” of selling firearms must be licensed and conduct background checks on their customers.” But let’s go back to the mental health treatment and reporting.
So in the last seven years our country’s made some fantastic progress in expanding health coverage for many americans and even before that there was the Mental Health Parity Act and the ADA and those were both pushing the way we think about mental health and mental illness, fighting to reduce stigma, increased services, and encouraging people to seek treatment.
The reports that SSA along with the Department of Justice will basically include in that database are basically 75,000 people who have a documented (and that’s actually 75,000 per year) who have a documented mental health issue, receive disability benefits, and are unable to manage those benefits because of their mental impairment or have been found by state or federal court to be legally incompetent.
It reminds me of the way we treat people who use food stamps and the way I’ve heard politicians talk about the program and its recipients. They’re all about preventing them from being able to buy soda or candy bars or junk food, adding restriction upon restriction.
Now we do hear about the few people who may game the system but at the same time we also hear about people who are working two and three jobs and still needing the support that food stamps gives them – to basically put food on the table. But what we’re saying is: Because you are poor you don’t get to choose what you eat, you don’t have the right to make poor choices.
You may work as hard as I do may be harder but because you don’t have a higher income and may need help with that food on the table, I shall punish you by taking away your choice. I can buy soda or candy bar, you don’t get to.
So what about mental health? Because you have a mental health condition and because you took care of yourself by seeking help, medical or professional help, and if you couldn’t work or could no longer work (let’s not forget many folks and health conditions cycle in and out of various systems depending on their health at the time) you will be included in this database. Just because you may need help managing your benefits ie managing money, you lose your rights.
Now putting aside the idea of the right, as it relates to gun ownership, you also lose your privacy. We’re creating a category of people who will have fewer rights and less privacy and for some of them it will be because they sought medical help and support, because they did the right thing.
I believe in past behavior, particularly past violent behavior as an indicator for future violent actions. You know, the White House’s very own fact sheet says, and I’m going to quote this here: “While individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than
perpetrators, incidents of violence continue to highlight a crisis in America’s mental health system. In addition to helping people get the
treatment they need we must make sure we keep guns out of the hands of those who are prohibited by law from having them.”
So what does that even mean? What we know is that these folks are less likely, but hey there are few examples and people are talking about mental illness and afraid of it, so we’re going to include elements in this plan about it, even though we know these folks “are more
likely to be victims of violence.” (deep sigh).
It’s a stark reminder of how very differently view people with mental health conditions. There is something “other,” there is something different, something to be feared, and as such something to be controlled. Now obviously gun violence and its connection or lack thereof to mental illness is and will continue to be a difficult and complicated topic.
Many disability organisations, gun ownership organizations, social justice organizations, and others have actually weighed in on this, so I encourage you to read more about the topic for yourself, and to read widely.
This is Day Al-Mohamed hoping you continue to be well and be informed.
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Audio production provided by Chris Wright. Music is “If by force,” courtesy of the Podsafe Music Network and 2012 Records.
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