A PDF version of this joint statement is available to download.
The recent mass shootings in our country have necessarily turned the spotlight on proposed policies and solutions at the legislative level. While the undersigned agree that public safety is paramount, the assumption that people with mental health disabilities, including those with perceived mental health disabilities, are inherently dangerous and that targeting them will solve our country’s gun violence problem is wrong. Talking points and legislation relying on those assumptions are counterproductive and only serve to further stigmatize people with mental health disabilities and the disability community as a whole.
Despite data to the contrary, the President and some legislators have stated that people with mental health disabilities are the primary perpetrators of gun violence. The President has proposed institutionalizing people with mental health disabilities and is reportedly considering subjecting them to surveillance. Some legislators have similarly suggested that people with mental health disabilities should be the primary target of gun violence prevention efforts. We soundly reject this argument. Studies have repeatedly shown that people with disabilities, including mental health disabilities, are far more likely to be victims of gun violence than perpetrators. In fact, recent studies demonstrate that only 4% of gun violence is connected to mental health disabilities. Mental health disabilities are not accurate predictors of violence, a fact recognized by the American Psychological Association, among others, and should not be treated as such. Legislation that targets people with mental health disabilities will not be effective in reducing gun violence. Falsely blaming people with mental health disabilities for violence will stigmatize these individuals, violate their right to privacy, and will likely dissuade some people from seeking help at all.
All Americans, including people with disabilities, have a civil right to live in their communities and not be segregated or imprisoned simply because they have a disability. Building more institutions, as the Administration proposes, unjustly threatens the civil rights and freedom of people with mental health disabilities while doing nothing to reduce gun violence in this country. Other proposals aimed at identifying students with disabilities at a young age as potential threats only serve to further isolate and stigmatize students. This is neither helpful nor effective in increasing safety or reducing gun violence and will ultimately harm those with mental health disabilities as well as the broader disability community.
The simple fact is that other countries around the world have just as many people with mental health disabilities, but they do not experience gun violence at the same magnitude as the United States. The problem is only exacerbated by systemic racism and hatred. Our country is faced with a rise in hate crimes targeting marginalized communities and an increase in racially motivated mass shootings in recent years. Hate and racism are not mental health disabilities, nor should they be treated as such. There are no medical providers, procedures, or medications that exist that can treat a person’s hatred. Gun violence is not clinical in nature— it is a societal problem.
It is an act of prejudice to use people with disabilities as scapegoats for the increasing incidences of mass shootings and acts of mass violence in this country. Ultimately this will do nothing to curb the epidemic of gun violence in our nation. We will not accept or support any legislation that sacrifices the civil rights of people with disabilities in exchange for the appearance of action on gun violence. Effective reform can and should be accomplished without compromising the civil rights of people with disabilities. We call upon all of our legislators to condemn this dangerous rhetoric and refute any related legislative proposals that will put the lives and freedoms of Americans with disabilities at risk.
Signed in Solidarity,
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Advocacy Unlimited, Inc.
Alliance for Excellent Education
American Association of People with Disabilities
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
Center for Public Representation
Connecticut Cross Disability Lifespan Alliance
Connecticut Legal Rights Project, Inc.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Disability Rights Connecticut
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF)
Gift of Voice
Hon. Tony Coelho, Author of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Keep the Promise
Mental Health America
National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities
National Association of County Behavioral Health & Disability Directors
National Association of School Psychologists
National Association of Secondary School Principals
National Center for Learning Disabilities
National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery
National Council on Independent Living
National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools
National Disability Rights Network
National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund
National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Clearinghouse
New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services
Oregon Mental Health Consumer Psychiatric Survivor Coalition
Pennsylvania Action: Protecting Disability Rights
The Alliance for Excellent Education
The Arc of the United States
The Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy and Innovation
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
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The Coalition for Smart Safety includes disability rights, civil rights, education, and privacy organizations working together to stop the false association of gun violence with psychiatric disability.
1 Kim, Sarah, “The Dangers of the Mental Health Narrative when it Comes to Gun Violence,” Forbes, https://www.businessinsider.com/report-under-trump-far-right-violence-on-the-rise-in-the-us-2018-11?fbclid=IwAR1RVMzWXJ6tX_pv56HGwh94yL0NjFYN7HzS_2goAVCtPo4WSRPGuWKcDak, August 7, 2019.
2 Metzl, Johnathan M., “Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms,” 105(2) Am. J. Pub. Health 240-249 (2015) available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4318286.
3 American Psychological Association, Statement of APA CEO on Gun Violence and Mental Health, August 5, 2019, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2019/08/gun-violence-mental-health; American Psychological Association, Resolution on Firearm Violence Research and Prevention (2014) http://www.apa.org/about/policy/firearms.aspx.
4 American Psychological Association, Resolution on Firearm Violence Research and Prevention (2014) http://www.apa.org/about/policy/firearms.aspx (“policy makers have responded to public apprehension about the role of severe mental illness in mass violence towards others in ways that result in policies and practices that further stigmatize persons with serious mental illness and may deter them from engaging in needed psychological or other services”).
5 U.S. Dep’t of Justice, ADA.Gov, About Olmstead, https://www.ada.gov/olmstead/olmstead_about.htm?fbclid=IwAR1JrtqwzMrb6lqP34-Hgqm_3CIappke2hnPu-_W8BF0UhrNymtWENo3LuA.
6 Barnes, Bethany, Targeted: A Family and the Quest to Stop the Next School Shooter, The Oregonian, https://expo.oregonlive.com/news/erry-2018/06/75f0f464cb3367/targeted_a_family_and_the_ques.html. June 24, 2018.