by Kate Fitch
This is hard for me to write about because of personal biases in the debate about gun restriction, but this statement released by the White House on January 4 alarms me.
First, the statement rolls efforts to increase gun restriction in with expanding mental health services. I support both of these efforts. BUT issuing a statement that places these two priorities together on the basis of “making communities safer” is incredibly stigmatizing. It is saying, “people with mental health conditions are the reason that our communities are unsafe.” It is saying, “people with mental illness are dangerous.” It is discriminatory, plain and simple. Based on the horrible actions of a few individuals who have mental health conditions, we are going to simply label everyone with a mental illness as dangerous? If we’re going to use such sweeping generalizations, why not just ban guns for all people of low socio-economic status? How about all people who have used alcohol? What about people of a certain gender? Right, because that’s discriminatory. Targeting people with mental illness is also discriminatory, and not based on meaningful statistics. The vast majority of people with mental illness do not commit gun violence.
Second, the statement says that the Social Security Administration will be required to report “appropriate records of the approximately 75,000 people each year who have a documented mental health issue, receive disability benefits, and are unable to manage those benefits because of their mental impairment” to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for Federal Firearms Licensees. So requesting and receiving assistance in managing the incredibly complex process of acquiring SSA benefits is being equated with being a dangerous person unfit to possess a firearm. Representative Payee services are absolutely not correlated in any way to someone’s likelihood of committing gun violence. Frankly, what the hell.
Third, the language of the statement is absolutely repulsive. Right alongside discussing specific measures to prevent people with mental illness from acquiring firearms, gems such as “the wrong hands,” “criminals and other prohibited persons,” and “dangerous individuals.” Of course, in paragraphs directly talking about people with mental illness, the statement is careful to stick to “prohibited” and “disqualified” individuals, but the tone of the statement is clear. People with mental illness are equated to criminals and labeled as “dangerous.” All while ending the document with a statement that “we must continue to remove the stigma around mental illness.” THIS WILL NOT HELP. This little Fact Sheet has just told millions of people that individuals with mental illness are to be feared. That will not help eliminate stigma.
Finally, we end with a vague promise to infuse the mental healthcare system with $500 million to engage individuals with serious mental illness in treatment. However, how this money will be spent is not specified. Are we funding evidence-based community treatments, or are we talking about locking away these “dangerous” people for the sake of “public safety.” Based on the tone of the entire piece, I’m guessing the latter.