The Associated Press Fact Check concluded that President Obama’s executive actions regarding gun regulations “may fall short of [their] goal.” Even ABC News assessed, “conditions he is changing by executive action are murkier than he made them out to be.”
Murkiest is Obama’s blaming of the escalation of shooting sprees on overarching “mental illnesses,” and then attempting to take gun rights from the disabled, those who may need them more than others. In reality, his new allocation of $500 million to increase access to individuals’ mental health information for conducting background checks will do nothing more than violate disabled Americans’ privacy and strip the most defenseless of their right to bear arms for protection.
In the president’s town hall meeting on Thursday, he said, “And – the problem, when we talk about that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, it’s primarily a mental health problem …”
Obama said the same thing about the Oregon shootings: “But we are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses or want to do harm to other people. … [I]t’s fair to say anybody who does this has a sickness in their mind.”
The primary problem with Obama’s primary diagnosis is that mental health professionals disagree.
“Gun violence is not due to mental illness,” at least that’s the conclusion of mental health experts like Dr. Dewey Cornell, a forensic clinical psychologist and professor of education in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, where he also is the director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project. (Cornell developed threat assessment guidelines for Virginia colleges and is also the author of “School Violence: Fears Versus Facts” and “Guidelines for Responding to Student Threats of Violence.”)
According to Dr. Cornell, “It seems intuitive that anyone who commits a mass shooting must be mentally ill, but this is a misuse of the term ‘mental illness.’ Mental illness is a term reserved for the most severe mental disorders where the person has severe symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations.”
So, Obama is misdiagnosing and overgeneralizing. In addition, even if he were speaking of the truly mentally ill, he’s again missing the mark because most with severe mental disorders are nonviolent.
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Again, Dr. Cornell explained, “Decades of mental health research show that only a small proportion of persons with mental illness commit violent acts, and together they account for only a fraction of violent crime. Some mass shooters have had a mental illness. Most do not.”
In the American Journal of Public Health, Jonathan M. Metzl, MD, PhD, and Kenneth T. MacLeish, PhD, wrote in their article, “Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms”: “According to Appelbaum, less than 3% to 5% of US crimes involve people with mental illness, and the percentages of crimes that involve guns are lower than the national average for persons not diagnosed with mental illness. Databases that track gun homicides, such as the National Center for Health Statistics, similarly show that fewer than 5% of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness.”
That is why Dr. Cornell concluded, “Mental illness is another legal landmine. It must be emphasized that there are many forms of mental illness and most persons suffering from a mental illness are not violent. Furthermore, patient advocacy groups do not want to see restrictions on the liberty of persons with mental illness.”
Case in point: Sitting at Obama’s White House gun regulation address on Jan. 5, 2016, was Executive Director Mary Giliberti of The National Alliance on Mental Illnesses. (NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.)
Giliberti was all-ears when she heard Obama’s executive action: “The administration has directed the Social Security Administration (SSA) to issue a draft rule clarifying whether individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits who have a Representative Payee to manage their funds should be included in the federal database (NCICS) listing individuals who are prohibited from possessing firearms.”
And what type of person is assigned a representative payee? By SSDI’s own criteria, those are “all legally incompetent adults.” And what are examples of “legally incompetent adults”? Disabled people who are – for any reason – “unable to manage his or her resources” or “unable to appoint someone to act on his or her behalf.”
According to NAMI, there are roughly 10 million people on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits – a little over one-third of them have mental illnesses. There are another 8 million-plus people who receive monthly Social Security or Supplemental Security Income who need representative payees.
In response to the White House’s clamp down on their Second Amendment rights, NAMI replied, “NAMI’s longstanding position is that inclusion in the NCICS database should be based on scientific research identifying factors that correlate with increased risks for violence, not generalized assumptions [about every last person receiving SSI or SSDI benefits with a Representative Payee].”
NAMI has already reprimanded the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for trying to reduce mentally disabled Americans’ Second Amendment rights on the basis of unfounded “stereotypical assumptions about mental illness and its relationship to violence.”
Do all the mentally disabled really need to be prohibited from possessing firearms? What about their Second Amendment rights? What about those disabled among them who need the protection? And even if the White House plans to strip away the rights from some of them, who is going to make those individual decisions and against which portion of them?
What Obama’s executive actions mean is, the possibly most-needy, nonviolent disabled people in our country, who are likely more vulnerable to attack and in need of defense than most others, will be put on a list of those who can’t by law defend themselves by bearing arms.
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