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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Confronting Our Fear: Disability Profiling and the Second Amendment – An Update from the NCIL Mental Health Civil Rights Task Force

People simply labeled with mental health disabilities can be (and routinely are) deprived of our civil rights based solely on such a label.

Often such labels are assigned based on the briefest of evaluation (or none at all) with professionals working in the mental health system. Once assigned, such labels often mean the swift and total inability to make the most basic decisions about housing, finances, health care, parental issues, and the right to own and use firearms. On the supposed face of it, that last exclusion may seem to make sense — who wants people who the majority of society fears may be violent to have firearms? This belief, however, is based in fear and prejudice leading to discrimination in the form of an automatic deprivation of one of the most deeply held rights in this country. We aren’t talking about people who have been convicted of a violent crime — we are referring to people who, based solely on a label of a psychiatric disability, are summarily excluded from a civil right guaranteed to almost everyone else. There are numerous studies showing that people labeled with psychiatric disabilities are no more likely to be violent than anyone else — actually, we are more apt to be the victims of violence. We are too often seen as patients first and people — people with civil and human rights second. This understanding isn’t (and would never be) tolerated for any other part of the disability community — essentially, it amounts to absolutely nothing less than outright disability profiling.

Current federal laws (as well as laws in most states) prohibit people who have ever been committed (including outpatient commitment) or who are subject to guardianship from purchasing guns and ammunition. The inability to own a firearm excludes us from being able to go hunting with our families (for sport or subsistence), defend our households if confronted with a home invasion, or hold jobs where there’s a responsibility to defend fellow employees or our employer’s property. Being unable to own a firearm can pose more of a problem for people who live in isolated or otherwise unprotected areas of the country.

More than owning firearms, however, accepting this line of thinking sets a dangerous precedent that one group of people can be unilaterally deprived of their civil and human rights based on unfounded fear. As the next U.S. Congress prepares to be inaugurated and convene, we have to work together to be sure that this doesn’t happen. This will take not only persistent legislative advocacy but education. Even within CILs, the above fear-based views are all too common.

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