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

Guns, Institutionalization, and Databases: An Update from the NCIL Mental Health Civil Rights Subcommittee

Currently, the White House, NRA, and others are floating two ill-conceived ideas that affect disabled persons: a return to more institutionalization and a database of persons who have received mental health treatment. These are both bad ideas that will reduce the rights of everyone.

It is widely known that persons who have a mental illness label are more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator. Misidentifying mental health as a primary factor in gun violence is as discriminatory and ineffective as attempting to identify party affiliation as a primary factor. While the recent shooter did have a history of contact with the mental health profession, in this and other cases, other factors are stronger indicators. Domestic violence, membership in or sympathy toward hate groups, or ideas that promote some people as less than human are higher on list of indicators.

While it is possible that a personal intent on committing violence could be identified by the database, this type of approach would have negative consequences for all Americans. Specifically, it would severely discourage people from seeking help. 

A quarter of the nation would be included in a database that could potentially disqualify them not just from owning a gun, but also obtaining security clearances, jobs, and admission to universities. The medical profession and our payee system insist that everyone seeking help must have a label, but this proposal does little to specify which people with which labels will be included in the database.

People also would be herded by fear into institutions based on public safety concerns. About 50% of people with physical disabilities also have some label in their history of “mental illness”. This proposal would lead to a return to institutionalization and away from community services. Institutionalization did not end in the USA only because it was expensive, but mainly because it did not work. It is against most human rights ethos to lock up people solely based on disability, whether physical or mental. It is quite clear that most people thrive when they are able to fully participate in their communities.

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