By Bob Allen
Disability-rights advocates criticized President Obama’s plan to reduce gun violence by adding the names of 75,000 Americans who receive Social Security benefits with aid of a third party to the National Instant Criminal Background System.
The American Association of People with Disabilities applauded the president for “common sense” measures to reduce gun violence announced at the White House Jan. 5, with one exception: Using the Social Security Administration’s Representative Payee database as a way to identify “dangerous” individuals who should be prevented from purchasing firearms.
Michael Murray, chief operating officer of the organization that works to promote equal opportunity, independent living and political participation for people with disabilities, termed it “a useless and harmful proposal.”
“It unfairly stigmatizes millions of Americans with disabilities who make tremendous contributions to our society and pose no threat of violence,” Murray said. “The likely effect of such efforts will be to discourage many from acknowledging and seeking support for a psychiatric disability, while having absolutely no impact on gun violence.”
The AAPD, along with other groups including the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and Bazelton Center for Mental Health Law, said the plan stigmatizes the mentally ill and could open the door to violation of other rights.
In an emotional meeting with parents and relatives of victims of gun violence in the East Room of the White House, the president at one point wiped away tears while denouncing incidents of gun violence that have plagued his presidency.
The White House announced executive action to keep guns out of the wrong hands including new rules for the Social Security Administration to include “information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.”
The AAPD said that presumes that people with psychiatric disabilities have an unusual propensity for violence, a stereotype debunked by a 2013 paper Grounded in Faith prepared by the association’s Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition.
Drafted by a committee chaired by American Baptist Home Mission Societies executive Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, the publication cited research showing that a person with a psychiatric disability is no more likely to be violent than a person without one and that people with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be the victims of violence than people without disabilities.
The resource, developed “to ensure that the ongoing debate on gun control does not do great harm by stigmatizing people with mental illness or depriving them of their rights and freedoms” said people with severe mental illnesses are two-and-a-half times more likely to be attacked, raped or mugged than the general population and individuals with schizophrenia are 14 times more likely to be victims of a violent crime than to be arrested for one.
“The disability community deserves better than to be stigmatized by inaccurate and harmful rhetoric,” the AAPD said in a press release.
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, a nonprofit organization founded in 2006, said: “The precedent of deeming an individual incompetent to assert any other right as a result of representative payee status is deeply concerning and might lead to further restrictions on key rights, such as voting or parenting, in the future.”
“Making these false connections simply reinforces the fears and prejudices that have kept people with mental illness out of jobs, housing and participation in many aspects of mainstream life,” added the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, founded in 1972 and named after the federal appeals court judge whose landmark opinions established rights enshrined 20 years later by the Americans with Disabilities Act signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.
The American Association of People with Disabilities said the representative payee system “performs an important function of allowing individuals to select a trusted person to assist them in managing their Social Security disability benefits.”
“The rules of the Social Security disability programs are quite complicated, and needing assistance in managing those benefits in no way indicates that an individual cannot manage other aspects of their lives,” the AAPD press team stated. “Asserting that having a representative payee makes an individual dangerous or otherwise unable to manage their own affairs is deeply disturbing and is a slippery slope to the restriction of other rights.”
The press release said the measure proposed by Obama might make those who need financial assistance less willing to utilize the Social Security Administration’s representative payee system. “This is unacceptable,” the AAPD said.
“AAPD applauds this Administration for many of its efforts to increase the inclusion of people with disabilities; unfortunately, this executive action undermines some of that progress,” the press release concluded. “We urge the Obama Administration and the Social Security Administration to reconsider this course of action and remove this measure from further consideration.”