05 January 2016

You want real change to stop gun violence?

Content/TW: Liberal profanity (including many f-words), gun violence, institutions, police violence, racism, ableism. 

Photo: Hand-drawn cartoon of a hand holding a gun, and another person's hand putting the index finger down the barrel of the gun.

You want real change to stop gun violence? 

Stop throwing people of color and psych disabled people under the fucking bus.

I received an email yesterday from President Obama's White House Office of Public Engagement outlining his new set of executive orders (to be announced in full later today, along with the parent of one of the children killed in the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut) on stopping gun violence. 

The email notes the following orders (necessary context, and you're welcome, to everyone wondering what the orders say since they haven't been totally public yet as of time of posting): 

[long quote begin]

Ensure States are providing records to the background check system, and work cooperatively with jurisdictions to improve reporting.   Congress has prohibited specific categories of people from buying guns—from convicted felons to users of illegal drugs to individuals convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. 
The Administration is committed to improving care for Americans experiencing mental health issues.  In the last seven years, our country has made extraordinary progress in expanding mental health coverage for millions of Americans.  This includes the Affordable Care Act’s end to insurance company discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, required coverage of mental health and substance use disorder services in the individual and small group markets, and an expansion of mental health and substance use disorder parity policies, all of which are estimated to help more than 60 million Americans.  About 13.5 million more Americans have gained Medicaid coverage since October 2013, significantly improving access to mental health care.  And thanks to more than $100 million in funding from the Affordable Care Act, community health centers have expanded behavioral health services for nearly 900,000 people nationwide over the past two years.  We must continue to remove the stigma around mental illness and its treatment—and make sure that these individuals and their families know they are not alone.  While individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, incidents of violence continue to highlight a crisis in America’s mental health system.  In addition to helping people get the treatment they need, we must make sure we keep guns out of the hands of those who are prohibited by law from having them.  Today, the Administration is announcing the following steps to help achieve these goals:

Dedicate significant new resources to increase access to mental health care.  Despite our recent significant gains, less than half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need.  To address this, the Administration is proposing a new $500 million investment to help engage individuals with serious mental illness in care, improve access to care by increasing service capacity and the behavioral health workforce, and ensure that behavioral health care systems work for everyone.  This effort would increase access to mental health services to protect the health of children and communities, prevent suicide, and promote mental health as a top priority.   
Include information from the Social Security Administration in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm.   Current law prohibits individuals from buying a gun if, because of a mental health issue, they are either a danger to themselves or others or are unable to manage their own affairs.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to ensure that appropriate information in its records is reported to NICS.  The reporting that SSA, in consultation with the Department of Justice, is expected to require will cover 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, or who have been found by a state or federal court to be legally incompetent.  The rulemaking will also provide a mechanism for people to seek relief from the federal prohibition on possessing a firearm for reasons related to mental health.

Remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing States from reporting relevant information to the background check system.  Although States generally report criminal history information to NICS, many continue to report little information about individuals who are prohibited by Federal law from possessing or receiving a gun for specific mental health reasons.  Some State officials raised concerns about whether such reporting would be precluded by the Privacy Rule issued under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Today, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule expressly permitting certain HIPAA covered entities to provide to the NICS limited demographic and other necessary information about these individuals.

[long quote end]

Obama, you need to stop throwing psych disabled people into the sniper's crosshairs of political expediency. Your order urges the public not to add stigma to mental illness and people who have mental health related conditions or psych disabilities, yet its very substance directly contradicts this purported objective. Your order relies on stigma and fear around psychiatric disability, mental illness, madness, and neurodivergence by including this very section, let alone including it as part of your goal to keep guns "out of the wrong hands." 

I'm all for gun control in theory, but here's some cold, hard reality that you clearly need to swallow. 

(1) You can criminalize guns, but look how well that works with drugs. If someone really wants to get their hands on a gun, it won't matter whether they are legally able to obtain the gun or not; they will find a way to obtain the gun themself or through another person. 

(2) Your executive orders and virtually all policy proposals on the topic rely on background checks as the means for controlling gun purchases and ownership, regulating gun possession, and monitoring gun owners. As numerous other people have already discussed at length, background checks rely on arrest and conviction records, which mean that those who will be precluded from gun ownership (as you yourself already noted) are disproportionately Black and Brown people, since that is the demographic most likely to be impacted by the criminal (in)justice system.  

(3) Your executive order announcement here is waffling between emphasizing the importance of your mental health bullshit and apologetically trying to disclaim involvement by resorting to, "Well, we have to keep guns out of the hands of those legally prohibited from owning them by reason of mental illness." So are you doing it because you genuinely believe it's the right thing to do, based on your ableist, sanist prejudices against neurodivergent and psych disabled people, or are you doing it because the law so requires? And if the law so requires, why not consider that sometimes sorry, not sorry, most a ridiculously huge amount of the time, the law is fucking unjust and dependent on the same fucking systems of oppression and their underlying assumptions and values.

(4) Your executive order apologetically mentions that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims than perpetrators, but then goes right on ahead blazing into its scapegoating, business as usual. Stop. 

Some people with mental illness do violent things, including using guns in violent crimes. Plenty of people with absolutely no mental illness whatsoever also do violent things. Putting mental health into this conversation AT ALL is evidence of deeply rooted, ingrained, and thoroughly unexamined ableism. It is irrelevant. 

The relevant thing to be focusing on is actual violence and its actual causes. Not whatever scary scapegoat you want to pin it on so you can avoid critical discussions of the real problems in this country. 

(5) Your executive orders will require various federal agencies to ensure that states' can more easily share private health information about people with psych disabilities by creating specific exemptions to HIPAA. 

(For those who don't know what HIPAA is, it's the law that protects your private health information from the prying minds of anyone who randomly wants to know what STI's or STD's you have, when you've ever been prescribed psychiatric meds, etc. etc. etc. It's the law that makes sure your employers can't discriminate against you based on your health history by protecting your information. It's the law that for many people with psych disabilities, lived experience of mental health conditions, and others who have survived traumas, means that seeking any kind of services, supports, treatments, or therapies can become possible -- precisely because it protects against external judgment steeped in pervasive ableist stigma.)

You can't have it both ways, wanting to improve mental health services and also weaken the HIPAA protections that can prevent many kinds of discrimination, abuse, and exploitation. 

(6) Do we need improvement in mental health care? As a disabled advocate with pretty significant public policy experience, especially at my tender age, abso-fucking-lutely yes. Our system for mental health care service models and delivery is seriously fucked up. And that's the most polite way I can put it. We one hundred percent need better services, better quality services, more accessible services, more multiculturally competent services, more affordable services. Enforcement of the mental health parity law. Strengthening of network adequacy, especially in lower income and rural areas. Significant, vast improvements in services and care available for queer and trans folk. Et cetera. 

But that conversation does not belong in a conversation about gun violence. It is a separate conversation that deserves full time and attention, not to be inserted into this conversation as a placeholder for addressing actual underlying issues of widespread gun violence in this country.

(7) You don't specify what kind of care or services you'll be funding, so, excuse me if I'm skeptical, but I have a hard time believing you mean anything other than coercive, involuntary treatment along the lines of Murphy's proposal.

I keep hearing criminal justice reform advocates talk about how some people need treatment, not jail. Sounds great in theory, but institutions are just medical incarceration.

No thank you to ableist confinement and paternalism in the name of public safety over bodily autonomy and dignity.

If you want a conversation on mental health care, let's talk about disparities in access for rural people, for immigrants. For queer and trans people. For people of color. For other disabled people. Let's talk about the duplicitous nature of group homes with institutional environments. Let's talk about the insidious nature of guardianship -- "civil death." Let's talk about the severe funding shortage for peer services and supports.

Where are those conversations? Please tell me and I'll happily join.

(8) You want to stop gun violence? Demilitarize the fucking police, because it's the police that murder Black, Brown, Indigenous, queer, trans, and disabled people in droves. It's the police that implement policies like broken windows policing and stop and frisk. Where's your real talk on gun violence coming from the police who are in theory supposed to serve and protect? Who are they really protecting? 

Who will your background control really protect? 

(9)  Here are some of the real issues in this country: Unchecked (trans)misogyny. White supremacy. Male entitlement. Toxic masculinity. Quasi-property status of children and youth. The presumptions of caregiver benelovence and disabled incompetence. 

Here's a thought: maybe start addressing these problems, and see if you can stop some gun violence. 

You wanted a conversation on how to #StopGunViolence? Sit down, shut up, and start taking notes. 


  1. Very well writ! I'm a life member of the NRA and a second-amendment absolutist, and you managed not to offend that aspect of my identity. Besides which, of course, you're right about the issues you addressed.

  2. It's called Concealed Carry, and A Well-Regulated Militia...
    The Militia is the citizen body themselves, therfore they cannot be abused. It's been done in Ancient Greece, Rome, and even Israel.

  3. Very good article, but there is one thing I'm not quite understanding. You mention that you are against coercive psychiatric treatment, but many people who are suicidal don't want to be hospitalised but coercive hospitalisation often saves their lives. So are you still against coercive hospitalisation in that instance?

    1. Picture yourself in a world where every smoker is locked up and prohibited from obtaining tobacco, and how this 'saved their life'. Picture yourself in a world where people considered fat are forcibly rounded up for forced gastric banding surgery and it 'saves their lives'. Now picture yourself in the real world, where people are rounded up and locked in buildings you choose to call 'hospitals' for daring to want to end 'their' lives ('their' in quotes because the act of forced suicide prohibition shows they don't ultimately own their lives). This violence, you say, 'saves their lives', well, bully for you. Just be honest about the violence you support and stop hiding it in some faux cloak of medicalization. There's a behavior you don't like, called killing yourself, and you support the use of violent caging and restraint and forced drugging to 'save the lives' you're willing to meddle in. Forget the fact that many people kill themselves later on from the trauma of such ridiculously meddlesome 'intervention', which is just violence re-badged. At the end of the day, supporters of the violence that is suicide prohibition, the violent war against suicide, show they aren't worth reasoning with, nobody who is willing to end an argument by calling the cops and strong-arming you into a cage on the basis of your thoughts and feelings is worth arguing with. It's like arguing with any fanatic. A waste of fucking time.

  4. Well, it's a little hard to stand aside when a loved one becomes clinically depressed to the point of suicide and do nothing, esp a child or close family member. This is distinct from let's say, letting person choose to end a terminal situation with dignity, like what's being done in Oregon.

  5. It would be a smart move to invest in guns if you plan on surviving the next 15-20 years, especially with the way A$ treats us like "Juden"...

  6. Some people with mental illness do violent things, including using guns in violent crimes.
    Thank for your post.

  7. Thank you very much for sharing this information with us. I am always against all kinds of violence. Specially if it is a gun violence. Because gun violence is always very dangerous as it destroys lives. So,I hope your article help a lot to prevent gun violence.

  8. Ammy and gun safe review, either you didn't read the article or I fear for your comprehension levels. Ammy, could you tell me what type or types of violence don't destroy lives and are not dangerous? And please don't say pillow fights and mud wrestling.
    Gun safe review, you are being redundant when you say "Some people with mental illness do violent things, including using guns in violent crimes". All you had to say was some people do violent things, including using guns in violent crimes.Even more concise and on point would be to say simply, some people do violent things.
    Why are guns and mentally ill people targets for stupid people, and why is it painted as being the other way around?


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