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Removing the Rights of People with Disabilities will Not Lead to Reduced Gun Violence

by | Jan 6, 2016 | Press Release

January 6, 2016

The recent proposal announced by the Obama Administration to reduce gun violence contains certain provisions falsely assuming that people with psychiatric disabilities have a propensity for violence. As cited in AAPD’s publication Grounded in Faith, the MacArthur Study of Mental Disorder and Violence – the most rigorous scientific study conducted to date by the country’s leading experts in mental health and violence – found that a person with a psychiatric disability is no more likely to be violent than a person without one. In fact, people with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be the victims of violence than people without disabilities. The disability community deserves better than to be stigmatized by inaccurate and harmful rhetoric.

Specifically, AAPD opposes the Obama Administration’s plan to utilize the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Representative Payee database as a way to identify ‘dangerous’ individuals who should be prevented from purchasing firearms.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network points out in their statement that 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. 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.

As stated by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, government resources should not be diverted from processing urgent applications for benefits and spent instead on making convoluted determinations about whom to report to the gun database—an area outside of the Social Security Administration’s expertise. Furthermore, ineffective efforts to address gun violence should not distract us from the pursuit of measures that will make a real difference.

“AAPD supports the President in taking commonsense steps to make our communities safer, but utilizing the representative payee database as a way to identify people who are likely to commit gun violence is a useless and harmful proposal” said Michael Murray, AAPD’s Chief Operating Officer. “It unfairly stigmatizes millions of Americans with disabilities who make tremendous contributions to our society and pose no threat of violence. 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 proposed measure might also make it less likely that those who need financial assistance will be willing to utilize the SSA’s representative payee system. This is unacceptable.”

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. We urge the Obama Administration and the Social Security Administration to reconsider this course of action and remove this measure from further consideration.


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The American Association of People with Disabilities is a convener, connector, and catalyst for change, increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities.