Dear President Obama,
National Disability Leadership Alliance is extremely concerned about and offended by your rhetoric regarding people with disabilities and how we relate to gun violence during your January 5th speech. Bringing mental illness and psychiatric disabilities into a conversation about gun violence and mass shootings only serves to further dangerous, ableist myths that individuals with disabilities are responsible for such violence. This is simply not the case. Just because an action is unthinkable, that does not mean that it is a result of disability.
After referring to perpetrators of gun violence as “violent and dangerous people,” “violent criminals,” and “evil,” you then listed investing money into mental health programs as a step to prevent future gun violence. As a result, you led your worldwide audience to conclude that individuals with mental health or psychiatric disabilities are violent, dangerous, evil criminals. But just as you stated that in America “We are not inherently more prone to violence,” the same is true for people with disabilities. We are not inherently more prone to gun violence, and to insinuate that we are only perpetuates ableist stereotypes.
While you stated that you want to “continue to de-stigmatize mental health issues,” your plan only serves to further stigmatize us as dangerous perpetrators of gun violence, despite considerable scientific evidence that finds no link between mental health and violence.
Furthermore, Whitehouse.gov states that “[t]he Department of Health and Human Services is finalizing a rule to remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing States from reporting relevant information about people prohibited from possessing a gun for specific mental health reasons.” What your Administration refers to as “unnecessary legal barriers,” is actually our fundamental right to privacy. We are citizens of this country and entitled to the same rights as all other citizens. Your plan to invade the health records of individuals with disabilities is simply a violation of our rights.
Lastly, using records from the Social Security Administration to deem individuals with representative payees as incompetent to assert their rights is a far stretch and sets a dangerous precedent. Needing assistance in handing finances is not an indication that an individual is violent or dangerous. Taking away this Constitutional right from individuals with representative payees may help to pave the way to take away other rights, including our rights to marry, raise our children, and vote.
We call upon you to change your rhetoric on gun violence and people with disabilities, find real solutions to gun violence that do not use the Disability Community as a scapegoat, and apologize to the Disability Community for spreading these dangerous stereotypes about our people.
National Disability Leadership Alliance
National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery
National Council on Independent Living
Little People of America
National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities
National Association of the Deaf
Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
United Spinal Association
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