Disability Thought Of The Week: Guns

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I am glad to see that based on what I’m reading, there seems to be a refreshing absence of mental health distraction and scapegoating in this weekend's "March For Our Lives" events.

Others have written well about why focusing on mental ill people ... or mentally incompetent, or autistic ... is bad, even from a pro gun control standpoint. It boils down to the fact that while many people who commit the most spectacular gun crimes at least appear to be “mentally ill,” people with mental illness are on average LESS likely to commit gun crimes. On top of that, the impulse to keep guns away from these folks is fueled mostly by unfounded but very deep fears and prejudices people have about mental illness. It's ableism masquerading as common sense.

In fact, I think this relates in some broader ways to how certain disabilities are still viewed in our society. Gun rights advocates and other instinctive conservatives tend to see a social problem like gun violence and look for answers in character. It feels more honest to them to blame the “bad people” who commit killings than to focus on guns, which to them is simply tools. They may or may not accept statistical evidence that the abundance of guns themselves shapes mass behavior, but in their moral universe, it’s all about individual character, personal decisions about Right and Wrong. On other hand, gun control advocates and instinctive progressives tend to look at social problems and seek technocratic answers, causes, and solutions that bypass personal character in favor of mechanical solutions that can make things better without having to make people better.

So here’s the problem for the disability community. Both conservatives and many progressives still basically view mental illness as at least partly about character. Not to the same extent perhaps, but there are a lot more shared assumptions between conservatives and progressives about mental illness than about most other issues. Prejudice against mentally ill people is, to some extent, “bipartisan.” So that makes it a tempting area of agreement where we might restrict guns, but only for a group of people with “all agree” we fear and, to some extent, despise.

Except that it looks like the young people of the "March For Our Lives," "Enough Is Enough" movement don’t share this misplaced focus on mental illness. Maybe it’s because the perpetrators of these school shootings are people they knew ... classmates ... so it’s harder to think of them as some kind of separate class or type of person. Maybe young people just have a better understanding of mental illness than their elders. They might even be savvy enough to recognize a deliberate red herring when they see one. Whatever the reason, it’s a modestly hopeful sign for the gun debate and the disability community.

Note: On Friday, Rooted In Rights posted several Facebook and Twitter items debunking the supposed link between mental illness and gun violence. They are well worth a look for further information.