By Kerri Zeblisky
I read this interesting article on gun violence from Huffington post on February 21. Josh Horwitz, who is the Executive Director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. It was very informative on how we can stop gun violence without blaming people who live with mental illness. He first stated that in the past that anyone with mental illness should be prohibited from ever owning firearms. He then changed his views when the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre happened and admitted that much of what he thought on mental illness turned out to be wrong.
Josh looked into research for his facts on mental illness and found evidence based research for his facts. He found out in his research that many people living with mental illness do not use guns for violence and that mentally ill people are most likely to be victims of violence rather than the perpetrators. He also found out that the gun violence prevention movement focuses less on suicide prevention because nearly 2/3 of all gun related deaths are from suicide. I believe if you want to prevent gun violence it should include all gun violence since the biggest part of it is self-inflicted (as in suicide).
Also the Social Security Administration (SSA) has a rule that prohibits those who live with mental illness that have a representative payee to not be able to own a gun. This is misleading because I have a representative payee. A representative payee is put in place for the reason of poor spending or money management only! It doesn’t speak to the character or habits of the person with a representative payee. It tells us nothing if said person is violent or not. Thankfully congress did vote to repeal this rule. The issue with this bill is that mental illness isn’t a precursor to violence, it just feeds into the myth that all people who live with mental illness are violent.
Thankfully in California they have a policy that prevents dangerous people from owning or possessing firearms without stigmatizing people with mental illness. The policy is Gun Violence Restraining Order or GVRO. The GVRO allows family or law enforcement officials to petition a judge to temporary remove firearms from an individual in crisis. It’s more effective because it focuses on behavioral risk factors then just mental health alone. It gives loved ones the tools and ability to get help for a family member in a crisis.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) found the former SSA law troubling. Not for the reason that they want to end discrimination or stigmatizing those with mental illness, but because in the end they want everyone to be allowed to own firearms no matter who they are. It doesn’t matter who they are even if they have a history of violence or how they got their weapons. The NRA and congress doesn’t care about protecting the rights of people with mental illness because they want to exploit them. Controversially, they will be quick to point out when a gun tragedy occurs to blame it on people with mental illness. At the same time they want every citizen to be able to have access to firearms. The NRA and congress don’t care to look at the hard facts on gun violence. They need to look at individuals with a history of violence or those with substance abuse.
So bringing it back to Horwitz, we need to create effective data-driven laws. This doesn’t mean we use mental illness as a scapegoat. We are quick to point out the immigration ban, but we need to treat mental illness the same way. Religion or national origin isn’t an indicator to violence. Just as people don’t get to choose to be mentally ill or choose where they are born.
Blog posts are written by Shore House members and staff.