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Gun Control: The Blame Game

Paula Pearlman
May 2, 2013


Newtown, CT, 27 killed and the shooter committed suicide.  Oak Creek, WI, 6 killed, 3 wounded and the shooter committed suicide.  Aurora, CO, 12 killed and 58 wounded.  Carson City, NV, 4 killed, 7 wounded and the shooter committed suicide.  Grand Rapids, MI, 7 killed, 2 wounded and the shooter committed suicide.  Tucson, AZ, 6 killed and 13 wounded.  These are just a half dozen of the US locations where tragedies involving murders with assault weapons or large capacity ammunition magazines have occurred.

Many of the accused perpetrators have been linked to mental health conditions which have led to proposed gun control legislation as it relates to mental illness. This is tricky. While each suspect and the conditions under which the crimes were committed must be considered individually and carefully, there is potential for these debates to cause further harm by entrenching stereotypes about people with mental illness, while ultimately doing little to address the true, underlying causes of violence.

Most people agree the violence is due to the prevalence of guns with high killing capacity and the lack of legal and reasonable legislation such as background checks and waiting periods prior to gun purchases. However despite the bipartisan amendment, the Senate vote failed to garner 60 votes needed to pass a bill fostering gun control measures, such as a waiting period prior to the purchase of a handgun at a gun show.

Some critics of the legislation seem content to point to mental illness as being at the root of this violence. The Los Angeles Times recently quoted Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) as saying that the proposed gun control law would have done nothing to prevent Sandy Hook. “This is really a story about an individual who was severely mentally ill who, for whatever reason, did not get the help that he needed,” Johanns asserted. 

Even Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), a proponent of the proposed gun legislation, was quoted saying “The common ground rests on a simple proposition and that is that criminals and the dangerously mentally ill shouldn’t have guns.  I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that premise.”

Studies have shown, however, that mental illness by itself is not statistically related to violence, and that people with serious mental illnesses are far more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than the perpetrators.  Jennifer Mathis, Deputy Legal Director and Director of Programs at the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, stated “Despite the facts, many lawmakers and journalists continue to stigmatize people with psychiatric disabilities as the primary concern related to gun violence.”  But as we’ve seen, linking this public health crisis to those with a history of mental illness is a distraction to the real problem.

Reasonable gun control regulation should be enacted, but they cannot infringe on the civil rights of persons with disabilities.  Disability activists and concerned citizens must speak up and bring attention to the problems of placing these weapons of mass murder in anyone’s hands.

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Paula Pearlman

**Note: To read the full article written for Abiltiy Magazine, please click here.