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ASAN Statement on Gun Violence Prevention Following Parkland Mass Shooting

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) joins the nation in mourning the loss of the seventeen men, women, and children who were murdered on February 14, 2017 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. As in all mass shootings, these deaths were tragic, senseless, and preventable. We call on Congress and law enforcement to take common-sense legislative and administrative steps to reduce the likelihood of another tragic, unnecessary loss of life.

Like the majority of Americans, we believe that the current epidemic of mass gun violence is unacceptable and must be addressed through effective gun policy. Policy solutions should target the most common and accurate predictors of gun violence, such as: a history of violent behavior, including history of domestic violence; a history of violent threats; and a history of participation in violent organizations or hate groups. We support efforts to ensure that such behavior is included in the databases used for background checks, and to expand the use of background checks at the point of sale. Gun safety experts have identified a number of additional common-sense steps lawmakers can take to reduce gun violence—and these recommendations are supported by the vast majority of Americans. We urge Congress to act. We should not live in a society where it is as easy to buy a weapon of war as it is to buy groceries.

However, ASAN opposes false solutions based on harmful myths about violence and people with disabilities, including those of us with mental health disabilities. An overwhelming number of research studies1See e.g. Eric B. Elbogen & Sally C. Johnson, The Intricate Link Between Violence and Mental Disorder: Results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, 66 Archives Gen. Psychiatry 152, 155-57 (2009) (finding that, absent risk factors that do increase the likelihood of someone committing a violent act, people with mental health disabilities are no more likely to be violent than any member of the general population); Henry J. Steadman et. al., Violence by people discharged from acute psychiatric inpatient facilities and by others in the same neighborhoods, 55 Archives Gen. Psychiatry 393, 399-401(1998)(finding that people who were recently discharged from inpatient mental hospitals, excluding suicide, were about as likely to be violent as others from the same neighborhoods); Jonathan M. Metzl & Kenneth T. MacLeish, Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms, 105 Am. J. Pub. Health 240, 240, 241 (2015). have found that people with mental health disabilities are no more likely to commit violent acts than anyone else. In fact, we are much more likely to be the victims of a violent crime than the perpetrators.2Erika Harrell, U.S. Dep’t of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ No. 250632, Crimes Against Persons with Disabilities: 2009- 2015 Statistical Tables 3 (2017) (finding that people with disabilities are 2.5 times more likely to be crime victims than people in the general population). (ASAN has prepared a summary of the research on this topic available here.)

This is why, in 2017, ASAN supported a Congressional resolution which reversed a discriminatory regulation against people with disabilities. If implemented, this regulation would have placed people with disabilities who get help managing their benefits into the national instant criminal background check system (NICS). People who need help managing benefits pose absolutely no elevated risk of gun-related violence. This regulation infringed on the due process rights of people with disabilities, including people with mental health disabilities. It deprived people of a right other American citizens possess, solely on the basis of our need for a particular support service. Moreover, because some jobs are unavailable to people whose names have been placed on the NICS registry, the regulation would have cut off access to employment opportunities for people who already face steep barriers to employment.

Policies like these set a dangerous precedent for the rights of people with disabilities. If our disabilities are considered legitimate reasons to restrict our civil rights, then people with disabilities no longer have equal protection under the law. As a disability rights organization, we find this prospect unacceptable.

Using legislation to take rights away from people with disabilities is a common tactic used by legislators who want to appear as if they have taken decisive action, rather than actually take the steps necessary to solve a particular problem. We cannot afford to reach for such shallow and baseless “quick fix” solutions to a problem that, if left unaddressed, will lead to the loss of hundreds of innocent lives a year. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network urges Congress to take real action to prevent gun violence and mass shootings by targeting proven risk factors. For more information on ASAN’s positions on what can be done to truly prevent gun violence, contact Samantha Crane, our Director of Legal and Public Policy, at

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