Decouple Gun Violence and Mental Health Conversations (Democratic Debate Edition)

Disability continues to be a largely ignored issue in the presidential primaries except for when it comes to gun violence, when the candidates get things entirely wrong. Here’s 100% of what Sanders or Clinton (the only candidates that actually might get nominated) said about disability last night.

SANDERS: Let’s begin, Anderson, by understanding that Bernie Sanders has a D-minus voting rating from the NRA. Let’s also understand that back in 1988 when I first ran for the United States Congress, way back then, I told the gun owners of the state of Vermont and I told the people of the state of Vermont, a state which has virtually no gun control, that I supported a ban on assault weapons. And over the years, I have strongly avoided instant background checks, doing away with this terrible gun show loophole. And I think we’ve got to move aggressively at the federal level in dealing with the straw man purchasers.

Also I believe, and I’ve fought for, to understand that there are thousands of people in this country today who are suicidal, who are homicidal, but can’t get the healthcare that they need, the mental healthcare, because they don’t have insurance or they’re too poor. I believe that everybody in this country who has a mental crisis has got to get mental health counseling immediately. 

COOPER: Do you want to shield gun companies from lawsuits?

SANDERS: Of course not. This was a large and complicated bill. There were provisions in it that I think made sense. For example, do I think that a gun shop in the state of Vermont that sells legally a gun to somebody, and that somebody goes out and does something crazy, that that gun shop owner should be held responsible? I don’t.
On the other hand, where you have manufacturers and where you have gun shops knowingly giving guns to criminals or aiding and abetting that, of course we should take action.

Sanders needs to stop stigmatizing mental health. He’s learned to speak much better about racial injustice (good job activists. And all my white liberal friends who were complaining that BLM activists were unfairly pressuring him, that’s why. So he learns). But this stigmatizing of mental health crisis as causally linked to our gun violence, rather than easy access to firearms, when people with mental health issues are vastly  more likely to be victims, has to stop.

I’m delighted to have a candidate advocating for better mental health care – so long as it doesn’t involve forced institutionalization or forced medication. But we have to decouple the conversation about mental health from the conversation about gun violence. 

Whatever Sanders’ intention, his comments reinforce the notion that gun violence is due to mental illness. We’ve got to push back hard against that. And Sanders supporters, if they want my vote for their candidate, will need to lead the way. Teach your candidate.

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