Mental Health and Gun Violence – The President’s Plan

Today, President Obama is announcing new executive actions on gun violence. I am a proponent of sensible gun control solutions. I do not believe we can arm ourselves to safety.

I am, however, always concerned when discussions around gun control stigmatize people with various types of disabilities as dangerous, so I was glad to see this.

We must continue to remove the stigma around mental illness and its treatment—and make sure that these individuals and their families know they are not alone. While individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, incidents of violence continue to highlight a crisis in America’s mental health system. In addition to helping people get the treatment they need, we must make sure we keep guns out of the hands of those who are prohibited by law from having them. Today, the Administration is announcing the following steps to help achieve these goals:

  • Dedicate significant new resources to increase access to mental health care. Despite our recent significant gains, less than half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need. To address this, the Administration is proposing a new $500 million investment to help engage individuals with serious mental illness in care, improve access to care by increasing service capacity and the behavioral health workforce, and ensure that behavioral health care systems work for everyone. This effort would increase access to mental health services to protect the health of children and communities, prevent suicide, and promote mental health as a top priority.
  • Include information from the Social Security Administration in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm. Current law prohibits individuals from buying a gun if, because of a mental health issue, they are either a danger to themselves or others or are unable to manage their own affairs. …
  • Remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing States from reporting relevant information to the background check system. Although States generally report criminal history information to NICS, many continue to report little information about individuals who are prohibited by Federal law from possessing or receiving a gun for specific mental health reasons. …

What I like about this is that the White House leads with the statement that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims, and that their proposal is to increase resources. It is reasonable to try to limit access to firearms for people with specific conditions, especially due to suicide risk (rather than homicide risk). But we improve the situation by fighting stigma, so people who need help can ask for it, and we improve the situation by providing help to those who need it.

UPDATE: Here’s a major critique of the erosion of HIPPA protections as both illegal AND useless in preventing gun violence.

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