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Ableism in the Gun Violence Debate

Mass shootings have become commonplace in this country. Many of us have been impacted by them. My brother-in-law was murdered in a workplace shooting in Minneapolis in 2012. After each of these tragic events, we hear unhelpful platitudes like “thoughts and prayers” and “never again” statements from politicians. Along with more dangerous rhetoric, pinning the blame on mental health instead of our country’s pervasive gun culture and the powerful and effective lobbying efforts of the NRA. I’ve always been bothered by that. But disability advocate Kelsey Lindell broke it down in a way that resonated with me:

Whenever something horrific happens we hear politicians opposing gun laws spew lines that lobbyists wrote for them:

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
“We don’t have a gun problem we have a mental health problem”

When people who oppose gun control use statements that blame mental illness rather than our gun violence epidemic for horrific murders two things happen:

Mental health, or any neurodivergency, is further stigmatized and politicians push blame off of themselves and onto people who’s brain works differently than theirs.

Ableism works alongside other forms of systemic bias or oppression because it is a part of what co-creates the idea of an “ideal” expectation of body and mind: a non-disabled body and mind. These forms of systemic oppression combine with an implicit bias to label any body or mind form that is “other”than that “ideal” as “less than.” Politicians push the blame off of themselves and ONTO individuals who have mental illness. This increases the fear and stigma that people with mental illness deal with AND gets people to stop talking about gun control and start talking about mental illness instead.

So next time you hear someone saying we don’t have a gun problem, that this is a mental health issue: tell them two things.

1. Reality check: the USA isn’t the only country in the world where people are mentally ill. We ARE the only country that has 12 children die from gun violence and another 32 shot and injured EVERY DAY. Plus, studies show that mental illness contributes to only 4% of all violence, and the amount to gun violence is even smaller.

2. That’s ableist. We need gun control now.

Disability Advocate Kelsey Lindell
Graphic with the text reading "of all children ages 5 to 14 killed by guns in wealthy countries, 92% are US children."
From Vox’s article America’s unique, enduring gun problem, explained
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