Policy Matters Blog

Joint Statement From Members of the Disability Community and Allies on Gun Violence Prevention Policy and Mental Health Disabilities

In light of recent gun violence tragedies in our country and the ensuing national conversation conflating mental health and violence, a coalition of education and disability rights groups recently came together to discuss how to push back against this narrative and any potentially harmful legislation that may come as a result. While we agree that something must be done to end incidents of mass violence, any measures that are taken to enhance safety must protect the civil rights of individuals with mental health and other disabilities. 

The President and legislators from both parties across the country are casting much of the blame for incidents of mass violence on people with mental illness, even going so far as to propose institutionalization and surveillance. While mental illness can sometimes play a role, the conflation of mental health or other disabilities with violence is inaccurate and harmful. Data show that people with disabilities, including mental illness, are far more likely to be victims of gun violence rather than perpetrators. Stigmatizing this community will only lead to harmful outcomes—including dissuading some people from seeking any kind of help. This could have significant negative implications for students and schools. 

To make our schools and communities safer, we must follow the best practices and research that have been proven to work. Our most effective efforts start with ensuring a safe and supportive learning environment and a positive school climate. This requires schools having effective leadership, equitable policies, and adequate numbers of school-employed mental health professionals. It requires building trusting relationships between adults and students, as well as a commitment to preventing harmful behaviors such as bullying and harassment. It requires an inclusive and welcoming culture that celebrates diversity and fights stigmas around mental health problems, disabilities, and other differences. It requires protecting students' civil rights and using positive—not punitive—discipline to replace negative behaviors with positive ones. It requires measures that will limit access to guns—especially those with a high capacity—for children and others who should not have them.

Children who feel valued and safe, and who receive the supports they need, don't turn to violence as a solution to their problems.

Read the joint statement from the 36 groups below.

Joint Statement From Members of the Disability Community and Allies on Gun Violence Prevention Policy and Mental Health Disabilities
The recent mass shootings in our country have necessarily turned the spotlight on proposed policies and solutions at the legislative level. While the undersigned agree that public safety is paramount, the assumption that people with mental health disabilities, including those with perceived mental health disabilities, are inherently dangerous and that targeting them will solve our country's gun violence problem is wrong. Talking points and legislation relying on those assumptions are counterproductive and only serve to further stigmatize people with mental health disabilities and the disability community as a whole.

Despite data to the contrary, the President and some legislators have stated that people with mental health disabilities are the primary perpetrators of gun violence. The President has proposed institutionalizing people with mental health disabilities and is reportedly considering subjecting them to surveillance. Some legislators have similarly suggested that people with mental health disabilities should be the primary target of gun violence prevention efforts. We soundly reject this argument. Studies have repeatedly shown that people with disabilities, including mental health disabilities, are far more likely to be victims of gun violence than perpetrators. In fact, recent studies demonstrate that only 4% of gun violence is connected to mental health disabilities. Mental health disabilities are not accurate predictors of violence, a fact recognized by the American Psychological Association, among others, and should not be treated as such. Legislation that targets people with mental health disabilities will not be effective in reducing gun violence. Falsely blaming people with mental health disabilities for violence will stigmatize these individuals, violate their right to privacy, and will likely dissuade some people from seeking help at all.

All Americans, including people with disabilities, have a civil right to live in their communities and not be segregated or imprisoned simply because they have a disability. Building more institutions, as the Administration proposes, unjustly threatens the civil rights and freedom of people with mental health disabilities while doing nothing to reduce gun violence in this country. Other proposals aimed at identifying students with disabilities at a young age as potential threats only serve to further isolate and stigmatize students. This is neither helpful nor effective in increasing safety or reducing gun violence and will ultimately harm those with mental health disabilities as well as the broader disability community.

The simple fact is that other countries around the world have just as many people with mental health disabilities, but they do not experience gun violence at the same magnitude as the United States. The problem is only exacerbated by systemic racism and hatred. Our country is faced with a rise in hate crimes targeting marginalized communities and an increase in racially motivated mass shootings in recent years. Hate and racism are not mental health disabilities, nor should they be treated as such. There are no medical providers, procedures, or medications that exist that can treat a person's hatred. Gun violence is not clinical in nature—it is a societal problem.

It is an act of prejudice to use people with disabilities as scapegoats for the increasing incidences of mass shootings and acts of mass violence in this country. Ultimately this will do nothing to curb the epidemic of gun violence in our nation. We will not accept or support any legislation that sacrifices the civil rights of people with disabilities in exchange for the appearance of action on gun violence. Effective reform can and should be accomplished without compromising the civil rights of people with disabilities. We call upon all of our legislators to condemn this dangerous rhetoric and refute any related legislative proposals that will put the lives and freedoms of Americans with disabilities at risk.

Signed in Solidarity,

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Advocacy Unlimited, Inc.

American Association of People with Disabilities

Association of University Centers on Disabilities

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law Center for Public Representation

Connecticut Cross Disability Lifespan Alliance

Connecticut Legal Rights Project, Inc.

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

Disability Rights Connecticut Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF)

Gift of Voice

Hon. Tony Coelho, Author of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Keep the Promise

Little Lobbyists

Mental Health America

National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities

National Association of County Behavioral Health & Disability Directors

National Association of School Psychologists

National Association of Secondary School Principals

National Center for Learning Disabilities

National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery

National Council for Independent Living

National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools

National Disability Rights Network

National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund

National Mental Health Consumers' Self-Help Clearinghouse

New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services

Oregon Mental Health Consumer Psychiatric Survivor Coalition

Pennsylvania Action: Protecting Disability Rights


The Alliance for Excellent Education

The Arc of the United States

The Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy and Innovation

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights