I’ve never shot a gun. I’ve never even held a gun. And I have no desire or curiosity to ever do so. Like many of you reading this (I’m guessing), I am very much in favor of implementing stricter gun control laws in the United States. However, I’ve been very frustrated by the lack of nuance in the conversation around the Obama gun control rule which the House and Senate have just voted to overturn. And this isn’t an isolated problem, this is a problem in our media environment and our culture in general. Complex issues get boiled down to headlines and sound bites, making it impossible to discuss anything with any real seriousness or to consider any grey areas.
If you read my post Disarming, you’re already familiar with my complaints about the way this particular topic was covered back when it passed the House. And to be fair, this time around with the Senate vote, some of the headlines and tweets were more carefully worded (though many of them still stunk). But the entire discussion around this rule was still very black and white and surface level – like so often happens in our politics – and it just left a lot of people feeling scared & outraged, without providing any deeper understanding. And the thing is, it’s not that I even necessarily disagree with the outrage over this. I’m not really sure how I feel about it, because I think it’s complicated. So that why I wanted to share with you another perspective.
Shortly after the House vote, Vox put out this really interesting piece written by outside contributor , a self-described liberal disability rights activist who had worked with the Clinton campaign and is fighting many of Trump’s policies. He explained why he sided with the GOP and the NRA to support overturning this gun rule. If you have time, you should really read the whole thing, but here’s an excerpt [the National Instant Criminal Background Check System is referred to as NICS in the excerpt, and the gun rule is referred to as the representative payee rule, since it affects people who use a “representative payee” to collect their social security disability benefits]:
During my time at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, I heard from a number of autistic adults who were concerned that their use of a representative payee would prevent them from taking part in hunting and other aspects of rural culture involving firearms. Still, despite that, the primary reason I and other disability advocates opposed the Rep Payee rule is less about guns than it is about the precedent the rule might set for other kinds of rights.
Disability advocates are concerned with setting the precedent that needing help with financial matters implies a lack of capacity to exercise other rights. These concerns are rooted in discrimination people with mental disabilities face in other areas of life, such as parenting and voting rights. On these issues, people with mental disabilities often face an assumption of incapacity, forcing disability and civil rights advocates and attorneys to fight to overturn assumptions that a diagnosis or determination of support need in one area should lead to a loss of rights in an unrelated area. Many of the same groups active in defending the voting and parenting rights of people with mental disabilities chose to weigh in against the Social Security rule for similar reasons; they feared that using the representative payee database for prohibiting gun purchases might constitute a “thin end of the wedge” for loss of more important rights down the road.
Advocates are also concerned that shifting names from the representative payee database into NICS might threaten the privacy rights of people with psychiatric disabilities . . . Many security, construction, transportation, and other similar businesses often require clearance through the NICS database, even for jobs that do not directly require the individual to handle explosives or carry a gun. Even if the representative-payee is appointed temporarily, an individual may be permanently barred from returning to the work force.