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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Gun Issue

In The Politics of Autism, I write:
There is no evidence linking autism to planned violence, but in recent years, mass shootings by young men have led commentators in the mainstream media and on the Internet to suggest such a connection.After the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, for instance, news reports said that the shooter was on the spectrum. The speculation made little sense to anyone who understood autism. Whereas autistic people have language delays and deficits, the killer had learned English as a second language — and learned it well enough to major in the subject in college. Later on, it turned out that he had an entirely different problem, a social anxiety disorder. Adam Lanza, who committed the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, may have had an Asperger’s diagnosis, but his father emphasized that his behavior stemmed from the psychiatric illnesses that he also had. Nevertheless, the media speculated about Lanza’s place on the spectrum, which worried autism parents. One mother of an autistic child wrote: “This is the first time I'm truly afraid for him. Afraid of what may happen to my son with autism at the hands of a stranger; a stranger who has chosen to buy into the media-fueled misinformation that individuals diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are dangerous and capable of horrendous acts of terror and violence.”
Last week, the House voted to reverse an Obama regulation blocking gun purchases by mentally disabled Social Security beneficiaries who have a representative to manage their finance.  A number of disability rights groups supported the reversal.  Ari Ne'eman writes at Vox:
Last December, the Social Security Administration issued a new regulation that had the dubious distinction of bringing together pro-gun groups, and disability and civil rights advocates — the latter including the ACLU and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. The rule required SSA to send names from the agency’s database of certain people receiving disability benefits who had a representative payee — an individual designated by the beneficiary or the agency to help manage a person’s finances — to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). That’s a separate federal database that keeps track of those prohibited from purchasing a gun.

More specifically, the new rule mandated that the agency send to NICS the names of all beneficiaries receiving disability payments who possess a mental impairment — and use a payee. People affected by the rule could have a range of mental disabilities — from dementia to autism to agoraphobia. Predictably, in the run-up to the debate, gun-control groups and gun-rights groups lined up on opposite sides of the issue. But disability rights groups and civil rights organizations were also concerned that the rule lacked a solid connection to public safety and might serve to restrict the rights of people with mental disabilities in other areas.
The issue had been brewing for a while. As far as back as 2013, the National Council on Disability — on which I served as an Obama appointee — had written to the Vice President’s Task Force to Curb Gun Violence urging against any measure linking up the SSA representative payee database with NICS. Around the same time, a coalition of 11 major disability rights groups issued a similar warning, expressing concern that such a measure might set “a dangerous precedent going well beyond the issue of gun violence.”