Congress Vote on Guns & Mental Illness

On Thurs, Feb. 2, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal a number of regulations that the Obama Administration issued in late December. One required the Social Security Administration (SSA) to forward to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) the names of all persons receiving SSI and SSDI on the basis of mental disabilities and who are assigned representative payees to help manage their benefits. The NICS system is a database maintained by the FBI, identifying individuals who should not be permitted to purchase firearms.

Many news headlines have oversimplified the issue; e.g. House votes to scrap rule meant to keep guns from severely mentally ill. The U.S. Senate will be voting on the repeal this coming week. NAMI and other mental health and disability organizations support the repeal.

Talking Points

  • NAMI shares the goal of many Americans of reducing gun violence.
  • We support rules that prevent people who pose evidence-based risks of violence from owning guns, whether a person has mental illness or not.
  • (If asked) Risk factors for violence include:
    • Alcohol or drug abuse;
    • History of violence;
    • History of victimization or physical abuse;
    • Being young and male;
    • Perceived threats from others (sometimes characteristic of untreated psychosis).
  • Despite our support for reducing gun violence, NAMI opposes the SSA-NICS rule because it discriminates against people with mental illness.
  • NAMI is concerned with the rule because there is no basis in science linking difficulties with managing benefits or having an assigned representative payee to increased risks for violence.
  • SSI and SSDI provide vital links to medical benefits for people with mental illness. The rule may unintentionally deter people from applying for SSI/SSDI benefits for fear that doing so might affect their right to gun ownership. Without these benefits, many will not have access to needed mental health care.
  • NAMI is further concerned with the SSA-NICS rule because the SSA may assign a representative payee with no hearing, no right of the person to legal representation and no right to submit evidence in one’s own behalf or other due process protections. Further, once a person is on the NICS database, it is very difficult to get off the database.
  • NAMI shares the important goal of reducing gun violence, but we simply cannot support a rule that arbitrarily links the inability to manage money and the ability to safely and responsibly own or use a firearm.

Bob Carolla, J.D.
Senior Writer; Media Relations, Communications & Public Affairs
NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness
3803 N. Fairfax Dr., Suite 100, Arlington, VA 22203
Main: 703–524–7600
Direct: 703–516–7963

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on February 06, 2017

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