Posted: June 20, 2016
On June 12, the worst mass shooting in American history occurred in Orlando, FL. The shooter targeted members of the LGBT community, and many of those killed or injured were also people of color. In the end, 49 people were killed and another 53 were injured in the attack.
People with disabilities appreciate the value of safe spaces for marginalized communities. When the places we frequent are violated, it can be difficult—if not impossible—to feel safe anywhere. Not unlike those targeted in Orlando, the disability community knows what it is like to be scapegoated for larger societal concerns, targeted because of fear and prejudice, and for having lives that others perceive as not worth living.
Fourteen people were murdered in a mass shooting at a San Bernardino center for people with disabilities in December 2015. Last week it was 49 LGBTQIA folks and their loved ones at a nightclub in Orlando. We offer not only our solidarity at this time, but also stress the need for solutions that honor the need for—and value of—pride, safety and community. Gun violence obstructs that goal.
Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) whose district includes Newtown where the Sandy Hook massacre occurred, began what would become a 15-hour filibuster June 15. As a result of the filibuster, an agreement to vote on legislation to implement universal background checks and block the sale of guns or explosives to anyone on terrorist watch lists was reached and could occur as soon as Tuesday, June 21. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) confirmed the pending vote to news outlets, and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who authored the legislation, told Reuters the vote would likely happen. While we await additional details, in order to make the agreement and any laws which might emerge from it meaningful all persons and communities—including Americans with disabilities—must be included in attempts to identify both the problems and solutions to gun violence.
No doubt, many of those injured in the Orlando attack are now part of the disability community. To date, disability issues have largely remained on the periphery of gun issues with fears about mental health disabilities being the notable exception. However, during the filibuster, Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Rob Portman (R-OH) all mentioned that the disability community could be increasingly targeted in future mass shootings. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) talked about preventing people with mental health disabilities from gaining access to firearms.
In approaching the necessary work in the days, weeks and months ahead, we must be careful as a nation not to single out disabled people—particularly those of us with psychiatric disabilities—to place blame, but rather make the most of the insights, experiences and understanding that disabled people have historically brought to the policy table.
As the past has shown, when people with disabilities are included in the planning, design and implementation of social policy everyone benefits – including our non-disabled peers. When disabled people are excluded, very often important details and nuances are left out which we eventually have to return to, retrofit, and fix. We don’t have the luxury of asking for a “do-over” when addressing gun issues. Workable resolutions to end senseless violence will require the input, involvement and personal commitment of everyone across the political spectrum—including Americans with disabilities.