The petition text:
Earlier this month a tragic shooting in Tucson, AZ targeting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords killed six people and injured 20. The senseless attack left us grappling with many questions, but one thing is very clear: Whatever you believe about gun laws, we should all be able to agree that we should do everything possible to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.
Unfortunately, a broken system of background checks and wide enforcement loopholes make it difficult to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Please join us, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and others in calling on Congressional leaders to enact reforms now:
Below is the message we'll send to Congress on your behalf:
Dear Representative / Senator,
In the wake of the recent shootings in Tucson, I was upset to learn that Congress has long tolerated wide loopholes in the laws meant to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, drug abusers, the mentally ill and other dangerous people. I'm calling on you to immediately close these gaps by taking two critical steps:
1) Get all the names of people who should be prohibited from buying a gun into the background check system.
2) Close the loopholes in the background check system.
Without taking these steps, the gun control laws intended to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals are rendered practically meaningless. Because Jared Lee Loughner wasn't placed in the database for a previous drug conviction, he was able to purchase the gun he used to target Congresswoman Giffords, kill six, and wound 20.
That is to say nothing of the 34 Americans each day who are murdered with guns -- many of which have not been legally obtained. We can't accept the flaws in our background check system that lead to these tragic deaths.
While I have generally felt comfortable supporting ColorOfChange causes in the past, I was very disappointed in the last email message you asked me to send to Congress regarding the Tuscon shootings. This is a quote from your form letter/message that you planned to send to Congress on my behalf: "In the wake of the recent shootings in Tucson, I was upset to learn that Congress has long tolerated wide loopholes in the laws meant to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, drug abusers, the mentally ill and other dangerous people." I just want to take a few minutes of your time to explain why I found this statement to be particularly disturbing and why I could not put my name on the petition.
You have no reason to know this, but I myself am "mentally ill.” (Actually I prefer to be referred to as a person with mental illness, as my illness does not define me any more than diabetes would define a person with diabetes.) I have no desire to own a gun at this point in my life, but I believe that I am capable of being a responsible gun owner if I so choose, in spite of my mental illness. I am one of those productive, peaceful, “everyday Americans” you mentioned in your email message promoting this petition. I've been able to hold onto a great job in spite of my health condition and have very positive relationships with my coworkers and supervisors. I enjoy the company of friends and family who love and support me and I participate actively in efforts to better my community. By all means, I have been able to manage my condition and live a full, rich life.
It concerns me greatly that your form letter lumps "the mentally ill" in with "criminals, drug abusers...and other dangerous people." Perhaps you did not mean to, but your statement quite unambiguously equates having a mental illness with being a dangerous person. I would certainly reject any insinuation that I am a dangerous or violent person. As I'm sure you agree, the mere instance of mental illness in a person does not make that person dangerous. I'm sure you also acknowledge that the majority of violent crimes committed in this country are committed by individuals who do not suffer from any mental illness. In fact, those with severe mental illnesses are significantly more likely to be raped, robbed, or otherwise violently victimized than the rest of the general population.
So perhaps when you said "mentally ill" you really meant “a person with a destabilizing mental health condition who has a propensity for violent behavior as determined by a mental health professional.” I can agree that there should be a process by which those individuals are flagged for the purposes of gun ownership background checks. However that's not the way your petition is written. It suggests that all or many of those with mental illness are somehow dangerous and a threat and, unfortunately, the letter does not go on to provide any qualifications to suggest that this is not a sweeping statement. Again, I support gun control but I do not believe that an instance of mental illness should be an automatic exclusion from gun ownership.
You may ask me why this wording matters so much to me and you may even feel as though I am nitpicking. As someone who regularly deals with the stigma of mental illness, I can assure you I am not. There is a significant amount of shame and ridicule associated with mental illness in this country and it makes people feel like they can't reach out for help and treatment without it negatively impacting their jobs, social life, and family relationships. This is a vicious cycle that can lead to worsening of a person's symptoms and diminish their quality of life. Wording is important and when certain ideas become a regular part of the way we use language, it can have a damaging effect. I believe that the wording you used here is a reflection of this stigma and has the very real effect of perpetuating the shame associated with mental illness in our country at a time when I hope that your intent is the opposite.
Again, as a person that believes in effective gun control and agrees with the idea of requiring extensive screenings prior to gun purchases, I agree with the general sentiment of your comments. However, as a person who knows what it's like to be stigmatized, I implore you to choose your words more carefully in the future. I hope that you understand how this type of wording is hurtful. I implore you to consult the NAMI website from information about the stigma of mental illness.
Thank you for your time.
I welcome your thoughts.
Until next time,