In his recent op-ed, “The mentally ill have gun rights, too National Rifle Association (NRA) Executive Director Chris Cox defends the reversal of an Obama-era rule that prohibited those who have been diagnosed with certain mental illnesses and assigned a representative payee by the Social Security Administration from owning a firearm.
But in a shocking departure from his normal myth-based fear-mongering, Cox cites sound data showing that mental illness is not a significant risk factor for violence.
In his piece, Cox writes that “…all too often, those who struggle with mental illness are stigmatized by society.” Cox and the NRA understand this stigmatization well, having frequently used it to their advantage. For years, the NRA has led the charge against those who live with mental illness; officials at NRA headquarters have repeatedly demonized and blamed these individuals when horrific tragedies occur.
In the aftermath of the tragic massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, NRA CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre called for a national database of those with mental illness and referred to them as “…genuine monsters - people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them.”
In recent years, LaPierre, Cox, and their allies in Congress have denied the need for stronger gun laws and repeatedly claimed — contrary to the evidence they now cite — that we simply need to “fix our mental health system” to prevent gun violence. What was that about ending stigma?
It is also amusing to note the NRA’s sudden commitment to data and evidence-based solutions, as they have held researchers hostage for decades. Through the 1996 Dickey Amendment, the NRA has actively prevented the Center for Disease Control (CDC) from studying gun violence and disseminating data about the best methods to prevent it.
Additionally, the NRA has repeatedly rejected evidence-based policy proposals to keep guns away from individuals at an increased risk of violence. They have argued against stricter prohibitions for domestic abusers. They have opposed firearm removal in cases where a temporary restraining order has been granted. They have told women they are safer if they are armed when in fact, an abused woman is 10 times more likely to be threatened with a gun than to defend herself with one.
They have opposed new commonsense, evidence-based policies such as the Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO), which is currently in effect in California and Washington state. The GVRO allows family members and/or law enforcement officials to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from an individual in crisis. The policy, which is based on behavioral risk factors for dangerousness rather than a mental health diagnosis alone, was carefully crafted based on what the facts tell us about risk of violence. But despite its basis in scientific evidence and the mental health community’s support for the policy, the NRA opposed the GVRO.
Cox and his colleagues are fooling no one. The hypocrites at NRA headquarters have no problem exploiting those living with mental illness or silencing researchers whose findings might hurt their profit margins. For the NRA, the ends always justify the means. That they are suddenly giving a sanctimonious lecture on ending stigma and listening to data is laughable.
Josh Horwitz is the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.