The group Disabled Americans for Firearms Rights, formed before the December 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., saw its membership quadruple to 19,000 after the event, energizing its lobbying on behalf of gun owners. Many disabled citizens have difficulty wielding traditional pistols and rifles, which has prompted some to become vociferous allies in the campaign to block new restrictions on assault-style weapons.
"They're banning these weapons for arbitrary reasons — because it has a certain grip or stock — when in reality those are the features that someone with a disability like me needs to operate a firearm," said Scott Ennis, a hemophiliac who started the Connecticut-based disabled firearm-owners group and serves as its president. Like Foti, Ennis suffered joint damage that makes it difficult for him to grip and shoot.The New York Times reports on mental illness and gun rights:
Federal statistics show that people with disabilities are more likely to be victims of crime. Women with disabilities are targeted three times as often as others, while the rate for disabled men was nearly double that of others as of 2011, the most recent year available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Hate crimes against the disabled increased last year by 67%, with 102 reported, according to the FBI.
"When I was growing up, there seemed to be an unwritten rule that even thugs would leave handicapped people alone," [disabled gun owner Sal] Foti said, "Today, I'm sorry to say, that's gone, and people who are disabled are considered easy prey.… I don't want to be a victim."
Most states simply adhere to the federal standard, banning gun possession only after someone is involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility or designated as mentally ill or incompetent after a court proceeding or other formal legal process. Relatively few with mental health issues, even serious ones, reach this point.
As a result, the police often find themselves grappling with legal ambiguities when they encounter mentally unstable people with guns, unsure how far they can go in searching for and seizing firearms and then, in particular, how they should respond when the owners want them back.
“There is a big gap in the law,” said Jeffrey Furbee, the chief legal adviser to the Police Department in Columbus, Ohio. “There is no common-sense middle ground to protect the public.”
A vast majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent. But recent mass shootings — outside a Tucson supermarket in 2011, at a movie theater last year in Aurora, Colo., and at the Washington Navy Yard in September — have raised public awareness of the gray areas in the law. In each case, the gunman had been recognized as mentally disturbed but had never been barred from having firearms.