Mental health advocates in New York do not want a final agreement on measures meant to curb gun violence across the country to stigmatize vulnerable people and cast a broad net by blaming mental illness for the spate of mass shootings in the last several weeks.
"Falsely blaming people with mental health disabilities for violence will stigmatize these individuals, violate their right to privacy, and will likely dissuade some people from seeking help at all," a coalition of groups wrote to federal leaders on Sunday.
A tentative agreement between a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. Senate is meant to boost funding for mental health programs in schools as well as provide grants to incentivize states to implement red flag laws, which are meant to keep guns away from people deemed to be too dangerous to themselves or others.
In New York, lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul recently signed off an agreement that is meant to expand the state's red flag law to include more people who can file petitions for extreme risk protection orders. The package of measures also included licensing requirements for semiautomatic rifles, raising the age to 18 to possess one.
"This bipartisan agreement is a good start, and I urge our partners in Washington to follow our lead by advocating for even bolder and more substantive reforms," Hochul said of the announced deal in Washington. "Lives depend on it."
The legislation came after mass shootings at a Buffalo supermarket and an elementary school in Texas, spurring calls to once again tighten restrictions on gun possession in the country.
But at the same time, mental health advocates have argued the violence is not caused due to people living with a mental illness.
The Coalition for Smart Safety, a mental health advocacy consortium, urged the national extreme risk protection orders not impact a broad range of people.
"Basing a protection order on disability status or diagnosis, and not conduct or behavior, violates a person’s civil rights — and, as stated above, will not lead to real change," the groups wrote. "Statements, talking points, and legislation relying on incorrect assumptions linking mental health to gun violence are counterproductive and only serve to further stigmatize people with mental health disabilities and the disability community as a whole."