Disability Rights Groups Want A Louder Voice In The Gun Debate

Mar 8, 2018

A disability rights group in Texas sent out a survey last week, trying to figure out how many of its members became disabled due to gun violence. The group says it’s an effort to collect data that will help inform Texas lawmakers on how they legislate guns.

Bob Kafka is an organizer with ADAPT of Texas, a statewide disability rights group. He says when gun violence happens, particularly mass shootings, the public tends to have a pretty limited discussion about what happens to the victims.

“The media loves to focus on how many people died,” he says.

But, Kafka says, there isn’t any focus on what happens to the victims who were shot and survived.

“I’ve never seen where they follow the rehab of somebody,” he says.

Kafka says gun victims often become disabled. But if you want to know how often this happens, or if you want any sort of data on this, there’s not really anything out there.

“We’ve never tracked that in the disability world," Kafka says. "What is the percentage of people who have their disability ... because of gun violence."

Kafka wants to change that, so he sent ADAPT members the informal poll about whether they'd became disabled because of gun violence. Kafka says he hopes that information will help his group be better lobbyists and have more influence on Texas lawmakers.

“I think it would be helpful for the public in designing whatever programs in terms of gun control, security, what the balance is,” Kafka explains. “And I think the disability community should be an integral part of that debate.”

The reason Kafka and his group have to go out and get information is because gun violence data is something that doesn’t exist in the public health world.

“The National Rifle Association, in particular, worked very hard to stop research coming out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and even some of our other federal agencies,” says Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association.

Benjamin says for the past two decades, this prohibition on data collection has stopped public health officials from studying gun violence in any meaningful way.

“We just haven’t done the research to really have really good questions and really good answers to those questions,” he says. “I think the challenge is that when almost every other important public policy decision, we make it out on informed data as best we can.”

Benjamin says it’s a good thing groups are trying to collect data on their own and any data at this point helps. But to really improve public policy better, he says, officials need robust scientific studies.