Why Gun Violence Is A Human Rights Issue

By Sheetal Dhir, senior campaigner at Amnesty International USA

Across the United States, gunshots are fired every day. Children, mothers, husbands, brothers, sisters — lives are lost or forever changed in a matter of moments. Gun violence pervades everyday life in communities across the country. In 2016 — the last year stats were available — over 38,000 people were killed and 116,000 suffered non-fatal injuries due to firearms in the United States.

Over 106 people die a day from gun violence in the U.S. These numbers are too high. And what’s worse, many of these tragic interactions were preventable. In fact, it’s our human right to be kept safe from gun violence.

Human rights are universal — they belong to all of us; everybody in the world. They are inalienable — they cannot be taken away from us. And they are indivisible and interdependent — they are all of equal importance and are interrelated.

According to a report Amnesty International USA has just published, gun violence is a human rights crisis. Amnesty International USA’s Executive Director, Margaret Huang, notes “the ability to go about your daily life in security and dignity, free from fear, is at the very cornerstone of human rights, no one’s human rights can be considered secure as long as our leaders fail to do anything about gun violence.”

Since the atrocities committed during World War II, international human rights instruments, beginning with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, have provided a solid framework for national, regional and local legislation designed to improve lives around the world. Human rights can be seen as standards for governments. They create obligations for governments or state officials to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of those within their jurisdiction and also abroad. Human rights are not luxuries that can be addressed only when practicalities allow.

Human rights are indivisible and interdependent — they are all of equal importance and are interrelated. In the U.S., persistent gun violence is denying people their civil and political rights including the right to life, to security of person and to be free from discrimination. Gun violence also undermines the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to health and the right to education. Here’s how:

The government has the obligation to protect our right to life and right to personal security — rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the U.S. signed and ratified. The government has an obligation of “due diligence” to protect these rights — it must take effective measures to address actual or foreseeable threats to our lives, including the threat of gun violence. The government’s obligation to protect us goes beyond the government — to the threats posed by private individuals and the wider community.

In communities with persistently high levels of gun violence, it is preventing people from enjoying their full range of human rights — including the right to health and education:

  • For people living in communities with high levels of gun violence, access to healthcare is critical. For many individuals in these communities, the cost of healthcare, limited numbers of local healthcare facilities and a lack of funding to sustain direct services can impact whether they receive treatment for mental and physical injury and trauma.
  • Gun violence can cause long-term health problems such as psychological impacts for people who’ve witnessed shootings, and their friends and family. We see it every day in the news as gunshot survivors can suffer severe and chronic physical and psychological effects, sometimes without psychological support or physical rehabilitation.
  • Gun violence can make the trip to school dangerous, damage the learning environment, and reduce the efficacy of teaching.

The bottom line is that the U.S. is failing to restrict access to guns to those most at risk of misusing them, and failing to take effective steps to reduce gun violence.

As you probably know, gun violence is wreaking havoc in too many homes, schools and businesses. Raging bullets plague too many streets across the US, affecting victims, survivors, families and entire communities. This issue is impacting people of every age, race and ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity. It is harming people whether they live in a city, suburb or rural community; whether they are rich or living in poverty.

“You have to understand, our children are suffering,” said Pam Bosley, a Chicago mother whose son Terrell was killed by gun violence in a still-unsolved crime in 2006, and who spoke with Amnesty International for the report. “We need social services and counseling for youth. How can we expect them to survive and excel in this climate? When a child is killed — at most-the school will bring in a counselor for one day. If they treated us like Sandy Hook — things would be different. When lives were taken in that community, they brought in counselors for a year to work with the kids — our kids go through this every day. Our community is not valued by America. They don’t feel like we are worth the counseling or support.”

Our elected officials need to act to protect our human rights. Amnesty International is joining millions of people in the United States to demand real change — and we’re asking our supporters to join us. Right now there are crucial and urgent battles happening at the state level in Illinois and Ohio. These are two states with legislatures still in session (most are not) — where our activists can make a difference right now. Join us and take action:

Act Now: Urge Ohio’s Governor to Veto the Deadly “Kill At Will” Bill

Help Us Win a Law To Save Lives in Illinois

And no matter where you live, there are ways to take action in your community. Learn more in our toolkit.