14:25, September 12 90 0 theguardian.com

2018-09-12 14:25:13
'A human rights crisis': US accused of failing to protect citizens from gun violence

American gun violence is “a human rights crisis” and the US government’s refusal to pass gun control laws represents a violation of its citizens’ right to life, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

“The USA is failing to protect individuals and communities most at risk of gun violence, in violation of international human rights law,” Amnesty argues. “The right to live free from violence, discrimination and fear has been superseded by a sense of entitlement to own a practically unlimited array of deadly weapons.”

To address the crisis of gun homicide, suicide and injury that leaves about 38,000 Americans dead and 116,000 wounded each year, Amnesty recommends the US pass a sweeping set of gun control measures, including universal background checks, the requirement of a valid license to buy a gun, no gun purchases for those under 21, a ban on certain military-style weapons and ammunition, and the creation of a digitized national gun registry.

Sign up to receive the top US stories every morning

Congress should also pass a federal law prohibiting carrying guns in public “unless there is a credible justification for doing so”, Amnesty argues.

Some of the measures Amnesty recommends go further than the policies even Democratic party politicians currently support. Current US law, for instance, “expressly prohibits the creation of a national registry of most firearms,” the report notes, while endorsing the policy.

Amnesty also recommended that “the USA should guarantee the right to health and access to healthcare services for gunshot survivors,” and insure that healthcare costs do not cause “catastrophic financial burdens” to survivors or their families.

While it gives some attention to public mass shootings, the Amnesty report focuses more on everyday forms of gun violence, particularly urban violence, domestic violence, and the impact of gun violence on children. Mass shootings “account for less than 1% of gun deaths in the USA,” the report notes.

Noting that the gun violence crisis disproportionately burdens Americans of color, and particularly young black men, Amnesty called for Congress to pass legislation to ensure “sustained funding” for local violence prevention programs. Despite strong evidence that some community-based programs can reduce urban gun violence, “lack of funding and lack of political will” have blocked successful programs from being widely implemented, the report noted.

By framing gun violence in terms of human rights, Amnesty is attempting to use international human rights law as a counterweight to Americans’ constitutional right to keep and bear arms, experts said. While the invocation of human rights law could be a powerful rhetoric tool for advocates, they said, it was unlikely to make much difference in a courtroom. The United States has largely resisted being held accountable by international human rights bodies.

Amnesty’s new report comes as the Senate prepares to confirm a gun rights champion as a new supreme court justice. Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the supreme court has been backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), and his confirmation could tip the balance of the court even further in favor of gun rights advocates and gun manufacturers. Gun control advocates say they fear Kavanaugh could be the swing vote to rule, for instance, that banning assault weapons is unconstitutional, or to further restrict the ability of local governments to regulate gun-carrying in public.

But even as Donald Trump has advanced the agenda of the NRA, which spent more than $30m to back his White House bid, the United States has also seen a resurgent gun control movement, led by teenagers frustrated with the constant toll of school shootings and everyday violence. Student survivors of the 14 February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, are now crisscrossing the country, working to register and turn out young voters in advance of the midterm elections, with the goal of voting out Republican lawmakers who are blocking gun control laws.

While framing America’s gun violence in human rights terms is a symbolic move, “I don’t think it’s symbolic in the empty sense,” said Gerald Neuman, the co-director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School.

“For some people who are already concerned about the number of deaths that are occurring, having it framed as a human rights issue may help them understand the issue differently – that there are rights on both sides to be considered.”

Governments that are violating the human rights of their citizens tend to “gaslight” victims, said James Cavallaro, a Stanford University professor and a former president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

American gun control advocates may be encouraged by the human rights report that they’re “not asking for anything bizarre” and that the legitimacy of their demands are “recognized in the rest of the world”, Cavallaro said.

Topics