Human rights are fundamental rights to which all human beings are entitled. First and foremost is the right to live. As global citizens, we are bound by a shared responsibility to uphold and protect human rights. Countries are obligated to protect against human rights abuses, and businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights as laid out in various international instruments including The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, American Convention on Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Gun violence threatens and infringes on these fundamental rights. The irresponsible practices and profit-driven motives of the gun industry contribute substantially to the illicit trade and misuse of firearms, causing devastating effects. The United States, like other countries, has a responsibility to prevent these human rights abuses.
The Connection Between Gun Violence and Human Rights
The devastating effects of gun violence permeate deeply into the fabric of human rights protections. It is not just a public safety issue but a human rights crisis.
Right to Life, Liberty, and Personal Security
The right to life, liberty, and personal security is fundamentally compromised by gun violence. These fundamental rights are recognized in international human rights instruments, and in the United States’ foundational document, the Declaration of Independence, which announced that people have a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The U.S. Constitution, properly understood, protects the right to live. Even where a right to guns is recognized, that right is constrained by the more fundamental right not to be shot. The United States, with its lax gun laws and high rates of gun violence and mass shootings, is failing to protect these rights adequately. The lack of comprehensive gun control legislation and easy access to firearms, including assault-style weapons, leads to continued and repeated infringement of these rights.
Right to Equality Before the Law
The state’s failure to protect all its citizens equally can lead to violations of the right to equality before the law. Certain communities, particularly communities of colour and low-income communities, are disproportionately affected by gun violence. This unequal impact indicates a failure to provide equal protection under the law.
Right to a Family and to Protection Thereof
Gun violence often results in the loss of family members, disrupting family units and causing trauma and hardship. The state’s failure to prevent such violence constitutes a failure to protect the family unit, a fundamental element of society.
Right to Protection for Children
Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of gun violence. Guns are now the leading cause of death for children in the United States. School shootings, accidental shootings due to unsecured firearms, and the overall impact of gun violence on communities directly infringe upon the rights of children to safety and protection.
Right to Education
The right to education can be compromised by gun violence in several ways. Fear of school shootings can create an environment of fear and anxiety, not conducive to learning. Additionally, the loss of students and educators to gun violence directly impacts the educational opportunities and environments.
Right to Juridical Personality and Civil Rights
Gun violence can infringe upon civil rights, including the right to participate fully in society. Survivors of gun violence may face physical and psychological challenges that can limit their participation in various aspects of civil life.
Right to Fair Trial
In cases where gun violence is involved, the right to a fair trial can be compromised. For instance, laws that protect gun manufacturers from liability can prevent victims of gun violence from seeking justice through the courts.
Rights of Assembly and Association
The rights to assembly and association can be threatened by gun violence. Fear of mass shootings can deter public gatherings and expressions of free speech.
International Accountability for Protecting Human Rights
While discussing the impact of gun violence on human rights, it’s crucial to consider the international mechanisms available for accountability. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has played a pivotal role in holding states accountable for human rights violations. Notably, individuals in the United States who have been directly impacted by gun violence can petition the IACHR.
One remarkable instance was the petition of Lenahan et al. v. United States, Case 12.626, Inter-Am. Comm’n H.R., Report No. 80/11 (2011), which was an individual petition against the United States. The IACHR recommended legislative change among other actions in response to this petition. This case signifies the potential influence of an IACHR decision, not only in shaping the conversation around an issue but also impacting domestic legislation.
Furthermore, in James Terry Roach & Jay Pinkerton v. United States, Case 9647, Inter-Am. Comm’n H.R., Resolution No. 3/87 (1987), the IACHR ruled that the United States violated international human rights law by allowing the executions of two individuals who were sentenced to death for crimes committed as juveniles. This decision was later mirrored by the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down the juvenile death penalty on similar grounds in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005).
These examples demonstrate the importance of international human rights mechanisms in holding states accountable for protecting and upholding human rights. They also illustrate the potential for individuals and communities affected by gun violence to seek redress and effect change through international avenues.
The Role of the U.S. Gun Industry in Human Rights Violations
The U.S. gun industry, driven by profit and bolstered by weak regulations, plays a pivotal role in exacerbating global gun violence. The massive outpouring of firearms exported from the U.S. fuels violence and insecurity internationally, thereby facilitating violations of human rights.
Responsibility of States and Businesses
States bear the responsibility under international law to prevent gun violence and protect human rights. Businesses within the gun industry, especially those based in the U.S., are obligated to respect human rights, and should implement comprehensive human rights due diligence policies.
Conclusion: A Call to Action
Countries, especially the United States, must acknowledge and address the role their domestic policies and practices play in the violation of human rights through the facilitation of gun violence. Stronger international cooperation, robust regulations, and legal accountability are urgently needed. We must champion these fundamental human rights and work relentlessly towards a world free from the scourge of gun violence. The world can save the United States from its gun violence epidemic, and together, we can save the world. As we strive for progress, we must remember: our fight is not just against gun violence, but for the preservation and respect of universal human rights.
The Work of GAGV
GAGV addresses dangerous gun policies and practices by bringing human rights actions and advocating for accountability and reforms in countries that prioritize firearms and gun industry profits over human health and safety.
GAGV has testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and submitted extensive written materials to advocate for accountability under human rights on weak U.S. laws that enable gun trafficking and violence.
GAGV has submitted an extensive report to the United Nations Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the human rights implications of civilian firearms policies.
GAGV has requested the U.N. OHCHR to create a special procedure on civilian firearms, to investigate and take more dedicated action on gun policies that infringe on human rights.
GAGV has compiled extensive resources of human rights law and its relation to gun violence.