Tuesday, October 3, 2017
It is Civics 101 that governments have an obligation to protect their citizens. Some call it the "first duty of government."
In the days after dozens were killed and hundreds more injured in Las Vegas by senseless gun violence, compounding tragedies in Orlando, Sandy Hook, Columbine, and many others, it is increasingly clear that our government is not meeting its obligations. This government inaction in the face of gratuitous violence violates human rights. And we are all affected. Today, who can go to a rally, a party, a concert, even a school without some level of fear?
The international community has spoken clearly on the US government's failure to meet its human rights obligations. In 2016, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urged the leadership in the United States of America to live up to its obligations to protect its citizens from the “horrifyingly commonplace but preventable violent attacks that are the direct result of insufficient gun control.” The UN's 2016 report on Human Rights and the Regulation of Civilian Acquisition, Possession and Use of Firearms is available here.
Other human rights experts have also weighed in. Adam Fletcher of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law in Australia writes that under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, "[h]uman rights are essentially the opposite of guns." The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights created this revealing human rights index, noting that the US and Yemen stand alone in their protection of virtually unregulated civilian firearm possession. Amnesty International has called gun violence in the US a human rights crisis.
In the past, Congress has valued unfettered gun possession over human lives. But while Congress defaults on its "first duty," the death toll is rising. It is tempting to wring our hands over Congressional inaction; "nothing will be done," is the chorus from pundits. But with lives at stake, US human rights advocates must be bold in bringing to bear every strategy, including international pressure, to begin the process of reining in rampant gun violence.