Gun Violence and Human Rights
72 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2019 Last revised: 25 Aug 2019
Date Written: August 19, 2019
This Article examines the U.S. gun violence crisis in light of the U.S. government’s international human rights obligations. The United States has more firearm deaths than other high-income countries and it is estimated that there are now more guns than people in the country. The patchwork nature of U.S. gun laws, indicative of the political landscape around firearms and gun control, is insufficient to protect the U.S. population and is in contrast to research showing that gun control laws prevent gun violence. Reasonable gun control measures, such as mandatory licensing and background checks, assault weapons bans, and safe storage requirements, are not only constitutional, but may be legally required for the United States to fulfill its legal international human rights obligations.
International human rights law, found in treaties ratified by the United States as well as customary law, are the “supreme law of the land” pursuant to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. They require the United States to exercise due diligence to protect its population and prevent foreseeable harms, including the many human rights violations associated with the proliferation of firearms and gun violence, such as the right to life, the right to security, the freedom of religion, special protection for children and the right to education, and protection against racial discrimination, among others.
This Article provides a human rights framework for the U.S. gun violence crisis that can bolster arguments advanced under U.S. law and influence the political climate in the United States. Given that the difficulty in enacting reasonable gun control measures is largely political rather than legal, considering the problem from a human rights perspective offers real value. Human rights remedies are not the only response to America’s gun violence problem, but they are an important element of the solution. As a human rights rhetoric for gun violence becomes normalized, these arguments can also shore up legal and political arguments advanced on other grounds, so that gun control advocates find themselves with a new “tool kit” in the struggle to convince politicians – and courts – that addressing gun violence through the adoption of reasonable gun control measures is legally, as well as morally, required.
Keywords: international law, human rights, gun violence, gun control, firearms, Second Amendment, right to bear arms, Heller, obligation to protect, obligation to prevent, right to life, right to health, Assault Weapons Ban, homicide, suicide, firearm-injury, accidental death, school shooting, mass shooting
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