5 Ways to Take Action: The Human Rights Crisis of Gun Violence

By Naureen Shah, Senior Director of Campaigns at Amnesty International USA

This week, Amnesty International is publishing a major report on gun violence. We are calling gun violence a human rights crisis — and we are calling out the U.S. government for failing to do more to address it. This report will be controversial. But our calls to action are common sense — and a matter of our common humanity.

Here are 5 things you need to know about our new report — and what you can do about gun violence.

1. Gun violence is a daily reality in far too many communities across the country. It isn’t a matter of news alerts on our phones or pundits talking past each other on cable TV. Mass shootings dominate our debates about gun violence, but they account for less than 1% of all deaths from gun violence in the U.S.

Gun violence is so persistent in some parts of the country that it affects a family’s chance of survival, a child’s ability to grow and thrive, and a community’s ability to foster a new generation. Suicide, domestic violence, frequent gun homicides that are devastating urban communities, unlawful killings by police; these deserve to be at the center of our discussions of gun violence. Read the Executive Summary of our report to learn more.

2. It’s a matter of human rights. Persistent levels of gun violence reach into the heart of what it means to live with dignity in this country — to live a life without fear, and a life with real security. We all have a right to life; a right to personal security and dignity. When private individuals misuse guns, and a lack of government regulation enables them to continue doing so at levels that make us unsafe, it makes a mockery of our rights. Read more about gun violence as a human rights issue here.

We are asking all our supporters to educate themselves and their communities on how gun violence is a human rights issue. Host a community discussion at a local library or restaurant, or host a house party; host a table at your local farmer’s market or event; and when you are ready, ask your local mayor and state representatives to meet with you and urge them to use the framework of human rights to talk about gun violence. Use our toolkit as a guide.

3. We can win on laws to prevent and reduce gun violence right now. Yes, political dysfunction in Washington is making it impossible to seriously debate, let alone pass, meaningful federal laws that will actually reduce gun violence. But state and city governments are where change is happening. In Illinois, we have a chance to win on a law that will make it harder to spread smuggled guns across cities like Chicago, where hundreds of people have died from gun violence in recent years. Send an email to the governor of Illinois and urge him to sign the Combating Illegal Gun Trafficking Act and Firearm Dealer Certification Act.

4. We can help prevent suicide. To those of us with loved ones who are at risk of self-harm, there is perhaps nothing more frightening than the possibility that one day, in a moment of great anguish, they may seek to end their lives — and that we won’t be able to stop it. Although personal autonomy is a human right, too, we support laws that can help prevent people from taking their lives in a heat-of-the-moment crisis.

Here’s where it intersects with gun violence: Suicide with a gun is the most common and by far the most lethal suicide method of self-harm. In 2016, 22,938 people in the U.S. died from suicide by firearm — more than 62 a day.

Extreme Risk Laws empower family members to petition a court to temporarily restrict access to firearms from those at risk of misusing them and prevent loved ones from harming themselves or others with guns when a serious threat is shown. If you live in Michigan, please make a phone call urging the Michigan Senate to hold a hearing on suicides and one such law, the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, HB 4706.

5. We can fight back against extreme measures like Stand Your Ground laws. These laws permit private individuals to use deadly force in self-defense, without any obligation to retreat to a place of safety; thus leading to a “shoot first” mentality at the slightest hint of any perceived threat. Everyone has the right to self-defense. But studies show these laws could lead to greater loss of life, and raise serious concerns about these laws being applied in favor of white defendants and against black victims of shootings.

Right now, 28 states have some form of a “Stand Your Ground” law — and Ohio is considering a breathtakingly extreme version. We need your help, urge Governor Kasich to veto the creation of an expansive Stand Your Ground in Ohio.

Stand Your Ground laws, in effect, presume the individual is acting in self-defense if they say they are, unless there is specific evidence to the contrary. A shooter is therefore allowed to use deadly force if they feel scared, an incredibly subjective and potentially racially biased emotional response. The burden is shifted to law enforcement and prosecutors to prove that the individual did not act in self-defense. Ohio is considering creating an expansive Stand Your Ground law that would effectively give private individuals the ability to shoot without retreating from any place where they are “lawfully present” — practically anywhere.

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