By Eliza Reddick, AIUSA Young Leaders Fellow
I’ll never forget the night in the summer of 2017 when bullets flew right by my living room window. It was a typical night hanging out with family and watching tv, when suddenly we heard the piercing sound of multiple gunshots. Without any time to think, we all ducked and flopped onto our living room floor. I can still hear my sister crying uncontrollably and I can still feel my whole body trembling in fear, lying on my living room floor frantically calling 9–1–1.
I work to protect and defend human rights as the Young Leaders Fellow at Amnesty International USA, and have been working with activists on our new campaign to End Gun Violence. I live in Massachusetts. We have strong gun laws and the gun death rate is the lowest in the country, at just 3.5 per 100,000 in 2016. We are one of the leading states in gun violence prevention and in working to end gun violence. But I also live in a community of color surrounded by a gentrified neighborhood, where gun violence is as real as the bullet that remains lodged in my back door.
Telling this story over a year later, it still brings me right back to that horrible moment of fear. I didn’t know if my sister had been shot or if a bullet had entered our home. I pleaded with the operator to send someone and to send someone fast! Soon there were cops everywhere, with yellow tape, flashlights, dogs sniffing through our yard and shell casings in the street. A car across the street had a bullet in the front panel and the next day we discovered that another bullet was, in fact, lodged in our back door, just two inches from the window pane. If we had been in the kitchen and that bullet had hit our door just two inches to the left, one of us may not be here today.
That bullet is a constant reminder and a harsh reality of how gun violence has affected my community in South Boston. Our housing office refused to replace the door and the cops said that they didn’t need the bullet, so we’re left with a bad paint job and some molding covering the memories of that night. My family and I have lived in South Boston for over 10 years and I was never afraid of shootings until that night; since that night, there have been too many shootings to keep track of, and one of them fatal.
This month, Amnesty International USA — where I work on the organizing team — launched a new report, In the Line of Fire: Human Rights and the US Gun Violence Crisis, and an accompanying campaign to End Gun Violence. The research shows that in 2016, close to 39,000 people died as a result of gun violence, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 116,000 more people suffered non-fatal injuries. This is significantly higher than in other industrialized countries and is, in fact, a human rights crisis. Gun violence threatens the right to life, the right to security of person, the right to be free from discrimination, and economic, social and cultural rights. States have the responsibility to act with due diligence to prevent violations of these rights.
Despite these facts, the US has failed to enact reforms like comprehensive background checks, training, licensing and registration, reporting of lost and stolen firearms, regulation of assault rifles, reasonable restrictions on the carrying of firearms in public, and the use of firearms for self-defense. The right to live free from violence, discrimination and fear has been superseded by a perverse entitlement to own a practically unlimited array of deadly weapons, without sufficient regulations on their acquisition, possession and use.
In Massachusetts (MA), we have some of the strongest gun laws in the country and the state is seen as a leader in common sense gun law reform. I am proud to live in a state where gun laws are taken seriously and there are substantial efforts being made to end gun violence. Just this past year in July, MA Gov. Charlie Baker signed the Extreme Risk Law (H.4539) that will allow family members or police to request the court to temporarily transfer firearms from an individual who poses a imminent risk of endangering themselves or others.
We need to do better as a nation, and — as the bullet in my backdoor shows — we need to do better in Massachusetts. Even with great strides in MA, there is still much work to be done to end gun violence; there was a 25% increase in gun violence in our state in 2017. The reality is that communities of color deal with gun violence on a daily basis, and we can’t ignore their stories. Looking at gun violence as a human rights crisis is one way to address this. As Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA says, “the ability to go about your daily life in security and dignity, free from fear, is at the very cornerstone of human rights.” Gun violence in my community is eroding that human right. I am constantly brought back to those fearful moments when I hear a loud noise or when the issue of gun violence comes up.
More work needs to be done in communities of color and not just by putting a band aid over the issue. Having a cop sit in the neighborhood for a few weeks until it’s quiet and then leaving so it can happen again will not solve the root of the problem. AIUSA’s new report In the Line of Fire: Human Rights and the US Gun Violence Crisis states that “long-term, adequately funded, evidence-based projects tailored towards specific social, economic and cultural contexts, and working in partnership with the affected communities, can achieve sustained reductions in firearm violence. In fact, several federal and state-funded and supported evidence-based violence intervention and reduction strategies, have proven effective in decreasing gun violence. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding and lack of political will, these programs have not been adequately supported or implemented.”
With this report and campaign, we aim to offer steps that can be taken to fulfill human rights obligations and prevent violations, support life-saving solutions, amplify the voices of impacted communities who have been doing this work for decades, and drive a national dialogue using the framework of universally recognized human rights.