Amnesty International (AI) has urged travelers to be cautious amid a “human rights crisis” which it blames on “ubiquity of firearms” and U.S. government reluctance to confiscate them. It is a historic development regarding the U.S., because it was the U.S., which regularly issue travel warnings to its citizens visiting other countries.
The AI aims to hold up a mirror to the U.S. using the model of the U.S. State Department’s travel advice for U.S. travelers to other countries.
Visitors to the U.S. “cannot reasonably expect to be free from harm”, AI USA’s Ernest Coverson said in a statement on Wednesday, advising people that “the country does not adequately protect people’s right to be safe.”
At the same time, a report by AI – In the Line of Fire: Human Rights and the U.S. Gun Violence Crisis – presents chilling facts that show the condition of the country, which sometimes appear worse than many countries the U.S. advises on human rights.
Amnesty specifically warned racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities to be on their toes due to “recent attacks linked to white supremacist ideology”.
Those travelers who brave the gun-fetishists, AI claims are terrorizing the American streets, are advised to “be extra vigilant at all times and be wary of the ubiquity of firearms among the population.”
Travelers were also warned to keep away from “places where large number of people gathers”, i.e. all tourist attractions, and bars, nightclubs, and casinos.
Accusing the U.S. of “prioritizing gun ownership over basic human rights”, AI shamed the U.S. government for “ignoring its international obligations to people’s right and safety” – a curious argument to make given that the U.S. is not exactly famous for honoring international agreements and respecting obligations.
The unprecedented travel warning was accompanied by a familiar list of “common sense reforms” including strict background checks, a national firearm registry, and a ban on high capacity magazines and assault weapons, plus a plea to pass gun control legislation – some of which already exists at the state level – federally.
Many on social media resented Amnesty’s decision to frame the “rampant gun violence” in the U.S. as a “human rights crisis.” They saw it as a domestic issue.
Some others pointed out that “we have laws against murder. How effective has that been?”
Some others reminded Amnesty that the U.S. was responsible for many worse human rights crises than a few mass shootings and wondered, “when do international entities step in to force the U.S. to stop its cruel, inhumane practices? When do other nations sanction us?”
Amnesty’s statement comes on the heels of similar warnings from the foreign ministries of Uruguay and Venezuela and the Japanese Consul in Detroit, all of which issued traveler alerts following two deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio over the weekend that killed 31 people.
“Travelers to the United States should remain cautious that the country does not adequately protect people’s right to be safe, regardless of who they might be. People in the United States cannot reasonably expect to be free from harm – a guarantee of not being shot is impossible,” said Coverson, campaign manager for the End Gun Violence Campaign at AI USA.
“Once again, it is chillingly clear that the U.S. government is unwilling to ensure protection against gun violence,” said the AI official.
The action called attention to the extent to which all aspects of life in the U.S. have been compromised in some way by unfettered access to guns, without comprehensive and uniform regulation of their acquisition and use.
The AI said: By prioritizing gun ownership over basic human rights, the U.S. government is willfully and systematically failing on multiple levels and ignoring its international obligations to protect people’s rights and safety.
In the Line of Fire
A report by AI – In the Line of Fire: Human Rights and the U.S. Gun Violence Crisis – examined how all aspects of American life have been compromised in some way by the unfettered access to guns, with no attempts at meaningful national regulation.
Last month, AI published the report examining how survivors of gun violence in the U.S. suffer years of trauma and pain due to a destructive combination of government policies, which ignore their needs.
AI’s report is a critical assessment of existing data and research related to the scope of gun violence in the U.S., and an analysis of U.S. laws and policies – where these exist – governing the acquisition, possession and use of firearms by private individuals, in the context of international human rights laws and standards.
The report defines the term “gun violence” broadly, encompassing interpersonal and communitywide violence using firearms; implicit threats of violence that firearms represent in certain circumstances; misuse of firearms in the home; and acts of self-harm by firearms, including accidents and suicide.
Firearms: Over 38,000 people were killed
The U.S. government has allowed gun violence to become a human rights crisis, according to In the Line of Fire ….
The report said:
“While most countries have licensing and regulation systems in place for firearms, the United States lacks measures like a national registration, and 30 states allow handguns to be owned without a license or permit.”
Acknowledging the decades of work by impacted communities and activists, the report aims to support those efforts by placing the problem of gun violence in the framework of universally recognized human rights, and offering solutions within that framework that the U.S. should adopt to address the crisis.
The report said:
In 2016, 38,658 people were killed and 116,000 suffered non-fatal injuries due to firearms in the U.S. Of these 38,658 deaths, 22,938 were suicides and 14,415 were homicides (an added 495 deaths were unintentional, 300 were of an undetermined intent and 510 were legal interventions).
The report examines the ways in which gun violence affects communities of color, where gun violence is the leading cause of death for men and boys between the ages of 15 and 34, who are more than 10 times more likely to be killed by a gun than their white counterparts. Women facing domestic violence and children are also disproportionately affected.
The report explores the consequences for the thousands of people who survive gun violence.
Daily 317 people are shot
The report said:
On average, more than 317 people are shot every day and survive – at least long enough to get to the hospital.
The mental, physical, and financial consequences of their injuries shape their lives forever. This is a public health crisis of astonishing proportion – with remarkably little government response, given the life-long effects on many survivors.
Dr. Thomas Scalea, director of the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, spoke to AI about a patient who exemplifies the struggles faced by survivors: “I have one guy [who] had multiple shots. I’ve operated on him maybe 15 or 20 times in 18 months, because he had a lot of problems, he was really sick. But I got him through it and we closed his colostomy and he is fixed and he is known as a ‘great save.’ He was also shot in the arm, and has severe nerve damage and he made a living moving stuff, picking things up. You need two arms to pick things up, so he is disabled and he cannot work. And that’s it, there is no re-education or training. And in order to get disability you have to be able to negotiate the health care system, and that’s hard enough for me to do, so how do you think it’s going to work out for him?”
106 individuals die daily from firearms
The report said:
- In 2016, an average of 106 individuals died per day from firearm related deaths. Per capita, this is significantly higher than in other industrialized countries.
- The U.S. has both the highest absolute and highest per capita rates of gun ownership in the world, yet the U.S. does not sufficiently restrict access to firearms for those most at risk of abusing them. There is no uniform system to track firearm owners.
- The right to live free from violence, discrimination and fear has been superseded by a sense of entitlement to own a practically unlimited array of deadly weapons, without sufficient regulations on their acquisition, possession and use.
- In the face of clear evidence of persistent firearm violence, high rates of gun ownership, and ease of access to firearms by individuals likely to misuse them, the U.S. is failing to meet its obligation to protect and promote human rights pursuant to international law.
- The sheer volume of people killed or injured each year in the USA by gun violence is staggering.
- Gun violence in the USA affects people nationwide whether they live in a city, suburb, or rural community, but often in dissimilar and disparate ways.
- Firearm homicides disproportionately impact communities of color and data suggests that the rate of gun homicides has increased in recent years.
- Federal law does not currently require universal comprehensive background checks with each and every transfer or purchase of a firearm in the USA.
- Studies have shown that 22% of all firearm acquisitions are conducted without any background check. States mandating universal background check requirements for firearm purchases have been found to have significantly less firearms trafficking, substantially fewer firearm-involved suicides, 47% fewer women killed in firearm-related violence by an intimate partner, and 53% fewer police officers killed on duty.
- Even when a background check is required, it may not be adequately comprehensive or accurate because relevant records are often not properly and/or rapidly submitted for inclusion in state and federal databases.
1,637 children died in 2016
The report said:
- In 2016, 1,637 children died from firearm-related violence in the USA. Of these, 862 were homicides and 633 were suicides (an added 104 firearm deaths were accidents, 31 were undetermined intent, and 7 were the result of legal intervention).
- Gun violence impacts children across the USA whether through unintentional or intentional violence, or as a mechanism for self-harm. This is due, at least in part, to the fact that an estimated 4.6 million children live in households with loaded and unlocked firearms. Children all over the country are also at risk of gun violence in their schools.
- 30 states allow the open carrying of a handgun in public without any license or permit
- 12 states allow individuals to carry concealed weapons in public without any license or permit
- All 50 states and Washington, D.C. allow for some form of concealed carrying of firearms in public
- Reporting of lost or stolen firearms by private individuals and unlicensed dealers is not mandatory under federal law and therefore there is no precise data for the number of firearms lost or stolen in the U.S.
- While African Americans represented approximately 13% of the U.S. population in 2016, they made up 58.5% of gun homicides nationwide.
- A black male aged 15-34 was more than 10X more likely to die from firearm homicide than a white male of the same age group.
- More than half of all women murdered in the U.S. are killed by current or former intimate partners, and most intimate partner homicides are committed with guns.
- The current federal framework does not provide any procedure or mechanism for the removal or surrender of firearms when a permanent restraining/protective order is issued.
- 35 states and Washington, D.C. prohibit firearm possession by persons subject to a domestic violence related restraining order. But only 27 of those states and Washington, D.C. also explicitly require or authorize relinquishment of firearms.
- In 2016, 22,938 people in the U.S. died from suicide by firearm – more than 62 a day
- Although over 100 pieces of federal legislation regarding gun violence have been introduced since the Sandy Hook school shooting, which took the lives of 20 children and six adults in 2012, the U.S. has failed to pass any meaningful federal law regulating firearms.
Recommendations made in the report include:
- Comprehensive background checks.
- National regulations for licensing and registering firearms, and required training for gun ownership.
- Ban on semi-automatic assault rifles and other military-grade weapons.
- Investment in evidence-based community violence reduction and prevention programs.
- Mandatory safe-storage laws.
- The report notes that while mass shootings have profound emotional and psychological effects and could be prevented by banning assault rifles and high-capacity firearms, such mass events only account for less than one percent of gun deaths.
- More common and less publicized are individual incidents that pervade everyday life in communities across the country. To that end, the report shares individual stories of people affected by gun violence.
- The U.S. Congress should enact legislation requiring background checks on all firearm purchases and transfers, prior to carrying out any sale or other transfer. These background checks should be conducted indicating the absence of known risk factors for misuse.
- The U.S. Congress should ensure that federal, state and local agencies are reporting records accurately, completely, and as soon as possible to the FBI for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
- The U.S. Congress should enact legislation mandating that firearms may only be obtained for purchase or transfer with a valid firearms license and a credible justification for ownership and use.
- Firearm licenses should not be authorized unless the following minimum conditions are met.
- The U.S. Congress should enact legislation requiring the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to register all firearms in a central national gun registry, which is digitized and searchable, and should provide appropriate funding through the legislation to support ATF’s ability to implement these systems.
- The U.S. Congress should enact legislation prohibiting the carrying of firearms in public, whether open or concealed, unless there is a credible justification for doing so and should reject federal legislation which would override existing state laws where safeguards and processes are in place to curtail misuse related to concealed carrying of firearms.
- The U.S. Congress should enact legislation requiring all lost and stolen firearms be immediately reported to local law enforcement officials.
- The U.S. Congress must pass legislation banning the sale, transfer, and possession of semi-automatic assault rifles, semi-automatic shotguns, and semi-automatic submachine guns, as well as large capacity magazines, bump stocks, and other dangerous devices.
- The U.S. Congress should acknowledge that firearm violence is a public health crisis, repeal the Dickey Amendment, and enact legislation allocating adequate funding to conduct evidence-based research on the causes and effects of gun violence, and to research and develop viable strategies for gun violence prevention to inform policy making aimed at reducing firearm related deaths and injuries. Federal, state, and tribal governments should introduce comprehensive and targeted gun safety measures to address the gun violence crisis in the USA by adopting measures to protect individuals and communities most at risk of gun violence in accordance with its obligation under international human rights law.
- The U.S. Congress should pass legislation which supports the implementation and sustained funding of evidence-based violence reduction and prevention programs.
- The U.S. Congress should pass legislation requiring the safe and secure storage of all guns and ammunition, and state legislatures should pass stringent and comprehensive safe storage and Child Access Prevention (“CAP”) laws that mandate all individuals to store all firearms unloaded under the protection of a gun lock or safety device.
- The U.S. Congress should amend the current federal framework of firearms regulation addressing firearm possession in the domestic violence context by closing all loopholes related to dating partners and adding misdemeanor and other stalking offenses as triggers prohibiting firearms possession and use; and state legislatures should pass and implement laws establishing a clear process for the immediate surrender by and removal of firearms from prohibited abusers.
- State legislatures should consider passing legislation to implement procedures, such as ERPOs, providing for the temporary removal of access to firearms for individuals who may present a risk of harm to themselves or others. Such procedures should be implemented in a manner consistent with international human rights protections.
- Federal and state authorities should ensure that survivors of gun-related violence have access to affordable and quality health care, which includes necessary, long-term health interventions, rehabilitation services, mental health care, and long-term pain management.
“The U.S. government is prioritizing gun ownership over basic human rights. While many solutions have been offered, there has been a stunning lack of political will to save lives,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of AI USA. “Despite the huge number of guns in circulation and the sheer numbers of people killed by guns each year, there is a shocking lack of federal regulations that could save thousands.”
“The ability to go about your daily life in security and dignity, free from fear, is at the very cornerstone of human rights,” said Huang. “No one’s human rights can be considered secure as long as our leaders fail to do anything about gun violence.”