Gun Violence is a Human Rights Issue

On August 29, a white man fatally shot three Black people, then himself, with a swastika-marked gun in Jacksonville, Florida, during the 60th anniversary gathering of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington. The shooter had posted racist writings and earlier this year legally purchased the two guns he used in the killing.

This is not the first instance of gun violence this year. So far in 2023, the U.S. witnessed 470 mass shootings. According to the Gun Violence Archive, these entail four or more people killed or injured, with the figure including shootings both in home and public areas. The total deaths from gun violence this year reached 29,527: this includes 13,093 by homicide, murder, unintentional killing, and defensive gun use, and 16,434 by suicide. Over 600 mass shootings have taken place each year for the past three years, averaging nearly two per day. During just 2021, 48,830 people died from guns, representing an almost 8% increase from the record-breaking 2020.

Mass shootings have emerged as a major threat to the right to life. The rights to life and security are codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Civil Rights. While gun ownership is legitimized under the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution, it was a right granted under peculiar historical circumstances and not a blanket permission to buy and misuse lethal weapons.

Civil rights leader Bishop William Barber on Democracy Now! said, “There is this history of not just who kills, but what kills and what creates the atmosphere.” Barber called out Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for pushing racist rhetoric and culture wars to deflect from this violence.

In fact, racial supremacist discourses are now intersecting with endemic gun violence further eroding the citizen rights of living in a secure, equal and equitable society. A climate of fear has been created at schools, colleges and even health facilities. This undermines the right to education and the right to healthcare. Instead of tackling the production, sales and distribution of guns the placement of active shooter protocols at places of learning is a mockery of citizen rights and justice.

Gun violence, as the Jacksonville shooting indicates, disproportionately impacts people of colour, and members of marginalized groups. In addition, domestic violence involving guns results in increasing risks to women’s lives and well-being. A clear violation of women’s rights.

Surveys show that an increasing count of Americans consider gun violence as a major problem, with a majority agreeing that gun laws should be stricter, limiting their access to certain groups of people and banning assault-style weapons. The question is why politicians are not paying heed to what the public wants.

This is the time for mounting public pressure to strengthen gun control measures by legislature entailing universal background checks, no gun purchases for those under 21, the prerequisite of a valid license to procure a gun, banning military-style weapons and ammunition, among others.