USA: gun violence is 'a human rights crisis' - new report

Despite a furore over repeated mass shootings, campaigners' calls for gun law reforms in the USA have been blocked repeatedly © Marieke Wijntjes / Amnesty International

Call for national regulations over licensing and registering firearms 

Young men of colour 20 times more likely to die through gun violence than white counterparts

38,000 people killed in 2016, with 116,000 injured

‘There is a shocking lack of federal regulations that could save thousands’ - Margaret Huang

The US government has allowed gun violence in the country to become a human rights crisis, said Amnesty International today as it published a major new report on the issue.

Amnesty’s report - In the Line of Fire: Human Rights and the US Gun Violence Crisis - shows how all aspects of American life have been compromised by the availability of guns in a country lacking proper regulations and safeguards.

While most countries have licensing and regulation systems in place for firearms, the United States lacks measures like a national registration scheme, and 30 states allow handguns to be owned without a licence or permit. 

The report examines the ways in which gun violence affects communities of colour, where gun violence is the leading cause of death for men and boys between the ages of 15 and 34, who are 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun than their white counterparts. Women facing domestic violence and children are also disproportionately affected.

In total, in 2016 - the last year for which statistics are available - over 38,000 people were killed and 116,000 suffered non-fatal injuries due to firearms in the United States. 

Amnesty is calling for national regulations over licensing and registering firearms to eliminate the current inadequate and arbitrary patchwork of state laws that leave people in some states more vulnerable to gun violence than others. Additionally, Amnesty is calling for:

*comprehensive background checks
*mandatory training for gun ownership
*mandatory safe-storage laws
*investment in evidence-based community violence reduction and prevention programmes
*a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles and other military-grade weapons

Amnesty’s 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 account for fewer than one per cent of overall gun deaths. 

Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, said:

“The US government is prioritising gun ownership over basic human rights. 

“While many solutions have been offered, there has been a stunning lack of political will to save lives.

“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. No-one’s human rights can be considered secure as long as our leaders fail to do anything about gun violence.”

CASE STUDIES

Terrell Bosley, Chicago

“You have to understand, our children are suffering,” said Pam Bosley, a Chicago mother whose son Terrell was killed by gun violence in a still-unsolved crime in 2006, and who spoke to Amnesty for the report:

“We need social services and counselling for youth. How can we expect them to survive and excel in this climate? When a child is killed - at most the school will bring in a counsellor for one day. If they treated us like Sandy Hook - things would be different. When lives were taken in that community, they brought in counsellors for a year to work with the kids - our kids go through this every day. Our community is not valued by America. They don’t feel like we are worth the counselling or support.”

Multiple-gunshot victim, Baltimore

Amnesty’s report also explores the consequences for the thousands of people who survive gun violence. On average, more than 317 people are shot in the USA every day and survive - at least long enough to get to the hospital. The mental, physical, and financial consequences of their injuries are often enormous. Dr Thomas Scalea, Director of the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, spoke to Amnesty 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.’ Except … he was also shot in the arm and has severe nerve damage. 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?”
 

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In the Line of Fire