U.S. government failure to prevent gun-related violence may violate international human rights

Harris Institute launches new initiative on gun violence

A man stands in front of a makeshift memorial to victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, when 20 children were killed. (Image: Shutterstock)

Washington University in St. Louis School of Law students will conduct in-depth research examining U.S. government responses to gun violence and whether they violate America’s obligations under international human rights law.

The research project is part of a new initiative launched by Leila Sadat, director of the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute and the James Carr Professor of International Criminal Law.

Leila Sadat

“Gun violence in the United States has reached epidemic proportions,” Sadat said. “More than 30,000 people are killed by firearms in the U.S. every year, making America an extreme outlier. Mass shootings in schools, like the one this week in Florida, at concerts and at theaters take place with alarming frequency. Yet domestic efforts to protect Americans from violent death by firearms have been nearly impossible to achieve for a variety of legal and political reasons.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has encouraged the U.S. to redress gun violence through effective gun control policies, Sadat said.

The IACHR is holding a hearing on “Regulation of Gun Sales and Social Violence in the United States” on Feb. 27 in Bogotá, Colombia. The Harris Institute will present initial research findings at this hearing and urge the commission to “invoke all the remedies at its disposal.”

“The student research project examines U.S. government responses to gun violence in light of U.S. obligations under international human rights law,” Sadat said. “Congress allowed legislation banning assault weapons to expire, while a new bill permitting concealed carry permits issued in one state to be honored by all states recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Initial research suggests that the failure of the U.S. government to exercise due diligence with respect to preventing and reducing gun-related violence may violate the government’s obligations under the American Declaration, the American Convention and other international human rights instruments.”

This fall, the Harris Institute will serve as host to a conference on Human Rights Perspectives on Gun Violence in America, inviting a number of leading scholars and academics in the field, including key NGO representatives, to discuss the crisis. The meeting will be co-sponsored by Washington University’s Journal of Law and Policy, which plans to publish the papers.