A high school in St. Louis became the latest site of a deadly school shooting Oct. 24, the same day a teenager pleaded guilty to killing four of his classmates and wounding seven others at his Michigan high school last year.
Education Week, a news organization that covers K-12 education, has been tracking incidents of gunfire in schools that result in death or injury since 2018. The number of such incidents now stands at 40 school shootings just in 2022, 132 total since 2018.
Leila Sadat, the James Carr Professor of International Criminal Law and founder and director of the Initiative on Gun Violence & Human Rights at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, equates the U.S. government’s failure to prevent and reduce gun violence and the proliferation of firearms with violating children’s human rights.
“America’s kids are not okay. As gun violence surges and politicians dither, school shootings are traumatizing a generation of youth. While only one manifestation of America’s gun violence crisis, school shootings are shocking in their ferocity, the senseless and random nature of the violence, and their impact upon millions of young, captive and vulnerable individuals,” Sadat wrote in a recent essay in the Harvard Law Review.
In the essay, titled “Torture in Our Schools?,” Sadat argued that “the suffering of America’s school children from uncontrolled gun violence may be significant enough in scale and kind to rise to the level of ill-treatment under international law, violating U.S. treaty obligations and customary international law.”
Sadat, the former director of the university’s Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute and a special adviser on crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court prosecutor, went on to write, “The trauma inflicted upon America’s schoolchildren resulting from their exposure to mass violence and the often nonexistent (or harmful) legislative responses to the problem has resulted in severe emotional and clinically observable harm.
“School shootings cause severe physical and mental injury and emotional suffering to those directly and indirectly involved. Given that nearly three million children in the United States witness a shooting each year, many in their schools, the refusal of lawmakers to adopt reasonable gun safety laws, and to subject them to traumatizing active shooter drills and other counterproductive measures, is exposing America’s children to unacceptable — and unlawful — levels of societal violence.
“The decision of U.S. lawmakers not to adopt measures properly tailored to protect schoolchildren is tantamount to a decision to violate their human rights.
The pitiful spectacle of politicians offering ‘thoughts and prayers’ as kids are buried is lamentable — and an abdication of their oath of office. Children have a fundamental human right not to suffer ill-treatment in school. America’s adults are failing them.Leila Sadat
“Of course, this is true across a wide range of populations and for a variety of human rights,” continued Sadat, who is also a fellow at the Schell Center for Human Rights at Yale Law School. “School shootings do not represent the largest number of deaths from gun violence in America, but their impact on American schoolchildren has the potential to permanently scar a generation — and they are becoming increasingly frequent and deadly.
“The pitiful spectacle of politicians offering ‘thoughts and prayers’ as kids are buried is lamentable — and an abdication of their oath of office. Children have a fundamental human right not to suffer ill-treatment in school. America’s adults are failing them.”
To read Sadat’s full essay, visit the Harvard Law Review website.