Harris Institute Launches an Initiative on Gun Violence and Human Rights

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” 

― Eleanor Roosevelt 

Gun violence in the United States has reached epidemic proportions. More than 33,000 people are killed by firearms in the U.S .every year, making the U.S. an extreme outlier. Mass shootings in schools, at concerts and at theatres 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. In late fall 2017, Professor Leila Sadat, Harris Institute Director, launched a new initiative on gun violence examining U.S. government responses to gun violence in light of U.S. obligations under international human rights law.  

Read Press Release on the Record.   

As part of this new initiative, WashULaw students are conducting in-depth research to form the basis of a White Paper articulating mechanisms to rectify the crisis and suggest international fora that can examine the issue. 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 and other international human rights instruments.  

We are glad that Amnesty International USA has followed our lead and begun to address the human rights concerns raised by gun violence in the United States. Read more.

Related Events

  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has already encouraged the U.S. to redress gun violence through effective gun control policies and held a hearing on “Regulation of Gun Sales and Social Violence in the United States” on February 27, 2018 in Bogotá, Colombia. The Harris Institute presented its initial research findings at this hearing and urged the Commission to hold a thematic hearing on this issue and invoke all the remedies at its disposal.  
  • On Tuesday, August 7, 2018, the Division of Emergency Medicine, Center for Community Health Partnership and Research, and the Gun Violence Initiative at the Institute for Public Health will hold the 2nd Annual Larry Lewis Healthcare Symposium: Firearm Injury Prevention, a multi-disciplinary Symposium. The Symposium will be held at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.
  • In November 2018, the Institute will host a conference and experts’ meeting 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 held at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri, and is co-sponsored by Washington University’s Journal of Law and Policy whichwill publish the papers. More information coming soon.