Aligning Gun Violence Prevention and Human Rights for Political Impact



Gun violence prevention and the progression of human rights in America are, regrettably, highly partisan issues with today’s Republican Party effectively working to obstruct both.  It becomes clear that to advance either cause it will be necessary to politically impact Congressional lawmakers.

In Geneva, Switzerland, this August, this author participated in the review of our country’s obligations under the International Convention to End all forms of Racial Discrimination as a member of civil society and author of a report entitled “African-American Gun Violence Victimization”.   The report, itself being apolitical, was endorsed and joined by Amnesty International USA and the Violence Policy Center.  The two objectives of this exercise were: 1) to secure the ruling of a second U.N. human rights committee this year that rampant gun violence in the U.S. constituted a violation of our government’s duty to effectively protect the right to life; and, 2) add to the published list of gun violence prevention recommendations issued by a previous human rights committee to which our government would be obliged to respond.  Both objectives were met.

Using proven business tactics (S.W.O.T. analysis and Art of War tactics), gun violence was placed into a human rights framework to exploit a glaring political weakness of the Republican party (lack of gender/race/ethnic diversity) that would enhance the participation of large and important voting blocks at the polls while countering the gun lobby’s and its Congressional supporter’s Second Amendment argument.  A week following the Geneva review, this author presented the approach at an event entitled  “Gun Violence and Human Rights: Local and Global Strategies” at the University of Minnesota.

As should be the case with any merger, synergy exists between the gun violence prevention and human rights movements.   Together they become more powerful than they are apart, and have practical application in shaping Congress to the ultimate benefit of both causes. 


For those looking to make gun violence an issue in the upcoming mid-term election and beyond, some serious soul searching is required.  How is it possible that Democrats are at risk of losing control of the Senate when Republican Senators obstructed passage of expanded background check legislation (Manchin-Toomey) — despite 90% public support and following the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School?  Where’s the outrage, especially when gun violence prevention advocacy groups are spending millions of dollars on the issue?

Or, how was it possible for two elected officials in the state of Colorado, who successfully supported ‘gun control’ legislation, to be removed from office in a recall election, when gun violence prevention advocacy groups made that a battleground effort and far outspent gun rights groups in that campaign but with fewer of their supporters showing up at the polls?

Consider the following analogy.  An executive was called to give an update on a key corporate initiative to the Board of Directors, something I’ve done.  The executive stated that in response to recent failures the corporation had increased spending on the same tactics of spreading the word about what a terrible product the competition was peddling and disparaging the competitor as irresponsible and offensive.  Asked how it was going, the executive relayed that they could be at risk of losing their majority market share (Senate in this analogy) to the competition within two months of closing the books.  I can assure you that the executive would either be led to the door with a pink slip in hand or at least placed into corporate Siberia.

Having competed in both athletics and business, it is done strategically by analyzing and exploiting weaknesses and by working to take the competition out of its game.  In the world of corporate warfare (and it is warfare) S.W.O.T. analysis and Art of War tactics are used for that very purpose.  And there is no reason why such tactics can not be successfully applied to the gun violence prevention initiative.

So, the need to change the parameters of this debate is clear.  And it begins with the understanding that gun violence is in fact a human rights issue.

Human Rights and Gun Violence

This year in Geneva, Switzerland, the United Nations human rights committees overseeing our nations’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the International Convention to End all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) both cited rampant gun violence in the United States as a violation of our government’s duty to effectively protect the right to life.  Women, children and minorities were cited as disproportionately affected groups.  Both treaties have been ratified by the U.S. Senate and our government is thus bound, with few caveats, by their many provisions.

Both committees recommended expanded background checks covering all private firearm transfers.  Both also expressed concern about the proliferation of Stand Your Ground laws stating that these laws are used to “circumvent the limits of legitimate self-defense in violation of [the U.S. government’s] duty to protect life”, and requested review of those laws “to remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to the principles of necessity and proportionality when deadly force is used for self-defense.”

The ICERD committee recommendations additionally included banning the carrying of concealed guns in public venues as well as the repeal of the Tiahrt Amendments.  All four of these recommendations were contained in a shadow report this writer authored, “African-American Gun Violence Victimization”, that was endorsed and joined by Amnesty International USA (NY, NY) and the Violence Policy Center (Washington, DC) and submitted to both the U.N. committee as well as the U.S. Department of State.  The report can be found here.  The committee’s Concluding Observations and requested actions can be found here (ref. paragraphs 16 and 34 regarding gun violence).

These human rights committees simply reiterated a principle held dearly by this nation’s founding fathers.  ‘Life’ is the very first unalienable right listed in our country’s foundational document, our Declaration of Independence.  That document also states that governments are instituted to secure that right, amongst others.  It becomes preposterous that an Amendment in our Bill of Rights, the oft-cited Second Amendment, would be used to justify the violation of a fundamental right upon which our country was founded.

Gun rights advocates claim that it is their constitutional right to defend themselves.  Yet, as contained in our report (paragraph 29), analysis of FBI databases shows that guns are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes in the United States with criminal homicides outnumbering justifiable homicides forty-fold.  And the recently released American Bar Association Task Force report on Stand Your Ground laws held that such laws are a “solution searching for a problem” and that they are “associated with increased homicide rates and reinforce racial bias.”  The testimony of Ron Davis (Jordan’s father) and Sybrina Fulton (Trayvon Martin’s mother) during the ICERD review was compelling and lead one U.N. committee member to state to the large and relatively senior U.S. delegation that these young men lost their lives simply because of the color of their skin.

Strategic Positioning

S.W.O.T. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis reveals a glaring political weakness of the Republican party that represents both a threat to it and an opportunity for gun violence prevention advocates; the party is plagued by a lack of diversity involving gender, race and ethnicity.  It becomes important that the very groups cited as having their right to life violated by gun violence (Women, African-Americans, and Latinos) are the very same that helped carry Barack Obama to an impressive margin of victory in 2012 and secured Democratic gains in both the House and Senate.

And these large voting blocks have a laundry list of human rights issues that resonate with them.  The objective of gun violence prevention advocates should be to get as large a turnout from these groups as possible.  Gun violence as a stand-alone issue has, however, proven to be not only a poor motivator but one that leaves political candidates open to attack by the gun lobby and its Congressional supporters.  That all changes, however, if gun violence is placed into a human rights framework.  Consider women.

A recent Wall Street Journal – NBC News poll shows that we are headed for the largest gender gap ever in a mid-term election with 51% vs 35% of women vs men, respectively, wanting the Democrats to control Congress.  The so-called Republican War on Women has involved, amongst many things, attacks on their healthcare and reproductive rights, insensitivity to rape pregnancy, and lack of representation on committees debating women’s issues.  Now consider that Congress, overwhelmingly by Republican obstruction, has not lifted a finger to protect their right to life, where women in our country are 11 times more likely to die from gunfire than those in other developed countries and where they are at 500% greater risk of losing their life during a domestic dispute if a gun is in the house.  Placed into a human rights framework, the gun violence issue becomes an integral part of the blatant disregard for women’s rights; and arguably the most egregious violation of their rights.   The NRA and their Congressional supporters would be left in the untenable position of using the Second Amendment to argue against the rights, in fact the very lives, of a large and important voting block that is already poised to undermine them.

The same could be done with Latinos and African-Americans who suffer numerous human rights infractions in education, healthcare, housing, voting, excessive force, incarceration, and ethnic/racial profiling, to name but a few.  This while Congress not only fails to protect their right to life from gun violence, but is itself complicit by facilitating the ability of unscrupulous gun dealers to prey upon and profit from the effects of racial and ethnic discrimination, e.g. Tiahrt Amendments.  Especailly affected are African-Americans who represent 13% of our population but over 50% of our homicide victims (paragraph 20 of our report), and where Amnesty International engaged in the United States following the atrocities in Ferguson, Missouri.

Gun violence, placed into a human rights framework, becomes fuel added to the fire of rights infractions that resonate with, and motivate, all three of these important voting blocks while countering the Second Amendment argument.

Concluding Remarks

There is much synergy between the gun violence prevention and human rights movements.  Together they are stronger than they are apart.  And by shaping Congress through a human rights framework, our country begins the longer-term process of addressing not only racial/ethnic discrimination, which is at the root of much gun violence in our country, but the entire array of rights infractions that affect indigenous people, women, children, and people of color – infractions that tear at the very fabric of our diverse society.

It is time to reframe the gun violence debate.  It is tactically, but more importantly, morally, the right thing to do.