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Gun violence in the United States – a human rights failure

JAZELLE HUNT | 8/7/2015, 2:59 p.m.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has given the U.S. a series of failing grades on human rights, including failing ...
A semi-automatice assault weapon complete with magazine clip and box was turned in during a city of Dallas gun buy-back program 2009.

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The United Nations Human Rights Committee has given the U.S. a series of failing grades on human rights, including failing to meet international human rights standards on gun violence; the uneven implementation of controversial stand your ground laws; violating personal privacy; and doing a poor job of caring for victims of gun violence.

“We have such easy access to guns, instruments that can easily take a human’s life. Gun violence, and the ways it plays out especially around stand your ground laws, has disproportionately impacted people of color … particularly Black communities. In some places, it’s easier to buy a gun than a fresh vegetable,” said Ejim Dike, executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network, a national network of organizations working on a variety of human rights issues in the United States.

“Under human rights law, if you find that a specific policy has the result of impacting a specific community disproportionally … if you find that stand your ground law is resulting in people of color losing their lives … there is the responsibility of the government to do something,” she continued.

The UN HRC is a multi-national, neutral group of experts who monitor compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights treaty. There are only 22 nations that haven’t signed it – the United States did so in 1977 and ratified it in 1992.

Self-defense-related homicides – and particularly, less common interracial homicides – have spiked in the 33 states that have stand your ground laws. And Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans are most likely to be the ones staring down the barrel of a gun as lax gun laws provide near-immunity to the shooter, according to a national report from the American Bar Association.

In February 2014, Michael Dunn, who fired into an SUV full of young Black men, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis, used the stand your ground defense during his trial. Seven months prior, George Zimmerman employed it and was found not guilty of all charges associated with stalking and killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Both of the shooters are non-Black.

In May 2012, Marissa Alexander, an African American, was charged with aggravated assault for firing a warning shot at her estranged abusive husband; prosecutors successfully argued that the stand your ground defense she sought did not apply in her case.

At the urging of grassroots human rights activists in the wake of Zimmerman’s acquittal, the UN committee examined gun violence and SYG laws as one of four American controversies that might be violations of the ICCPR. Dike’s organization brought together several grassroots groups to write reports on gun violence for the committee; in March 2014, representatives from three of the groups traveled to Geneva to testify at the committee’s hearing.

“The human rights community also pays attention to disparate effects of these laws,” said Meena Jagannath, who testified in Geneva and is the co-founder of the Florida-based Community Justice Project Inc.

“In our reports, we tried to highlight that there are strong interest groups that have been behind the proliferation of these laws. We’ve also strongly emphasized that SYG laws disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities because of inherent racism in the U.S. justice system, and because they allow for people to use deadly force based on their subjective fears.”