“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 crisis proportions. More than 39,000 people were killed by firearms in 2017, making the United States an extreme global outlier. Mass shootings take place with alarming frequency in schools, places of worship, theatres, as well as at concerts and other public places.  Yet domestic efforts to protect the U.S. population from violent death by firearms have been nearly impossible to achieve for a variety of legal and political reasons. In late fall 2017, Harris Institute Director Professor Leila Sadat 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.

As part of this new initiative, WashULaw students and the Harris Institute Fellow are conducting in-depth research articulating mechanisms to rectify the crisis and suggesting 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 several international human rights instruments. The Institute is pleased to see other organizations like Amnesty International USA take up the human rights concerns raised by U.S. gun violence.

Global Outreach of the Project

Harris Institute Director Leila Sadat and Fellow Madaline George published an op-ed in the St. Louis Post Dispatch in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings, highlighting the impact of the U.S. gun violence crisis and the trend of states, like Missouri, to repeatedly loosen firearm regulations despite research showing that doing so leads to more injury and death. Click the below link to read the article:

Protect our human rights, not gun rights

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has encouraged the United States to redress gun violence through effective gun control policies and held a hearing in February 2018 on “Regulation of Gun Sales and Social Violence in the United States” 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. We encourage you to view the video of the hearing.

Similarly, the UN Human Rights Committee has criticized the level of gun violence in the United States and in 2014 recommended that the government take “all necessary measures to abide by its obligation to effectively protect the right to life.” In January 2019, the Harris Institute submitted “The U.S. Gun Violence Crisis as a Violation of U.S. Obligations Under The ICCPR” ahead of the UN Human Rights Committee’s periodic review of the United States at its 125th session in March 2019.

In September 2019, the Harris Institute and Washington University’s Institute for Public Health submitted a joint stakeholder report on gun violence and human rights to the UN Human Rights Council as part of the Third Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. government’s human rights record. The Council will conduct its review of the United States in May 2020 in Geneva, Switzerland.

In November 2019, Harris Institute fellow Madaline George presented testimony to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) at a hearing on “The Impact of Gun Violence in the United States” as part of the 174th Period of Sessions in Quito, Ecuador.  Ms. George highlighted the ongoing failure of the executive and legislative branches to protect the U.S. population from ongoing gun violence. The Institute presented alongside Amnesty International, the Center for American Progress, and several victims and survivors of gun violence.  You can view a video of the impactful hearing online.

The Institute’s report on U.S. Gun Violence and Human Rights can be found on SSRN.

Recent Events

On November 2-3 2018, the Harris Institute hosted a conference and experts’ meeting on A New Approach to the Gun Violence Crisis in America that brought together a number of leading scholars and academics in the field, as well as key NGO representatives, to discuss the crisis. The meeting was held at Washington University School of Law and was co-sponsored by the Washington University’s Institute for Public Health, the Public Interest Law & Policy Speakers Series,  the American Branch of the International Law Association (International Human Rights Committee) and the Journal of Law and Policy which will publish the papers (View Event Poster).

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 held the 2nd Annual Larry Lewis Healthcare Symposium: Firearm Injury Prevention, a multi-disciplinary Symposium at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.


The Knotted Gun