In the wake of the mass killing of 49 people by a sole gunman in a gay nightclub in Florida, the United Nations (UN) human rights chief has urged the leadership of the United States to live up to its obligations to protect its citizens from the “horrifyingly commonplace but preventable violent attacks that are the direct result of insufficient gun control.”
“It is hard to find a rational justification that explains the ease with which people can buy firearms, including assault rifles, in spite of prior criminal backgrounds, drug use, histories of domestic violence and mental illness, or direct contact with extremists – both domestic and foreign,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
“How many more mass killings of schoolchildren, of co-workers, of African-American churchgoers — how many more individual shootings of talented musicians like Christina Grimmie, or politicians like Gabrielle Giffords, will it take before the United States adopts robust gun regulation?” he added, questioning the availability for civilians anywhere of an assault rifle or other high-powered weapons designed to kill many people.
“Irresponsible pro-gun propaganda suggests that firearms make society safer, when all evidence points to the contrary,” Zeid said.
A UN report on the civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms that was published in April highlights the “devastating impact” of gun violence on a host of human rights, including the rights to life, security, education, health, an adequate standard of living and participation in cultural life.
The report states that women and children are frequently found to be victims of firearm-related violence, including through the use of guns to commit rape and other sexual violence, abduction, assault and domestic violence.
It states that protection of human rights must be central to the development of laws and regulations regarding the availability, transfer and use of firearms. UN and regional human rights experts have long recommended thatfirearm control measures must include adequate background check systems, the periodic review of licenses, clear gun removal policies when intervening in domestic violence cases, mandatory training, and the criminalization of illegal sale of firearms, among others.
“Examples from many countries clearly show that a legal framework to control the acquisition and use of firearms has led to a dramatic reduction in violent crime,” Zeid said. “In the United States, however, there are hundreds of millions of guns in circulation, and every year thousands of people are killed or injured by them.”
Zeid added that it was particularly reprehensible – indeed dangerous – that this terrible event is already being utilized to promote homophobic and Islamophobic sentiments. He urged everyone in the United States to rally around the common cause of ensuring that the human rights, and consequentially the security, of all are strengthened in the aftermath of this horrendous incident.
“That is the least that is owed to the relatives of all those children, women and men whose lives have been snatched from them by gunmen from a wide variety of backgrounds in the Orlando nightclub, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, at the Methodist Church in downtown Charleston, and at so many other homes, schools, colleges and other venues across the United States,” he said.
Despite being an international body, the United States is unlikely to pay too much heed to the UN call to tighten gun controls, perhaps seeing it as a US issue that the nation will deal with in its own way without assistance or recommendations from global organizations.
But there has to be some middle ground, a compromise between the pro- and anti- gun arguments. Perhaps the United States should look at countries like Finland which obtained positive results after active shooter incidents led the country to embrace tightened gun control measures.
Maybe it is as simple as looking at the types of weapons that citizens can own. The right to own a handgun does not infringe on an American’s right to defend themselves and their property, and a handgun would be a less catastrophic weapon in a crowded nightclub than an assault rifle, which would be over-delivering in the event of a home intruder.
Expressing outrage at the attack and deep sorrow for the victims killed, Mogens Lykketoft, the President of the UN General Assembly, called the worst mass shooting in US history by a lone gunman “a misguided and despicable act of barbarism.”
He called on governments and people everywhere to get together and commit to support even stronger global, national and local efforts to prevent the spread of hatred and violent extremism.
UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson responded to a question at a press conference on the situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons saying that while the full details of the tragic incident are still emerging, “I would very much hope that it doesn’t feed the hate crimes that we have seen in several parts of the world.”
Eliasson urged restraint “and [to] make sure that we are not provoked by the violence that has been exercised. The intention of those who make these acts is to scare us, to makeus identify other groups as the problem, as the enemies, and we should now be very, very strong in standing up for our own values, every human being’s equal worth.”
“If we start to get on the slippery slope of dividing us in different categories, we are onto a very, very dangerous future. So, let us not be provoked by violence, let us not be giving in to the fear mongers,” said the Deputy UN chief, adding, “Let us stand up for values, and not go on into this division of people of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ which is the intention of violent extremists.”
The so-called Islamic State (IS) group has alienated peaceful Muslims all around the world. By claiming its attacks are in the name of Islam, IS has moved manyMuslims against the group that hoped to recruit them. It is now concentrating its focus on the mentally ill and those in deep personal turmoil. If they are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim, then so much the better because using these people as pawns will only help IS create a divide between people and communities.
But make no mistake, IS will take anyone. So even if Donald Trump’s vision of a Muslim-free America materializes, IS will find plenty of other recruits on US soil. The attack against the LGBT community, although likely not ordered by them, will have given IS some ideas. Our greatest defense against their ideologies then is tolerance of all peaceful faiths, races and lifestyles.
The upcoming issue of Homeland Security Today will report on an international requirement for countering terrorist group propaganda – a proposal expected by April 2017. Spreading propaganda and recruiting at-risk individuals via the Internet and social media is easy, inexpensive, and effective.
As New York Times correspondent Rukmini Callimachi tweeted in the aftermath of the Orlando attacks “ISIS floods the internet with their gory propaganda hoping to incite anyone including the mentally unwell, then claims credit.”
A three-pronged approach is needed to reduce these ever-increasing attacks: One, a 21st century clarification to an 18th century Constitutional Amendment; two, widespread action on terrorist propaganda; and three, greater awareness, response and more effective management of mental health issues before affected individuals fall into the wrong hands.
Just as every citizen is informed on how to recognize signs of a stroke and what to do, so they should be informed in the case of mental illness. How many US gun attacks over the last 20 years could have been prevented if proper mental health awareness and care were in place? Possibly all of them.