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Gun Violence Is a Human Rights Issue

By Dylan J. Morris, Contributing Opinion Writer
Dylan J. Morris ’27 lives in Wigglesworth Hall. He is the co-founder of No Future Without Today, an organization advocating for student safety through gun reform.

Last month, a gunman opened fire in a restaurant and a bowling alley in Lewiston, Maine. He killed at least 18 people and injured 13 others.

In the wake of the shooting, advocates and lawmakers have called for a federal ban on assault weapons. Still, we all know the typical cycle of American reactivity — mass shooting, followed by outrage, followed by nothing.

Not only is our gun problem a uniquely American issue, but our lack of action is uniquely American as well.

In 1996, it took the Australian prime minister 12 days after the Port Arthur mass shooting to begin a total overhaul of the nation’s gun laws. In New Zealand in 2019, it took a few weeks after the mass shooting in Christchurch for the Parliament to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons nationwide.

In the United States, it’s been almost 11 years (yes — years) since the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, and our Congress has hardly scratched the surface of the problem.

More than 357,000 elementary, middle, and high school students have experienced gun violence at school since the Columbine High School mass shooting in 1999. Horrifyingly, gun violence was the leading cause of death in children ages 1-19 years in 2020 and 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s not entirely accurate to say that Congress has done nothing. After the 2022 shooting in Uvalde, Texas, President Joe Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which expanded background checks for prospective gun buyers and provided funds for state intervention initiatives such as mental health courts and red flag laws.

However, we have yet to see significant progress at the federal level, including practical measures like closing the “gun show” background check loophole, instituting a robust secure storage law, allowing petitions for an extreme risk protection order, or even banning assault weapons.

In 2021, I survived a mass shooting at Oxford High School — the deadliest in the state of Michigan. Four of my classmates — Hana St. Juliana, Tate Myre, Justin Shilling, and Madisyn Baldwin — were murdered. Several others were injured, including a teacher. Nearly 2,000 others were traumatized. I distinctly remember my classmates and me barring the door shut and arming ourselves with makeshift weapons, including tape dispensers, scissors, and even a hockey stick.

What should have been a typical day reading a short story in International Baccalaureate English turned into sheer terror, which has marked my life to this day. I am not afraid to admit how the shooting has impacted my daily life. I now experience a tendency towards fight or flight responses, a constant urge to look over my shoulder, and recurring brain fog.

After the shooting, we took action in Michigan. However, in other states, where the gun lobby seems to have a tight grip on Republican lawmakers and gun violence runs rampant, how do we move forward?

At the federal level, Congress keeps us sitting ducks in schools, homes, and communities. It is only a matter of time before something like what happened in Maine last month happens again elsewhere. I don’t mean to seem pessimistic, but we’re too often urged to accept the dark reality that is the United States.

We don’t have to, though.

Gun violence is often framed as an issue of mental well-being or unfettered gun access. But why don’t we also view it as a human rights issue?

Amnesty International has released a report detailing how mass shootings, specifically at school, can disrupt a child’s right to an education. That right, protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, means that each state has a “prime responsibility” to ensure that all people “are able to enjoy all those rights and freedoms in practice.”

Between survivors and supporters, we must take this reframed issue into our own hands in new ways — not only through advocacy but also through litigation.

In August, a court ruled in favor of students in Montana who had sued the state, arguing that their right to a clean and healthful climate was violated by a state law that forbade officials from weighing the environmental impacts of large projects. Now, the state must consider climate damage when it approves projects.

Gun violence prevention advocates and activists must be willing to do the same — not only to hold our government accountable, but also to demonstrate that our right to life, the most fundamental right of all, takes precedence over the right to own any firearm and use it irresponsibly.

If we are to continue on the path we’re on, we risk creating an even more apathetic United States — a nation too numb to do anything about the growing gun violence in our communities.

Even on our campus, nested within liberal Massachusetts, we cannot afford complacency. It is time to act in ways we have only begun to explore — because it’s not a matter of if someone will experience the effects of gun violence in their life; it’s a matter of when.

Dylan J. Morris ’27 lives in Wigglesworth Hall. He is the co-founder of No Future Without Today, an organization advocating for student safety through gun reform.

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