A group known for calling out abusive governments around the world is wading into the gun control debate in the United States.
In a conference call with journalists last week, Amnesty International called American gun violence a human rights crisis and condemned the federal government for deeming guns “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The international human rights group now has a small staff devoted to an effort called the End Gun Violence Campaign, taking similar positions to groups that support gun restrictions like Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America, Giffords, and March For Our Lives.
The Amnesty International campaign includes efforts at the federal and state levels, including in Ohio, where the group lobbied legislators against a controversial “stand your ground” bill. The session is on hold other than COVID-19–related issues, and the bill’s fate is uncertain.
Some of the legislation Amnesty International is pushing for are universal background checks and so-called red flag laws, which would allow courts to temporarily remove firearms from people deemed at risk to themselves or others.
The gun reform lobby is a crowded field these days, with many groups at the fore of an intensifying debate and legislative back-and-forth.
But Jasmeet Sidhu, senior researcher for Amnesty International’s gun violence project, said the organization’s unique role is highlighting safety as a fundamental and universal right and showing that the U.S. “is failing to fulfill its human rights obligations.”
“The importance of us being part of this movement is that we really help change the narrative,” she said, “to ensure that and to make people realize that it’s not crazy for people to feel that they have a right to be safe and a right to live and a right to be protected.”
It’s not the first time the group has entered the gun debate. In the wake of several mass shootings last year, it issued an advisory warning to travelers on the dangers of gun violence in America.
In a scathing response on its website, the National Rifle Association then accused Amnesty International of cashing in on death.
“Amnesty International tried to leverage national news to rake in donations and, in doing so, has hurt their image,” the NRA statement read.
Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.