Press Release

IACHR Condemns Mass Shooting in United States and Calls on the State to Adopt Measures to Prevent Future Tragedies

November 16, 2017

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHCR) condemns the mass shooting that took place on November 5, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, United States, which left at least 26 dead and about 20 injured. The IACHR expresses its condolences to the families of the women, men, and children who died and to all those who have been affected by this mass shooting.

According to information from local authorities, the shooting killed about four percent of the town's population, and nearly every person inside the church at the time of the shooting was injured in some way. Authorities stated that the victims ranged in age from 18 months to 72 years old. The suspected shooter is reported to have legally purchased the Ruger AR-556 assault rifle allegedly used in the shooting in April 2016. Multiple weapons were later found in the shooter's car.

Publicly available information indicates that the shooter was a former member of the US Air Force. An Air Force spokesperson has confirmed that the shooter was court-martialed in 2012 for assault on his spouse and assault on their child; he consequently served a year in confinement in military prison and received a "bad conduct" discharge from the Air Force in 2014. Following his military discharge, the shooter faced a misdemeanor count of cruelty to animals in Colorado. The Commission observes that several recent high-profile shootings, as well as historic tragedies like the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, involved shooters who were previously accused or convicted of domestic violence.

This shooting comes just a month after the mass shooting at a country music concert in Las Vegas, Nevada which left 59 dead and more than 500 wounded. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 35 mass shootings in the 35 days since the Las Vegas shooting, and where mass shooting is defined as four or more individuals being shot or killed in the same general time and location. There have been more than 1,500 mass shootings-leaving at least 1,715 people dead and 6,089 wounded-since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.

The United States is the developed country with the highest firearm murder rate, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Small Arms Survey. Multiple scientific studies have demonstrated that this fact is closely correlated with the rate of gun ownership which, at 88.8 guns per 100 people, is the highest in the world. According to the civil society group Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, every day, an average of 93 people are killed by guns in the United States. The IACHR urges the federal and Texas state authorities to undertake immediate steps to thoroughly investigate the mass shooting and the underlying causes that led to it. In particular, it calls on the US Congress to undertake urgent legislative measures to reduce gun-related violence and prevent future tragedies.

One analysis of mass shootings from 2009 through 2016 by Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund concluded that at least 54 percent of mass shootings-or 85 out of 156 incidents studied-involved a current or former intimate partner or family member as a victim. This study found that "red flags" for mass shootings include, but are not limited to: recent acts, attempted acts, or threats of violence towards oneself or others; a violation of a protective order; or evidence of ongoing substance abuse. In nearly half of the mass shootings studied-42 percent of cases-the shooter exhibited at least one red flag prior to the shooting. Given the warnings regarding the correlations between mass shootings and previous incidents of domestic violence or other interpersonal violence, the IACHR strongly urges the State to undertake systematic studies of these phenomena in order to formulate effective policy to prevent future gun violence.

"It's not enough to say sorry and send our condolences to the families of the victims. It's not enough to send thoughts and prayers. As the IACHR stated in relation to the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the U.S. government, at its different levels, can and should do more to prevent these tragedies, and the adoption of effective gun control policies should be number one on the agenda of any responsible politician," said Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren, President of the IACHR.

In addition, Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, IACHR Rapporteur for the United States, said: "Just a month after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, we repeat that this tragic mass violence is preventable. Immediate Congressional action on this issue to reform gun laws in the United States and prevent further slaughter is urgent. Furthermore, we call on the State to lift the ban on government financing of studies of the causes of gun violence, and to prioritize studies of the links between domestic and other interpersonal violence and gun violence in order to formulate evidence-based policy that will effectively protect the US population, including women, children, and families."

The IACHR reiterates that the United States must immediately take effective steps to prevent and substantially reduce gun-related violence, such as through effective gun control policies. Multiple studies of data across decades and across countries have demonstrated that the factors that are conducive to violent environments include easy access to firearms and the large number of guns in the hands of private individuals, findings in line with previous recommendations of the Commission and the UN's last Universal Periodic Review cycle for the United States. The IACHR reiterates the importance of effective background checks, as well as other effective measures on license and registration requirements. This includes restrictions on assault weapons, such as the knockoff AR-15-style rifle used by the gunman in this attack, so that their possession is limited to State forces, due to their lethal nature.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and defense of human rights in the region, and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 182/17