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WU co-hosts gun violence crisis panel

Noah Slaughter | Contributing Reporter

The Washington University School of Law, the Washington University Institute for Public Health and the International Law Association hosted a conference on gun violence and human rights violations in the United States Nov. 2-3.

Friday’s portion of the conference, titled, “The U.S. Gun Violence Crisis: An Interdisciplinary and Human Rights Approach,” was open to the public and ran from 8:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. in Anheuser-Busch Hall, while Saturday was exclusively for experts and participation was by invitation only.

Washington University School of Law Dean Nancy Staudt opened the weekend by addressing the intersectionality of the conference.

“This is the first conference that I know of where we’re putting this framework around gun violence into a conference that focuses on the epidemic that we have here in the region and across our nation,” Staudt said.

Approximately 40 people attended the opening of the conference Friday morning. There were over 100 registered for the entire weekend.

Professor Leila Nadya Sadat from the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute at Washington University organized the event and also spoke at the beginning of the conference.

“One of the things we hope to do today is to bring the human rights lens, because the United States [has] many human rights instruments that guarantee rights,” Sadat said. “Many of these rights are guaranteed by our own Constitution. It’s not that we want to erase the Second Amendment—although one former member of the Supreme Court suggested doing so—but we want to argue, at least, that no right is absolute.”

The collaboration between the School of the Law and the Brown School meant the conference focused on not only human rights but also public health.

“32,000 Americans dying is an epidemic,” Director of the Washington University Institute for Public Health William Powderly said. “When we think about epidemics, we think about public health; and if this was an epidemic caused by an infection, Congress would be in session daily to solve the problem. We have to say that this is something we need to take seriously, not just from the perspective of the law and the Second Amendment but actually from the perspective of the health of our community.”

The conference featured several keynote addresses and panels. Speakers came from Washington University and elsewhere, including other universities and organizations, such as Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Mike McLively from Gifford Law Center’s Urban Gun Violence Initiative was the first keynote speaker. In his address, he argued that the U.S. is failing to protect the rights of Americans by not preventing this violence.

McLively also stressed that many solutions to gun violence would not violate the Second Amendment.

“I think there’s a really strong case to be made that the U.S. is in violation of its obligation under international law to protect fundamental human rights because it is failing miserably to put into place even basic systems to prevent foreseeable acts of gun violence,” McLively said.

Reiss Morrison, a law student from England studying at the University of Texas, was in attendance.

“I think, generally, it will be interesting to hear about [gun violence] from a personal perspective as well,” Morrison said. “Being from the U.K., it’ll be really interesting to actually see what American academics think about it.”

Staudt mentioned how pressing gun violence continues to be in the United States and the importance of the conference at this moment in time.

“I’m saddened by the relevance of this conference right now and what’s been happening across our nation,” Staudt said. “I’m also proud to host a conference such as this.”

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