The term “Free World” grew in prominence during the Cold War to describe the Western Bloc. Over time it has been associated more with the US due to the US being considered the main democratic superpower and therefore, the leader of democratic states throughout the world. However, if one examines recent trends, it seems the US no longer meets this standard.
The “Free World,” more generally being associated with Western states, has democratic values at its core. One of the key democratic values is respect for fundamental human rights. However, in order to be a leader of the “Free World,” the state (or amalgamation of states in the case of the US) should not only protect these fundamental human rights but also drive them forward at an accelerating pace, both internationally and domestically.
Although the term the “leader of the ’Free World’” is many times more specifically associated with the President of the US, it is of utmost importance to specify that the following categories, although many times permitted at the federal level, are ultimately states’ rights and therefore, do not automatically reflect the viewpoints of the President or the federal government. Many states in the US, when examining recent trends, seemingly are moving in the opposite direction and the viewpoints proffered are met with hypocrisy. For example, one of the recent trends has been the restriction of women’s rights, in particularly abortion rights, with many opposed to abortion citing the protection of unborn human life. However, at the same time, the US is one of the few remaining states throughout the world actively practicing capital punishment, which to many would be considered the opposite of protecting human life.
Perhaps most stunning in recent weeks and months has been the restriction of women’s rights. Alabama has recently passed a law banning abortions, even in cases of incest and rape; meaning, if a woman is raped and becomes pregnant, she is forced to have a child. Alabama is not alone in this regard; Ohio, Utah, Arkansas, Kentucky, Georgia, Missouri and Mississippi have also recently passed similar laws. Additionally, in Alabama, doctors who now perform abortions could face life in prison. Most of the states passing these restrictive laws ban abortion after six weeks, which is before many women realize they are pregnant. Who is voting in favor of restricting these women’s rights? Mostly men. Of the 25 senators who voted yes in favor of Alabama’s abortion bill, all 25 were men.
Not all states are moving in the same direction. Many states have existent laws giving women abortion rights, and others are introducing more progressive laws. For example, Nevada recently passed a bill that removed a variety of restrictions on abortions. Another such example includes Illinois and their recently passed legislation stating that someone who is pregnant has the fundamental right to an abortion and that a fetus, embryo or fertilized egg has no independent rights. However, when examining a leader in the “Free World” from a national perspective, simply put, it seems that a leader of the “Free World” should be at the forefront of women’s rights; so far this year, 12 states (24% of the US) have enacted abortion bans and between January 1 and May 31, 33 states (66% of the US) enacted abortion restrictions.
The following map displays the countries where abortion is illegal. However, the US is not listed as abortion is not illegal at the national level.
The information was obtained from “World Population Review” (http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/countries-where-abortion-is-illegal/).
Perhaps one of the most polarizing debates in the US right now is over the second amendment, the right to keep and bear arms. In 2017, nearly 40,000 people were killed in the US by guns, including school shootings, homicides, suicides and terrorism. This number represents the highest rate of gun deaths in over 20 years.
Regarding school shootings specifically, the following numbers represent school shooting incidents at a K-12 school (not automatically resulting in deaths) per year. K-12 refers to the public education system from kindergarten up to 12th grade.
The data was retrieved from the “Center for Homeland Defense and Security” (https://www.chds.us/ssdb/incidents-by-year/).
Currently, the US has had 38 incidents in 2019, but this has only been for half the year. However, as there is not a widely accepted definition of a school shooting, different sources have different results. So far in 2019, there have been 15 school shootings resulting in injury or death in various states, clearly displaying the situation is not contained to one area of the US. So how does the US compare internationally in regard to the number of guns in the country? The following graph displays the number of civilian firearms for every 100 residents, showing that for every 100 residents in the US, there exist 120.5 firearms. In other words, there are more guns than people in the US.
The data was taken from “Vox” and “Small Arms Survey,”
It displays that the US has the highest number of guns per 100 residents in the world, followed by Yemen, which has 52.8 firearms per 100 residents.
Another way to examine this is by looking at the number of deaths and injuries resulting from gun violence. In the US, in 2017, approximately 40 people were killed every day by a firearm assault with nearly 293 injuries every day.
The data was retrieved from “Politifact” and analyzes the rate of gun deaths in high-income level OECD countries (https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2019/feb/14/jerrold-nadler/does-us-have-more-gun-deaths-1-day-other-countries/).
The US had a rate of 10.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016 due to gun violence. The next closest countries included France and Finland with a rate of 2.7. However, it must be specified that this does not equate the US to being the leading country in gun deaths, but only analyzes the high-income level OECD countries. Regarding nonfatal injuries from gun violence, in the US, in 2015, there were approximately 62, 896 injuries. In 2016, this number increased to 62, 896 and in 2017 it reached 107, 002 injuries.
Yet another way to examine this is to look at the countries throughout the world where there is a constitutionally protected right to bear arms. Three countries currently have a constitutional right including the US, Guatemala and Mexico; six others used to but have since repealed that right. The US is the only country in the world guaranteeing the right to bear arms with no restrictions from the constitution, resulting in all of the US allowing for private gun ownership with the various states enacting different laws. Although more countries than those mentioned have certain laws allowing guns, they are not constitutionally protected. However, instead of fighting against the number of guns existent and available in the US, resulting in deaths of its domestic citizens (or at least fighting against the use of guns to kill their citizens in a different way), which is seemingly what the leader of the “Free World” would do, many US states are introducing laws leading to an increase in guns and weapons in the hands of its citizens. Is this truly a rational way to solve the issue of gun violence?
For example, in fighting against school shootings, numerous laws are now being introduced allowing teachers to carry weapons in school, such as in Florida. In Texas, after natural disasters, one is now permitted to open carry handguns. Furthermore, although not guns, Texas now allows people to have, carry and use brass knuckles for self-defense. However, it is an open question for the discussion of whether a leader of the “Free World” should introduce laws making weapons with the ability to kill others easier to access and legally carry.
Interestingly the US has become much more restrictive in access to abortion and abortion rights due to the issue of protecting life. However, they are also one of the few remaining countries actively participating in capital punishment, with the federal government (last federal execution occurred in 2003), 31 states (62% of the US) and the US military authorizing capital punishment for certain crimes. However, many of the states where capital punishment is legal have not recently made use of it. The following graph shows the number of executions in the US per year as of May 24, 2019.
The data was retrieved from the “Death Penalty Information Center” (https://files.deathpenaltyinfo.org/legacy/documents/FactSheet.pdf).
As of May 31, there have been nine executions in the US so far in 2019. There are five methods of legal execution allowed in the US. The most common is lethal injection, followed by electrocution. Although rarely if ever used, the gas chamber and hanging are still legally permitted in certain states. Finally, a firing squad was used in 2010 in Utah. How does the US compare with the rest of the world in regard to state sanctioned executions?
The following information is from “The Telegraph” (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/maps-and-graphics/countries-that-still-have-the-death-penalty/).
In 2018, China had over 1,000 executions, Iran 253, Saudi Arabia 148, Vietnam 85, Iraq 52, Egypt 43, the US 25 and Japan 15. The US typically ranks the seventh or eighth highest number of executions per year. Is this a characteristic of a leader of the “Free World?”
Although the previous issues have only been a brief examination of the recent trends in the US, when compared with the rest of the “Free World,” which has been traditionally considered Western countries, it seems that the US does not compare with any of them in regard to certain forms of fundamental human rights and their respect for the rights. For example, when compared with its European counterparts and more specifically the EU, 22 countries out of 28 have legal abortion, all countries entering the EU must ban capital punishment to satisfy the European Convention on Human Rights, and firearms, although legal in the EU, are met with much higher restrictions. Switzerland (not in the EU), one of the countries in Europe with the highest private gun ownership, recently voted on more restrictions in order to meet EU regulations and stay within the Schengen area. Therefore, when compared internationally, it seems that the US is simply not meeting the high held standards of being a leader in the “Free World.”
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United States Capitol, author: Jeff Kubina, source: Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.
08/04/2019 - 17:44
Douglas is a master’s student in International Economic and Political Studies at Charles University. He obtained his B.A. in Political Science and International Studies from Flagler College in Florida, USA. His research focuses on human rights and migration.