Zulu Alpha Kilo backs lawsuit targeting U.S. gun laws

Who: Global Action on Gun Violence (GAGV), with Zulu Alpha Kilo’s New York and Vancouver offices for creative and strategy; Chelsea Pictures for production (directed by Nadav Kander); Significant Others for post-production; Barking Owl for audio; Final Cut for editorial; and Rare Medium for media.

What: “Campaign for Survival,” a national ad campaign accompanying Joaquin Oliver v USA, a human rights lawsuit against the U.S. government filed through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The campaign includes a call-to-action petition addressed to IACHR and the U.S., inciting signers to support the prevention of gun violence. GAGV calls it the first legal case to frame the U.S.’s gun problem as a human rights violation.

When & Where: The campaign is in market now, consisting of online video, explainer content on social channels, and a full-page ad in the The Washington Post.

Why: Manny and Patricia Oliver lost their 17-year-old son, Joaquin, in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Represented by Arturo Carrillo, director of the George Washington University Law School’s Civil and Human Rights Clinic, and working with gun violence prevention lawyer and GAGV president Jonathan Lowy, they are seeking a ruling that U.S. gun policy violates basic international human rights law by depriving their son of his right to live.

By initiating legal action and making it the central focus of the campaign, GAGV hopes to rally support and gain signatures on the petition to finally drive the changes that many preceding anti-gun violence campaigns have sought. “We’ve tried everything else to rein in gun violence, but there hasn’t been meaningful change,” said Manny Oliver in a release.

Legally speaking: All governments are obliged to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups, as outlined by a comprehensive set of laws in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Joaquin Oliver v USA challenges that U.S. gun policies and the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment decisions allowing firearms manufacturers, distributors, and dealers to make and sell guns in ways that cause reckless deaths and injuries, impedes on the human right to live, while enabling the gun industry to profit from crime.

The IACHR, the internationally recognized legal body through which the lawsuit is filed, oversees the Organization of the American States (OAS). However, the U.S. is one of the few OAS member states that has not accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

How (the strategy): ZAK has supported anti-gun movements in the past, including previous campaign work for the Coalition for Gun Control. The agency maintains that creative thinking has the power to solve complex social issues, like gun violence. And while other famous campaigns have tried in the past, the real breakthrough idea at the core of this campaign is the lawsuit. “We believe taking legal action is one of the most impactful examples of breakthrough thinking in this space to date,” said ZAK Vancouver’s executive creative director, Dean Lee, in a release

GAGV approached ZAK for creative and strategy through a relationship between a board member and Lee, resulting in a collaborative effort between ZAK’s New York and Vancouver offices, with additional support from individuals in Toronto.

The agency became involved while legal action was still being determined, and collaborated closely with GAGV and the Olivers to conceptualize the emotion surrounding the lawsuit, Lee told The Message. The objective of the video is to both drive signatures for the petition, while getting more people to view the flaws at the heart of US gun laws as having risen to the level of human rights abuse in the eyes of international law.

“We can’t concede the discourse around ‘rights’ to the other side of this issue. There’s no human right more fundamental than the right to live free from gun violence,” said Lee. “But the highest goal is to put legal pressure the U.S. government to meet their duties under international law.” 

How (the creative): A 90-second film that anchors the campaign, “The Lawsuit for Survival,” features a combination of actors and real people who were affected by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, including Joaquin’s parents, who clearly reframe the country’s gun ownership narrative as a rights issue, but not the right to bear arms (ie. the infamous 2nd Amendment).

The first speaker starts by stating “I have the right…” while others offer examples of the milestones they deserve to experience in their lifetimes, like getting a driver’s license, taking a road trip, having a first kiss, and undergoing a painful break up.

The list ends with two contrasting statements: “the right not to be shot,” and the right “to not have to mourn my friends,” after which the speakers share a list of everyday places they feel unsafe in America, including malls, schools, bowling alleys, theatres and nightclubs.

In the words of Manny Oliver: “Joaquin had a right to live, which means that Joaquin had a right to fall in love, to have his heart broken, and to find his life partner—or not. It shouldn’t be like this, and it isn’t anywhere else in the world, so we’re urging America to not settle for anything less.”

The film concludes with an emotional scene of Manny and Patricia Oliver standing arm in arm. “The right to a future that our son will never have,” they say. “On February 14, 2018, our son Joaquin Oliver was shot at Parkland High School. In his name, we’re suing the United States government for putting gun rights over his right to live.” The super reads “the U.S Government won’t hear our voices. Now they’ll hear from our lawyers.”

Emma Johnston-Wheeler