"Undead" U.N. Arms Trade Treaty Lurches Forward Despite Second Failed Conference

Posted on March 29, 2013

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On March 28, the "Final" Conference on the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty came to a close without reaching its goal of consensus support for the treaty from the 193 nations in the body. Now, a group of nations led by Kenya, including the United States, has introduced a resolution to adopt the treaty to the UN General Assembly. A vote on the treaty is likely to take place in early April, with a meeting of the General Assembly having been scheduled for April 2. The goal of the states putting forth the resolution is for the treaty to be available for signing June 3. Passage of the treaty is expected, but a vote in the General Assembly has been described as a "weaker" method of adopting the treaty than the consensus adoption ATT backers had sought.

The final text of the treaty, issued March 27, does have a passing acknowledgement of individual gun rights in the preamble, which states, "Mindful of the legitimate trade and lawful ownership, and use of certain conventional arms for recreational, cultural, historical, and sporting activities, where such trade, ownership and use are permitted or protected by law." However, the preamble has no force of law and there are still several troublesome aspects of the treaty’s text.

Among the most egregious provisions, are the sections urging recordkeeping of "end users." Article 8 Section 1 implores importing countries to provide information to an exporting country regarding arms transfers, including "end use or end user documentation." Article 12 urges states to keep records of end users "for a minimum of ten years." Regardless of any attempt to sell the treaty to the American people, data kept on the end users of imported firearms is a registry, which is unacceptable. But worse, the treaty could force that information into the hands of foreign governments, whose records on privacy may be even more questionable than that of the U.S.

Also of concern is Article 5 Section 2, which demands "Each State Party shall establish and maintain a national control system, including a national control list, in order implement provisions of this treaty." This is followed by Section 3, which states "Each State Party is encouraged to apply the provisions of this Treaty to the broadest range of conventional arms." And Article 10 on "Brokering" requires "Each State Party shall take measures, pursuant to its national laws, to regulate brokering taking place under its jurisdiction for conventional arms." Such provisions could lead to a system of firearm registration and significant additional burdens being placed on the firearms industry as well as the millions of American gun owners who occasionally trade and sell firearms out of their own personal collections.

In arguing in favor of the treaty, the American Bar Association openly admitted that the treaty could have an adverse effect on the ability of Americans to acquire imported firearms, by defending import restrictions as "Constitutionally Valid." Also problematic with its analysis is that the ABA considers it "highly unlikely that current U.S. regulations [pertaining to imports] would be considered ‘inadequate’ and ‘inappropriate’ within the meaning of the proposed ATT." It is well documented that many foreign countries consider our gun laws inadequate; and such foreign sentiment could lead some countries to bar exports to the U.S. as a result. Some of the countries that produce many of the firearms Americans enjoy most – including Germany, Brazil and Italy -- have much more stringent domestic firearm laws than the U.S. Should their governments interpret the treaty in a manner in line with their domestic firearm policies, the variety and supply of imported firearms available to the American consumer could  be greatly diminished.

Thankfully, Senate ratification of the treaty remains a difficult hurdle for the Obama Administration, should they choose to sign the treaty. On March 23, the Senate adopted, by a margin of 53-45, an amendment to the Senate Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 2014 offered by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) that "establish[es] a deficit-neutral reserve fund for the purpose of preventing the United States from entering into the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty." The effort is a welcome addition to the campaign led by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kans.) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) to pass concurrent resolutions opposing the treaty.

Additionally, negotiators working on behalf of America's law-abiding gun owners were able to help secure two important treaty exemptions protecting gun owners and hunters. One exempts antique and replica firearms from the scope of the treaty. The other allows countries to make exemptions from the treaty’s export-import requirements for travelling hunters.

In the coming days we will continue to monitor ATT developments as the process moves to the General Assembly and continue to work to ensure American gun owners never face a burden imposed by foreign bureaucrats.

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