UN General Assembly Passes Arms Trade Treaty, Senate Rebuffs

Posted on April 5, 2013

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On April 2, the United Nations General Assembly voted 153-4 to pass the Arms Trade Treaty, with the United States voting in favor and several countries abstaining. The vote in the General Assembly was necessary to push the treaty process forward after negotiations twice failed to deliver on the goal of developing the treaty by unanimous consent. The Obama Administration is expected to sign the treaty soon after it is opened for signature June 3.

The text of the approved treaty is deeply problematic and threatens the rights and privacy of American gun owners. Signatories are encouraged to keep information on the "end users" of arms imported into their territory and supply such information to the exporting country. Exporting nations, nearly all of which have civilian firearm control regimes far harsher than the U.S., are encouraged to take the firearm control laws of an importing country into account before approving a transfer of arms. The treaty also encourages states to adopt domestic legislation to facilitate the treaty's onerous requirements.

For U.S. gun owners, the fight now moves to the Senate, where the Obama administration would need to find 67 senators to ratify the treaty. A majority of senators have already made clear their opposition. On March 23, 53 senators endorsed an amendment to the Senate Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 2014, "establish[ing] a deficit neutral fund" to oppose United States entrance into the treaty. Additionally, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kans.), along with 32 cosponsors, has put forth a concurrent resolution expressing the Senate's opposition to the ATT, as it "fails to expressly recognize the fundamental, individual right to keep and to bear arms and the individual right of personal self-defense... and thus risks infringing on freedoms protected by the Second Amendment."

Following U.N. passage of the treaty, several senators were quick to further register their opposition. In an April 2 press release, Sen. Moran made clear his continued opposition to the ATT and urged his colleagues to do the same, noting, "Given the apparent support of the Obama Administration for the ATT, members of the U.S. Senate must continue to make clear that any treaty that violates our Second Amendment freedoms will be an absolute nonstarter for ratification." Moran's office also pointed out that the General Assembly vote illustrates how the Obama Administration reneged in its previous insistence that the ATT be developed by consensus.

Also commenting on the ATT vote was Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who reiterated some of the NRA's concerns about the document, stating, "The U.N. Arms Trade Treaty that passed in the General Assembly today would require the United States to implement gun-control legislation as required by the treaty, which could supersede the laws our elected officials have already put into place."

Similarly, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) urged Senate opposition, declaring, "It's our job to make sure any treaty the U.S. enters doesn't interfere with our sovereign ability to uphold the rights of Americans… The arms treaty simply doesn't include strong enough protections to pass that test, and I won't support any treaty that undermines the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Montanans."

A day later, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) joined in with a statement in which the senator explains, "I have great concerns that this treaty can be used to violate the Second Amendment rights of American citizens, and do not believe we should sign any treaty that infringes on the sovereignty of our country."

Unfortunately, once a treaty has been signed, it normally remains available for the Senate to ratify in perpetuity, unless a later president withdraws from it. This means that American gun owners must remain vigilant in ensuring this treaty is never ratified. In the coming months and years, the NRA will keep gun owners up to date on any movement toward ratification, and will work with our allies in the Senate to ensure the treaty remains unratified.

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