Obama Administration Endorses New U.N. Arms Trade Treaty Negotiations

Posted on November 9, 2012

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Just as NRA warned would happen, following the election, the Obama administration has moved forward with its plans to support a United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. On Wednesday November 7, the U.S. Mission to the U.N. made clear its support for renewed ATT negotiations, casting a vote in favor of resolution A/C.1/67/L.11. The resolution calls for a "Final United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty" to be held in New York City from March 18-28.

Undeterred by the failure of July's U.N. Conference on the ATT, in recent months the global civilian disarmament groups and their patron governments have been working nonstop to revive the treaty. Most visible were the attempts made by participants at the Second Review Conference of the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons. At the conference, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon used his time to state, "an arms trade treaty is long overdue… I urge you to redouble efforts to agree on a robust 'ATT' as soon as possible."

The resolution notes that at the March conference, the last draft from the July conference will be the starting point for new talks. Among the draft's most onerous requirements are those intending to burden and keep records on "end users," or gun owners. The draft states that "Each State Party shall maintain national records… Such records may contain… end users" and that "Records shall be kept for a minimum of ten years." If this obligation were to be enacted and followed, it could result in registration for any American that purchases an imported firearm.

Despite the insistence of a U.S. State Department official this summer that ammunition controls are not feasible and would have "significant administrative and financial costs," ammunition remains within the scope of the working draft. The draft states, "Each State Party shall establish and maintain a national control system to regulate the export of ammunition for conventional arms." In the explanation of its vote in favor of the resolution, Mexico made clear that it will continue to pursue its goal of including ammunition within the scope of the treaty.

As in past negotiations, the March conference will require consensus on the treaty's text. This is an important requirement that has served to protect the U.S. from a U.N. tyranny of the majority. However, Mexico has attempted to undermine this vital condition. In a statement during the meetings in which the November 7 resolution was passed, Mexico's representative said, "the goal of consensus should not be interpreted as a right of one or a few delegation to impede a general agreement."

Further, despite the already restrictive wording of the draft treaty, some global gun controllers have insisted it doesn't go far enough. The umbrella ATT group known as the Control Arms Campaign (which includes Amnesty International, the International Action Network on Small Arms and Oxfam International, among others) states that an ATT "must include all weapons, all transfers, and all transactions," and has constructed a wish list to make the treaty more prohibitive. Their stated goal of "finishing" the current draft is even more ominous when you consider that in the past Amnesty International has made clear that "The ATT should not exempt certain small arms (for example, sporting or hunting firearms) from its scope of application." With several nations supporting this position and negotiations over the final text remaining fluid, there is a possibility that the final treaty could be far worse than the current draft.

During the July negotiations, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre made clear to the assembled U.N. delegates that, "Any treaty that includes civilian firearms ownership in its scope will be met with the NRA's greatest force of opposition." The speech was bolstered by letters from a majority of U.S. Senators and 130 Representatives, making clear to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton their opposition to a treaty encompassing civilian arms. Several writers noted NRA's opposition as key to the failure of the July conference. Needless to say, our position will remain the same on any treaty that could adversely affect the rights of American gun owners.

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