U.N. "Programme of Action" Targets Civilian Gun Owners

Posted on September 7, 2012

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Gun owners hoping the failure of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty in July would finally convince the UN to respect our rights shouldn't hold their breath. Just a month after treaty negotiations broke down, on August 27 the UN convened its two-week-long Second Review Conference of the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons.

The POA was established in 2001, ostensibly to combat the illicit trade and use of small arms by developing an internationally accepted set of standards for dealing with the issue, as well as by encouraging states to adopt domestic controls over the manufacturing and distribution of firearms and report on their progress. While states may agree to work towards the goals of the POA, the POA is not binding (unlike a possible Arms Trade Treaty).

However, since its inception the POA has served as a vehicle to promote domestic civilian gun control policies that are incompatible with U.S. gun rights, and the 2012 conference was no different. The conference failed to recognize the legitimacy of civilian firearm ownership or of individual self-defense.

Consider, too, the recommendation for gun registration in the U.N. International Small Arms Control Standards that were launched on Aug. 29 as part of the POA conference. The document states, "For each individual small arm and light weapon under the jurisdiction of a State, records of the following information, where applicable in each instance, shall be maintained:... ownership information (names, addresses and license numbers of owners, as well as dates of ownership, up until the point that the weapon leaves the jurisdiction of the State," and further recommends, "records of all small arms and light weapons under the jurisdiction of a State should be maintained in a centralized database administered by a competent State authority." ISACS has yet to be completed, but upcoming international standards the POA will promote include "National controls over the end-user and end-use of internationally transferred small arms and light weapons" and "National controls over the access of civilians to small arms and light weapons." Fortunately, ISACS was rejected as part of the POA in the just-concluded conference.

The conference offered another opportunity for grandstanding by countries that don't respect their own citizens' rights. On Sept. 5, Cuba, Iran and the triply misnamed Democratic People's Republic of Korea--that is, North Korea--made a bid to include a negative reference to "possession of firearms by civilians" in the conference's final document. The NRA was present as always, and played a key role in working with friendlier governments to block the move.

Mexico continued to promote civilian disarmament with an Aug. 28 statement to the conference encouraging a greater focus on civilian possession of firearms as a way to implement and strengthen the POA, and during the conference called for the inclusion of ammunition control in the POA conference final document. Likewise, the 120 states of the Non-Aligned Movement argued in an Aug. 27 statement for "the need to establish and maintain controls over private ownership of small arms."

Consistent with a broad U.N. civilian disarmament agenda, many conference participants also spent their time advocating for the failed Arms Trade Treaty. In his remarks to the conference on August 27, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated, "an arms trade treaty is long overdue… I urge you to redouble efforts to agree on a robust 'ATT' as soon as possible." A representative from the global gun control group, International Action Network on Small Arms, said "civil society shares the disappointment expressed by the majority of member states in the failure to agree [to] the Arms Trade in July. Nonetheless, we are confident that States will secure the ATT in the very near future." Mexico also advocated a continued effort to negotiate a treaty.

As of now, implementation of the POA remains voluntary. However, the inherent danger of the POA is that the standardized controls it seeks to establish on civilian gun ownership could become less than voluntary in the future. Domestic politicians could also use the POA to claim a mandate under "international norms" to adopt regulations that are in direct conflict with our Second Amendment rights. As the secretary general made clear, the UN has not quit pushing for an ATT, and it is just as unlikely to stop prodding States into enacting the civilian gun controls promoted by the Programme of Action--which has now been extended through 2018.

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