UN Holds "Final" Conference on Arms Trade Treaty

Posted on March 22, 2013

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On March 18, the UN convened the second “final” round of the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty that is set to last until March 28. Using the draft treaty made available during the final days of the previous “final” conference in July as a starting point, delegates continue to ignore some of the major issues threatening the rights of civilian gun owners worldwide.

Only one day after the president’s reelection in November, the Obama administration announced its support for renewed negotiations. This was followed by a March 15 press release from newly minted Secretary of State and ardent gun control supporter, John Kerry, who reiterated the administration’s support, noting, “The United States is steadfast in its commitment to achieve a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty.”

The draft treaty the delegates are working from has several areas of concern for gun owners. Most problematic is the treaty’s requirements that governments take domestic measures to combat unintended “end use” of items which include “Small arms and light weapons.” Under Article 5, concerning “General Implementation,” the treaty states, “Each States Party involved in transfer of conventional arms shall take measures to prevent the diversion of conventional arms covered under Article 2 (1) to the illicit market or for unauthorized end use.” Under Article 7, states importing firearms are tasked with “tak[ing] measures to prevent the diversion of imported conventional arms covered under Article 2(1) to the illicit market or for unauthorized end use.” The Obama administration is currently pushing legislation that would criminalize private transfers, which it argues is to accomplish a similar goal, and the effectiveness of which is dependent on gun registration. The ATT could give the administration another avenue, or a mandate, with which to pursue this end. Even if such measures were restricted to imported firearms, the effect would be immense; in 2010 close to three million firearms were imported into the U.S.

The recordkeeping requirements of the treaty are also troubling. Article 7 encourages states to “maintain records of… end users,” going on to note, “Records shall be kept for a minimum of ten years.” Further encouraging cooperation, the treaty requires states to, within the first year the treaty is in force, report on “activities undertaken to implement this Treaty, including national laws, regulations and administrative matters.”

Despite the already troublesome nature of the draft treaty, delegations from several countries have voiced support for even more stringent controls. In its opening statement to the latest conference, Mexico once again held the banner of the hard-line prohibitionists. Purporting to speak on behalf of 108 countries, Mexico argued for the strictest possible treaty, reiterating its insistence that the scope of the treaty include unworkable ammunition restrictions. Similarly, Germany called for additional “end-use assurances” and “proper end-use controls.” Brazil’s opening remarks argued for requiring “end-use certificates for all arms transfers.”

Some prohibitionist nations had additional help preparing for the latest conference, as the UN teamed up with international gun control group International Action Network on Small Arms (which was formerly headed by the architect of Australia’s gun control laws, Rebecca Peters, and of which the Brady Campaign is a member organization) to host a group of 48 African nations at an African Seminar to Prepare for the Final Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, held March 7-8. The seminar was aimed at encouraging the nations to support a restrictive treaty and to advance the cause of gun control more generally. The seminar led former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton to characterize the UN’s partnership with IANSA as “shameful,” going on to warn, “Small states too often act like agents of the [non-governmental organizations], not as sovereigns.”

Demonstrating respect for the rights of U.S. gun owners were Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kans.) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), who held a press conference on March 13 to announce the introduction of a concurrent resolution in both houses of Congress that outlines their opposition to the treaty. The resolution currently has 28 cosponsors in the Senate and 121 in the House. In voicing his disapproval of the treaty, Sen. Moran remarked, “We must avoid a situation where the Administration, due to its continued willingness to negotiate, feels pressured to sign a treaty that violates our constitutional rights.” Rep. Kelly added, “We do have the right, to peaceably assemble, to petition the government, for a redress of grievances. We also have the right to our Second Amendment, which was enshrined by the Founders… Why would we put that up now for debate with people who don’t feel the same way we do?”

The NRA has made clear since the outset of the Arms Trade Treaty development process that it will oppose any treaty that does not eliminate civilian firearms from its scope. With calls from several countries to enact a treaty of even greater scope than the current draft, and a U.S. delegation from an administration attacking gun rights here at home, NRA will closely monitor the proceedings and work to ensure a treaty encompassing civilian arms is not signed, or ratified by the Senate.

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