by Dave Kopel
The Obama administration’s offensive against the Second Amendment has begun.
As was predicted, the strategy uses international law to create a foundation for repressive and extreme gun control. The mechanism is an international treaty, the “Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials.”
If the plan succeeds, police sales of confiscated firearms would be prohibited and anyone who reloads ammunition at home would need a federal license. In addition, the treaty would create an international law requirement that almost every American firearm owner be licensed as if he were a manufacturer.
Founded in 1948, the Organization of American States (OAS) includes all of the independent nations of the Western Hemisphere. (Cuba’s participation has been suspended since 1962.) In 1997, President Clinton signed a gun control treaty that had been negotiated by OAS. Subsequently, neither he nor President George W. Bush sent the treaty to the United States Senate for ratification.
The treaty is commonly known as “CIFTA,” for its Spanish acronym, Convención Interamericana Contra la Fabricación y El Tráfico Ilícitos de Armas de Fuego, Municiones, Explosivos y Otros Materiales Relacionados. The document is called a “convention” rather than a “treaty” because “convention” is a term of art for a multilateral treaty created by a multinational organization.
At the OAS meeting in April 2009, President Obama said that he would send CIFTA to the U.S. Senate and urge ratification. The White House claimed that the convention was merely an expression of international goodwill.
In the United States, it is common for police and sheriffs’ departments to sell confiscated firearms to federally licensed firearm dealers (FFLs). The FFLs then resell the guns to lawful consumers. Of course, when any FFL sells a gun to a customer, the sale must be approved by the National Instant Check System, or its state equivalent.
Police and sheriff sales of confiscated guns would be outlawed by CIFTA which mandates: “State Parties shall adopt the necessary measures to ensure that all firearms, ammunition, explosives, and other related materials seized, confiscated, or forfeited as the result of illicit manufacturing or trafficking do not fall into the hands of private individuals or businesses through auction, sale, or other disposal.”
Another target of CIFTA is reloading. The millions of Americans who reload include competitive target shooters, hunters, trainers who want to craft milder ammunition for beginners, and many other hobbyists who enjoy making things themselves and saving money. Due to the present shortage of ammunition, more and more people are taking up reloading--so many that reloading equipment manufacturers are having difficulty keeping their products in stock.
Reloading is entirely lawful in every state and no state requires a specific permit for those reloading ammunition. CIFTA, however, declares that “illicit manufacturing” is the “manufacture or assembly of firearms, ammunition, explosives, and other related materials” that takes place without “a license from a competent governmental authority of the State Party where the manufacture or assembly takes place.”
Thus, either the federal government or all 50 state governments would have to enact legislation to impose reloading licenses and to define unlicensed reloading as a crime. According to Article IV of CIFTA, “State Parties that have not yet done so shall adopt the necessary legislative or other measures to establish as criminal offenses under their domestic law the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, ammunition, explosives, and other related materials.”
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) charges $10 per year for a license to manufacture most ammunition. Also under existing law, the premises of firearm and ammunition manufacturers may be inspected without notice once per year by the BATFE, and an unlimited number of times in cases involving a criminal investigation. Thus, anyone who reloads ammunition would be taxed and subject to home inspection by the federal government.
Reloaders are not the only ones who would be required to have a manufacturing license. So would every company or individual that makes any part of a firearm or an accessory. In fact, so would almost every firearm owner in the nation.
CIFTA Article I requires licensing for the manufacture of “other related materials.” These are defined as “any component, part, or replacement part of a firearm, or an accessory which can be attached to a firearm.”
That definition straightforwardly includes all spare firearm parts. It also includes accessories that are attached to firearms, such as scopes, ammunition magazines, sights, recoil pads, bipods and slings.
Current U.S. law requires a license to manufacture a firearm, with a “firearm” being defined as the receiver--however, no federal license is needed to make other parts of a firearm, such as barrels or stocks.
But CIFTA’s plain language requires federal licensing of the manufacturers and sellers of barrels, stocks, screws, springs and everything else that is used to make firearms.
Likewise, the manufacture of all accessories--such as scopes, sights, slings, bipods and so on--would have to be licensed.
In the United States, the manufacture of a firearm or ammunition for one’s personal use does not require a license, since the licensing requirements apply to persons who “engage in the business” by engaging in repeated transactions for profit. (18 U.S. Code sec. 923(a).)
Yet CIFTA would require licensing for everyone.
Many, perhaps most, firearm owners occasionally tinker with their guns. They might replace a worn-out spring or install a better barrel. Or they might add accessories such as a scope, a recoil pad or a sling. All of these simple activities would require a government license. The CIFTA definition of “Illicit manufacturing” is “the manufacture or assembly of firearms, ammunition, explosives, and other related materials.” (Emphasis added.)
Even if putting an attachment on a firearm were not considered in itself to be “assembly,” the addition of most components necessarily requires some assembly; for example, scope rings consist of several pieces that must be assembled. Replacing one’s grip panels requires, at the least, the use of screws.
Because the definition of “manufacturing” is so broad, nearly all gun owners would eventually be required to obtain a manufacturing license.
CIFTA mandates that “State Parties that have not yet done so shall adopt the necessary legislative or other measures to establish as criminal offenses under their domestic law the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, ammunition, explosives, and other related materials … the criminal offenses established pursuant to the foregoing paragraph shall include participation in, association or conspiracy to commit, attempts to commit, and aiding, abetting, facilitating, and counseling the commission of said offenses.”
Yet the preamble of CIFTA says: “... this Convention does not commit State Parties to enact legislation or regulations pertaining to firearms ownership, possession, or trade of a wholly domestic character.”
Does the preamble negate the comprehensive licensing system that CIFTA demands? Not really. The exemptions are for “ownership, possession, or trade.” There is no exemption for “manufacturing.” As detailed above, “manufacturing” is defined b