By Chris W. Cox, NRA-ILA Executive Director
Following the well-deserved failure of Arms Trade Treaty negotiations in July, the United Nations wasted no time in continuing to pursue its civilian disarmament agenda. Although the treaty talks could be revived—by the time you read this, the U.N. may already have voted on starting new talks next March—the U.N. has also resumed another long-running attack on the Second Amendment. Just a month after the treaty conference, the U.N. held the Second Review Conference of the U.N. Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons—the POA, for short.
The U.N.’s zeal for bureaucracy and alphabet-soup agencies could make President Obama’s executive “czars” blush, so it’s no surprise that there has been some confusion about the POA. To clear things up, the POA is not a part of the Arms Trade Treaty. In fact, the POA has been around longer than the ill-fated treaty, having been established in 2001.
Like the treaty process, the POA seeks to establish international standards for the distribution and manufacture of small arms, all the way down to the “end user.” However, unlike the treaty, the POA encourages countries to voluntarily enact these standards through domestic legislation, and asks countries to periodically report to the POA on their progress. The next steps in pursuing these goals are outlined at the end of each POA conference in the “outcome document,” resulting in significant debate over what will or will not be included.
Many of the POA agenda items are measures American gun owners have been fighting for decades. In August, the U.N. formalized many of these when it launched the still-unfinished International Small Arms Control Standards (ISACS). To be in line with ISACS “standard modules,” a nation would need to maintain “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 just in case the government collecting this information was planning on safeguarding citizens’ privacy, ISACS makes clear that the records “should be maintained in a centralized database.” Future ISACS “modules” will include “National controls over the access of civilians to small arms and light weapons.”
The cast of characters at the POA conference will be familiar to gun owners who followed the rise and fall of the Arms Trade Treaty talks. Once again, Mexico was among the nations most hostile to individual rights. Our southern neighbor’s prepared statement at the opening of the conference urged the assembled countries to emphasize restrictions on civilian firearm possession. Later, Mexican representatives advocated that the POA’s final document include support for regulating ammunition because a “gun without bullets does not pose any threat.”
The International Action Network on Small Arms (the leading international anti-gun group) was also on hand. Still smarting from the failure of the Arms Trade Treaty, IANSA used the conference to note that it “shares the disappointment expressed by a majority of member states. … Nonetheless we are confident that States will secure the ATT in the very near future.” This sentiment was echoed by u.n. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who used the opportunity to remark, “I urge you to redouble efforts to agree on a robust ‘ATT’ as soon as possible.” Following the conference, IANSA complained about the lack of “inclusion of [small arms and light weapons] ammunition and parts and components within the scope of the POA.”
Predictably, during the conference three of the world’s most despotic regimes threw their weight behind civilian disarmament. The NRA helped thwart an attempt by Cuba, Iran and North Korea to add a derogatory passage regarding “possession of arms by civilians” to the POA’s final conference document.
Despite that victory, the POA remains a long-term threat. Right now, the standards the POA seeks to establish are voluntary, but in the future such controls could be incorporated into a legally binding international treaty. Continued U.S. participation in the POA also plays to the well-worn anti-gun tactic of pointing to the gun controls established by other countries as an international “norm” that justifies—or even requires—infringing our rights here at home.
Ideally, the U.S. would always be governed by a Congress and president that recognize the threat the POA poses to our individual liberties, and refuse to participate in a program aimed at inhibiting the human right to self-defense across the globe. Until that day, the NRA will work to ensure that the POA’s “standards” are never imposed on American gun owners.