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Obama Administration Helps Deliver U.N. Arms Trade Treaty

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Just as the U.S. Senate was preparing to debate new restrictions on our rights, the Obama White House delivered the second part of its one-two punch directed at our freedoms. And the U.S. government had to reverse its long-held position on the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in order to do it.

On March 28, the U.S. abandoned its insistence that the treaty be passed by “consensus.” Instead, our delegation joined with a group of nations led by Kenya to propose that the treaty be adopted through a simple majority vote. 

A government spokesman dismissed concerns over the dramatic change in position, saying, “It’s important to the United States and the defense of our interests to insist on consensus. But every state in this process has always been conscious of the fact that if consensus is not reached in this process, that there are other ways to adopt this treaty, including via a vote of the General Assembly.”  

That vote came quickly, and the treaty was adopted by a majority of U.N. members on April 2. Now, the president is expected to sign the treaty and send it to the U.S. Senate for ratification. 

The failure of the Obama administration to defend America’s constitution on the world stage was foreseeable. It’s a backup plan to impose the same restrictions that may be rejected in Congress during the debate over domestic legislation—a debate that may, as this goes to press, begin any day. 

The only supposed protection for our rights in the treaty is a non-binding acknowledgement of individual rights in the preamble. However, the preamble has no force of law.

More importantly, there are several troublesome aspects of the treaty’s text. The NRA has always maintained that any international treaty that covers firearms must respect the Second Amendment right of individual self-defense. This can only be accomplished by excluding civilian firearm ownership, which this treaty fails to do.

The ATT includes “small arms and light weapons” among its terms, with no exception for firearms owned by law-abiding citizens. And the treaty’s text urges recordkeeping of gun buyers, asking importing countries to provide information including “end use or end user documentation” for a “minimum of 10 years.” 

Regardless of any attempt to sell the treaty to the American people, data kept on the end users of imported firearms is a registry, which is unacceptable. But worse, the treaty could force that information into the hands of foreign governments.

Also of concern is Article 5, Section 2, which demands “Each State Party shall establish and maintain a national control system, including a national control list, in order to implement provisions of this treaty.”  Not only could this lead to a system of firearm registration, but it could also impose significant additional burdens on the firearm industry, as well as on the millions of Americans who occasionally trade and sell firearms out of their own personal collections. 

Arguing in favor of the treaty, the American Bar Association openly admitted that the treaty could have an adverse effect on the ability of Americans to acquire imported firearms, but defended import restrictions as “constitutionally valid.”  The ABA also considers it “highly unlikely that current U.S. regulations [pertaining to imports] would be considered ‘inadequate’ and ‘inappropriate’ within the meaning of the proposed ATT.” 

But it is well documented that many foreign countries consider our gun laws inadequate, which could lead some countries to stop exporting to the U.S. Most of the countries that export popular guns to us have much more stringent domestic firearm laws than the U.S. If their governments interpret the treaty in line with their domestic policies, the variety and supply of imported firearms available to the American consumer could be greatly diminished.

We can be thankful that lawmakers are already moving to block the Obama plan. On March 23, the Senate adopted a budget amendment offered by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., that endorses a fund for “the purpose of preventing the United States from entering into the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty.” This effort is in addition to the campaign led by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., to pass concurrent resolutions opposing the treaty. 

No matter what comes of the debate over domestic legislation to restrict our rights, we will still have more work to do in the Senate to keep our rights intact against these foreign threats. 

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