November 29, 2012. Washington. Both sides are digging in and upping the ante in the fight over a proposed UN Treaty banning most international and domestic small arms sales. While Russia opposes the measure in the UN and Republicans oppose it in Washington, President Obama has reaffirmed he is supporting the Treaty, reversing the US’s decades-long position. The final fight, and final UN vote, is now scheduled for March 2013.
UN Arms Trade Treaty
In July, President Obama switched from supporting the UN restrictions on small arms sales to insisting he needed more time to think about it. The amount of time he needed, as it turned out, just happened to coincide with the exact number of days until the November 6th Presidential Election.
On November 7, less than 24 hours after winning re-election, President Obama instructed America’s UN representative to vote for the Arms Trade Treaty. Conspicuously scheduled for the day after the US election, the vote by the UN’s Disarmament Committee overwhelmingly approved ATT with Russia being the only major arms exporter to oppose it. While this only saves the treaty and reschedules a vote for March, 157 of the 193 member nations voted to keep ATT alive and move it onto the next phase.
As detailed by The Hill, President Obama was widely blamed by gun control advocates for derailing the global treaty, pulling his support in the run-up to the November Presidential election. Critics accused him of taking both sides of the issue in an attempt to hold onto the loyalty of moderate and conservative voters who support gun ownership. Now, the President has gotten back on board and publicly supports the international restrictions.
As originally written, the UN Arms Trade Treaty would ban the sale of small arms from one country to another, or from one gun manufacturer to a separate foreign country, or the citizens of a foreign country. Supporters insist the measure is meant to stop the illegal weapons trafficking to rogue elements and religious extremists throughout the world. Critics warn that the treaty could ban the sale of all firearms to all citizens of all countries.
Supporters of the treaty announced they intend to put even more restrictions and police powers into the new version when it’s debated in March 2013. Front Page Magazine quotes treaty advocate Anna Macdonald of Arms Control for Oxfam saying, “There is a risk of a diplomatic groundhog day if governments do not change their approach and get this treaty agreed as a matter of urgency.”
Some of the items treaty-backers want added include:
Opposition prepares for a fight
Russia was the only major firearms exporting nation to oppose rescheduling the ATT vote for March. But in the US, opposition is growing among a number of grassroots organizations. Supporters of 2nd Amendment rights have been joined by libertarians and Constitutionalists fearing a loss of independence and sovereignty to the UN. They in turn have been joined by defenders of free markets and corporate profits, fearing the defense industry would take a major hit to its balance sheet if the treaty is approved. Even supporters of Israel have jumped on board the opposition’s bandwagon, insisting the agreement would ban sales of firearms to Israel and destroy the Jewish state’s ability to defend itself.
In July, when it was apparent that President Obama would push the treaty if re-elected, 50 US Senators, including 8 Democrats, signed onto a letter asking him President not to sign the UN Arms Trade Treaty. Led by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Senators insist the treaty would expand gun control to a level that violates the US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
“Today, the Senate sends a powerful message to the Obama Administration: an Arms Trade Treaty that does not protect ownership of civilian firearms will fail in the Senate,” Sen. Moran wrote. The letter was delivered to both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
4 major Republican Senators were conspicuously absent from the letter – John McCain (R-AZ), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Scott Brown (R-MA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL). While Sen. Kirk is suffering from a devastating stroke, the remaining 3 GOP Senators said they weren’t even aware of the letter when asked afterwards by reporters. Fittingly, both Lugar and Brown lost their re-election bids this month and will be replaced by Democratic Senators.
Joining their counterparts in the US Senate, 86 members of the US House co-sponsored a resolution last week that calls on President Obama to reject the UN Arms Trade Treaty. It also stipulates that if the President does sign the treaty, that the US government not spend any time or money on it unless and until the US Senate ratifies it, as required by the US Constitution.
The Resolution, HR 814, is led by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), who argues that ATT doesn’t recognize the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, specifically Americans’ right to keep and bear arms.
“There is considerable cause for alarm regarding the UN’s renewed efforts to forge an Arms Trade Treaty that could trample the constitutional rights of Americans, and could seriously compromise our national security and the security of our allies, whom we will be less able to arm and less quick to defend due to the restrictions placed on us by the ATT,” The Hill reported Kelly saying after introducing his House Resolution.
Currently in the Republican-Chaired House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Resolution is expected to pass out of committee if the Chair brings it up for a vote. And that brings another surprise – Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) will be stepping down at the end of the year. The GOP’s only female Committee Chair is expected to be replaced by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA). Neither Representative is a co-sponsor of HR 814.
At the time of the House Resolution’s introduction, it had 76 bi-partisan co-sponsors. According to the House website, that number is now up to 86. To view the Resolution, click on HR 814.
Both sides of the ATT debate have dug in and are standing by their claims, albeit mostly assumptions, hopes and fears. The fact is, neither side can say with any certainty how the UN will interpret the treaty in the future, or how future US administrations might interpret and enforce it.
Supporters of the treaty, including one member of the US delegation to the UN, claim, “We will not accept any treaty that infringes on the constitutional rights of our citizens to bear arms.” Indeed, the ATT treaty, as previously written, exempted gun sales “exclusively” domestic and held within the borders of one country. It also protected, “recreational, cultural, historical, and sporting activities”.
One part of the treaty that opponents raise as an example of their fears is the wording that creates a loophole around the above exemptions and protections. ATT, as originally written, requires countries to stop “the possible diversion of arms into the illicit market”. Opponents argue that “illicit markets” could be interpreted, and interpreted differently by each nation, to include political reformers on the local level to military aid to Israel and Taiwan on the global level.
In the end, the UN may learn the same lesson that Americans learned over the past 3 decades – criminals don’t abide by gun control laws. And when those laws are enacted, crime and violence go up, not down. As one opponent asked, “Do you really think the people that supply weapons to the likes of Syrian dictator Bashar Hafez al-Assad or other ruthless thugs are going to be stopped by a piece of paper?”
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