Update, April 2, 5 p.m. Eastern: This morning in New York, the U.N. General Assembly passed the long-debated Arms Control Treaty placing tight restrictions on import and export of not just military armament, but civilian small arms and ammunition as well. While it is highly unlikely that this treaty will ever be ratified by the U.S., it will still have serious impact on U.S. consumers and foreign manufacturers who depend on the U.S. market. In abandoning their pledge to veto any agreement that did not have full consensus of the drafting committee, the Obama administration not only dealt a blow to U.S. consumers, they also abandoned America’s role as defender of human rights for millions of people around the world. The only good that might come from the passage of this treaty is that it could help to steel the resolve of U.S. gun owners to redouble their efforts to fight domestic gun control efforts.
After decades of bickering over an international Arms Trade Treaty in the U.N., negotiations hit another snag right at what was supposed to be the conclusion of the drafting process. Nonetheless, the treaty is far from dead. Actually, it is a greater threat right now than it has ever been. While three countries, Iran, Syria and North Korea rejected the final language, which should mean another return to the negotiation table under the committee’s rules of full consensus, several highly placed U.N. sources have suggested that the ATT might be pushed on to a vote of the full General Assembly even without achieving consensus in the committee.
That could spell serious trouble for opponents of the treaty, both here in the U.S. and abroad. The U.S. representative on the committee and the office of U.N. secretary general have both indicated a desire to see the current treaty language moved to the General Assembly for a vote. In the General Assembly, the treaty would only need a plurality to be adopted by the U.N. and without a veto from one of the “big five,” China, Russia, France, the U.K. or the U.S., should easily sail through to adoption. The big change in the equation is the U.S. position, which has consistently been that they would not support any treaty that did not achieve full consensus from all of the committee members. Now the U.S. representative, Thomas Countryman, has casually dismissed full consensus as being unrealistic and says the U.S. would vote in favor of the treaty in the General Assembly. That sentiment was echoed by the office of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Though there were several concessions made to overcome U.S. objections to certain aspects of the treaty language, the final version still poses a significant threat to American gun owners, manufacturers and importers. In response to U.S. objections at the close of negotiations last year, language loosening proposed restrictions on some firearm parts and ammunition was adopted, but those concessions are not significant enough to alleviate concerns in the U.S. In many ways this treaty simply adopts what has long been standard operating procedure for the U.S., but it goes further, restricting and tracking private arms. Overall, the U.S. firearms industry would benefit from the adoption of the treaty as it would “level the international playing field,” placing arms manufacturers in other countries under strict regulations similar to what American manufacturers and exporters have been working under for decades. Even so, to their credit, U.S. manufacturers, through their trade association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, are objecting to the overreaching provisions in the treaty language that could cause escalation of prices for certain imported firearms and ammunition in the U.S. market and could potentially mandate firearms registration and tighter restrictions on possession and transport on firearms, ammunition, parts and components. It could also make international travel with firearms for hunting an absolute nightmare – if not impossible.
More important from our view at The Firearms Coalition is the lack of any recognition or protection of personal firearm rights for individuals in the rest of the world. While the U.S. advocates for human rights on issues such as women’s rights, child labor, and freedom of the press and political discourse – participating in trade embargoes and sanctions to force nations to change anti-rights policies and positions – it is hypocritical for us as a nation to ignore the fundamental right of self-defense and self-determination. It is also rather disingenuous for a nation born out of revolution to participate in denying other struggling peoples of the right to the means of throwing off their own shackles of tyranny.
The U.S. Senate has made it abundantly clear that they have no intention of ratifying any Arms Trade Treaty that infringes on the Second Amendment rights of Americans, but they ignore the principle that people of all nations should also enjoy those same fundamental rights. The Senate and U.S. gun groups also seem to be largely ignoring the potential impacts of this treaty on consumers in the United States if the treaty is widely adopted – even if it is never ratified here.
The current dearth of ammunition highlights one of the basic concerns. It has long been a U.N. objective to coerce nations into destroying surplus military ammunition supplies rather than releasing them into open commerce. Currently the only major, legal markets for this ammunition are poorer nations trying to economize for their military and police needs and the U.S. civilian market where enthusiasts buy and shoot billions of rounds of this generally inexpensive ammunition every year. Each time a country opts for destruction of ammunition rather than sale, it hits U.S. consumers right in the wallet. U.S. consumers are also the largest market for surplus military parts kits – barrels, stocks and small parts of military firearms that have been decommissioned. These kits are used both to keep existing guns functioning, and for hobbyists and entrepreneurs to build semi-auto replicas of historic military arms. While the current ATT language offers some protection for ammo and parts, it doesn’t go far enough in protecting these resources U.S. consumers have grown dependent upon.
With the countries currently objecting to the treaty all being part of what George W. Bush referred to as the “Axis of Evil,” it is unlikely that their protests will gain much traction unless Russia or China decides to shield their lucrative “gray markets” in arms by exercising their veto power in the General Assembly.
The current U.N. ATT language is another example of gun banners refusing to settle for something reasonable – like simply adopting the current U.S. standards on export and tracking of military weapons – and instead insisting on expansive restrictions on private arms and ammunition.
U.S. senators need to demand that the Obama administration stand by their previous commitment to respect the agreed upon consensus model for passing the ATT, and reject any proposal that overreaches current U.S. arms import-export rules. The senators need to hear that message from you.