American gun owners and advocacy groups like the National Rifle
Association are suddenly finding that when it
comes to firearms legislation, they had better pay attention to what’s
happening not only in Congress and their state legislatures, but at the
United Nations, where the Second Amendment is
being quietly dismantled behind closed doors.
Since the end of the Cold War, the disarmament community has brought
small arms and light weapons within its sphere of interest, placing them
and their “proliferation” on a par with such long-standing concerns as
nuclear missiles and bio-chemical weapons. Though the terms tend to be
used interchangeably, the United Nations defines small arms as weapons
designed for personal use, while light weapons are those designed for
several persons operating as a crew. Together, they account for
virtually every kind of firearm from revolvers, pistols, rifles,
carbines and light machine guns all the way to heavy machine guns,
grenade launchers, portable anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns, mortars up
to 100 mm caliber, and land mines.
On Sept. 24, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, of Ghana,
called on members of the Security Council to “tackle one of the key
challenges in preventing conflict in the next century” — the
proliferation and “easy availability” of small arms and light weapons,
which Annan identified as the “primary tools of violence” in conflicts
throughout the world.
It was the first time the council had met to discuss the subject, and
Annan praised the United Nations as a whole for playing “a leading role
in putting the issue of small arms firmly on the international agenda.”
“Even in societies not beset by civil war, the easy availability of
small arms has in many cases contributed to violence and political
instability,” he said. “Controlling that easy availability is a
prerequisite for a successful peace-building process.”
Talk is one thing, but the Security Council then unanimously adopted
the “Report of the Group of Governmental Experts on Small Arms,” which
had been released Aug. 19 to the General Assembly. The 26-member group’s
various recommendations, two dozen in all, add up to a comprehensive
program for worldwide gun control, and call for a total ban on private
ownership of “assault rifles.” A few of the recommendations:
|U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan condemns the “easy availability” of small arms, calling them the “primary tools of violence” in the world.|
- All small arms and light weapons which are not under legal
civilian possession and which are not required for the purposes of
national defense and internal security, should be collected and
destroyed by States as expeditiously as possible.
- All States should determine in their national laws and
regulations which arms are permitted for civilian possession and the
conditions under which they can be used.
- All States should ensure that they have in place adequate laws,
regulations and administrative procedures to exercise effective control
over the legal possession of small arms and light weapons and over their
transfer in order … to prevent illicit trafficking.
- States are encouraged to integrate measures to control ammunition
… into prevention and reduction measures relating to small arms and
- States should work towards … appropriate national legislation,
regulations and licensing requirements that define conditions under
which firearms can be acquired, used and traded by private persons. In
particular, they should consider the prohibition of unrestricted trade
and private ownership of small arms and light weapons specifically
designed for military purposes, such as automatic guns (e.g., assault
rifles and machine-guns).
The report notes with approval countries like China that have
acted to “strengthen legal or regulatory controls.” China reported that
some 300,000 “illicit” guns were seized and destroyed last year by
officials acting in response to “new and more stringent national
regulations that have come into force … on the control on guns within
the country and on arms exports.” France, too, in 1998 “acted to
reinforce governmental control over military and civilian arms and
ammunition, and introduced more rigorous measures regulating the holding
of arms by civilians.” And the United States gave assurances that the
federal government has taken “a number of relevant national measures.”
All United States citizens, wherever located, and any person subject to
United States law, must now register in order to engage in arms
brokering activities. …” That is, prior written approval from the
State Department is required.
Contacted for comment, a State Department official who requested
anonymity denied that the report spelled out gun control programs being
imposed on this country via the United Nations, despite the fact that a
State Department senior foreign affairs specialist, Herbert Calhoun, had
served as a member of the group and Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright — representing the United States on the Security Council —
had endorsed the report.
“The United Nations will not dictate domestic gun control for any
nation,” the official told WorldNetDaily. “They can make recommendations
and nations can act on those recommendations as they see fit, but we
will never have the United Nations telling countries what they should
Questioned about specific recommendations, he replied, “Those are
just recommendations — and surprisingly, a number of countries,
including the U.S., take them up on those recommendations. In fact, we
support all 24 of those recommendations.”
World ‘awash’ with small arms
The current surge of activity at the United Nations against small
arms was signaled in January 1995 by then-Secretary General Boutros
Boutros-Ghali in his “Supplement to an Agenda for Peace,” a position paper on the occasion
of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.
The world, he said, was “awash” with small arms that were responsible
for “most of the deaths in current conflicts.” Traffic in these weapons
is “very difficult to monitor, let alone intercept.” Boutros-Ghali urged
that since progress had been made in the area of weapons of mass
destruction and major weapons systems, “parallel progress in
conventional arms, particularly in respect to light weapons,” was
In response to Boutros-Ghali’s call, in 1997 Secretary General Kofi
Annan upgraded the United Nations’ disarmament office to departmental
status as the Department of Disarmament Affairs, citing his intention to
place greater emphasis on small arms and light weapons. The Department
for Disarmament affairs is headed by Under-Secretary General for
Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka.
The new department continues to work on the traditional issues of
nuclear missile systems, test ban treaties and the like — but there’s
now a special website for small arms issues.
This activity at the international level quickly drew the attention
of the National Rifle Association, which has posted a warning in a
fact sheet on
“While the actions of the U.N. do not have direct impact on U.S. law
unless passed as a treaty by the U.N. General Assembly and ratified by
the U.S. Senate, … the U.N. can do a great deal to interfere with gun
owners’ rights by lending an appearance of legitimacy to oppressive
anti-gun measures. It is clear that one of the goals of this effort is
to demonize civilian ownership of guns and make strict regulation of
firearms appear as the only acceptable alternative.”
An ‘unholy alliance’
Attorney Thomas Mason, who represents the National Rifle Association
at meetings of the United Nations, told WorldNetDaily how this effort to
radically reduce private gun ownership is being furthered not only by
U.N. bureaucrats and delegates, but with the help of non-governmental
organizations — “NGOs” as they’re called — that have been granted
special consultative status to observe the proceedings and, when
invited, present information and exert considerable influence on
delegates and staff.
“A dynamic for worldwide gun control efforts has developed in the
international arena over the past five years — an unholy alliance
between NGOs, small to medium-size governments and the United Nations,”
said Mason. “People have no idea that the United Nations is a totally
closed process. There is no public records law or open meetings law. As
a member of the public you do not have an automatic right to attend
committee meetings. To get in the door you have to be an accredited
There are over 1,000 non-governmental accredited organizations
dealing with the numerous issues with which the United Nations concerns
itself: education, health, land use and the environment, and guns. The
National Rifle Association received accreditation in 1995, and is one of
only two pro-gun NGOs to have been certified. The other is the Sporting
Shooters Association of Australia.
“We sought NGO status to monitor the activities of the U.N. in terms
of issues that are important to our membership, more so than to become
an active lobbying force there,” explained Patrick O’Malley, deputy
director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. “That’s primarily the role we continue to act in
today — that of observer, monitoring any number of initiatives that
they’re working on in places as far flung as Geneva, Vienna, Cairo.”
“But make no mistake,” he added, “We are working actively to ensure
that the discussions on specific gun control-connected issues do not in
any way pose a threat to our domestic sovereignty or the public policy
process that we have here in the United States — that’s the goal of
many of the [anti-gun] groups — to seek a global harmonization — as
they call it — of domestic gun control laws.
“And when they speak of ‘harmonization,’ they don’t talk about other
countries coming to our level where we [in the United States] have a
basic right to own a firearm; they’re talking about taking the United
States to the standard of many other countries where firearms ownership
is essentially completely banned.
“There are some highly extremist proposals out there,” O’Malley
continued, “proposals that range from the bizarre to the ridiculous.
Proposals have been put forward that every single round of ammunition
manufactured be trackable by satellite so that we can establish a
protocol for monitoring what they call ‘flows’ of small arms and
ammunition into areas of conflict.”
First landmines, next small arms
This diverse mix of non-governmental organizations — most with
anti-gun agendas — national governments, and U.N. leaders has been
holding workshops and conferences throughout the world on
“Workshops in the international arena are essentially meetings to
deliberate issues,” said Mason. “When a government or NGO sponsors a
workshop, it’s much more serious than the ordinary person might think.
That’s where the thinking and talking is done and decisions are made.”
One such meeting will be held today at the United Nations
headquarters in New York City to discuss the draft of a field guide on
light weapons designed for use by humanitarian and relief personnel
working in arms control programs in hot spots around the world.
The two-hour technical workshop is sponsored by the Program on
Development and Security — called SAND — of the
Monterey Institute of International Studies, a
private graduate school in Monterey, California, and the Bonn
International Center for Conversion in Germany. The two “think tanks” are well
connected to the United Nations through their work on the international
weapons trade and its perceived impact on communities and peace-keeping
efforts around the world. Dr. Edward J. Laurance, executive director of
the SAND program at the Monterey institute and co-author of the field
manual, also serves as a consultant to the United Nations Panel of
Governmental Experts on Small Arms and the U.N. Register on Conventional
Although it’s not unusual for independent groups to give
presentations at the United Nations, today’s meeting will be chaired by
Jayantha Dhanapala, under-secretary general for disarmament affairs. The
session and its choice of host are a testimony to the growing influence
of NGOs at the United Nations, and highlight the increased attention
paid by that body to the “proliferation” of personal firearms throughout
the world and their possession by “civilians.” The significance of
Dhanapala’s role heading up the event is well-appreciated by Laurance.
“All NGOs and governments are invited to look at the first draft of
our field manual,” he told WorldNetDaily. “We’re unveiling it at the
workshop and getting feedback. But the important thing for us is that
the workshop is hosted by the under-secretary general for disarmament.”
Laurance sees an even greater role for organizations like SAND and
the Bonn International Center in the U.N. decision-making process as
that body opens its doors to “civil society.”
“Civil society — that’s sort of a buzz word — meaning NGOs,
academic experts, the public at large,” he explained. “The U.N.
increasingly asks people like me and others as consultants.
Increasingly, conferences are held cooperatively with the NGO community,
and NGOs are being used to provide information and ideas.”
Laurance called attention to the success of NGOs in the International
Campaign to Ban Landmines. After six years of campaigning, 129
governments in 1997 signed a treaty banning the production and use of
land mines. The United States is not one of them.
If such a campaign worked with landmines, what about personal
“If you followed the Land Mine Treaty, that’s a perfect example of
where NGOs were used,” he explained. “There was a group of so-called
like-minded states that really wanted the treaty and a bunch of others
that were on the fence. So the NGOs were used to get the countries that
were on the fence to jump in and sign the treaty.”
Laurance credits the environmental movement for developing the
process domestically and at the international level.
“The environmental groups showed the way,” he said. “They had the
information and they made it available. We’ve made that point with the
small arms and light weapons issue: that civil society has information,
particularly at the local level. It’s civil society that’s being hurt by
these weapons. Civil society can tell governments what weapons are doing
the damage and why, and where they come from.”
“Many governments understand this,” he continued. “The United States
is a special case because of the whole gun control issue, and the United
States has a very special challenge: They have to constantly worry that
what they do in this area internationally doesn’t have any domestic
Besides his work in academia and with the United Nations, Laurance
and the SAND program are active participants in a newly-formed,
globe-spanning coalition of national and international peace,
disarmament, humanitarian and anti-gun groups called the
International Action Network on Small Arms —
which he helped found. It is the kind of far-flung association that
would have been all but impossible to organize and direct in the days
before the Internet and e-mail.
‘Flame for peace’ gun bonfire
“Perhaps the way forward for the peace movement will be the high-tech
route, using modern technology to lead campaigns of the 21st century,”
according to Tamar Gabelnick of the Federation of American
Scientists, and a founder of IANSA. In an
describing the new group, Gabelnick wrote, “IANSA will act as a
coordinator and facilitator for groups worldwide working to prevent the
proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons. A small
secretariat will be complemented in its role as an information warehouse
and facilitator of ‘mini-campaigns” by heavy reliance on the web and
e-mail. This format will help to harmonize the activities of a diverse
group of organizations while allowing the flexibility necessary to
address the components of this multi-faceted issue.”
Recalling Mason’s remarks about the “unholy alliance,” funding for
the new group has come largely from five agencies of small to
medium-size governments: The Belgian Ministry for Development
Cooperation; the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Netherlands
Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the United Kingdom Department for
International Development; and the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
After several organizing meetings beginning in December 1997, IANSA
was formally launched May 11 of this year at The Hague during the Appeal
for Peace Conference, which reportedly drew an estimated 7,000 delegates
from around the world to celebrate the centennial of The Hague Peace
Conferences of 1899. To celebrate the formation of the new coalition,
organizers destroyed a collection of firearms donated by governments in
a “Flame for Peace” bonfire in the city center.
Four months after its debut, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan spoke
glowingly of the new organization for its role in directing public
attention to the issue of firearms.
“The momentum for combating small arms proliferation has also come
from civil society, which has been increasingly active on this issue,”
Annan said in his Sept. 24 address to the Security Council. “The
establishment early this year of the International Action Network on
Small Arms has helped to sharpen public focus on small arms, which has
helped us gain the public support necessary for success.”
“IANSA is a coalition of non-governmental organizations that was
established to organize international efforts for controlling the global
trade in firearms — that’s its main purpose,” said Michael Klare, one
of its founders. Klare teaches Peace and Conflict Studies at Hampshire
College in Massachusetts and is co-director of the Project on Light
Weapons of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
“It’s not designed to become a large organization on its own,” he
continued. “People feel very strongly about not creating a new
bureaucracy. We don’t have officers at this point because the
understanding is that the members of IANSA are organizations themselves
and only those organizations can set their own policy.”
E.J. Hogendoorn of Human Rights Watch and, like Klare, one of IANSA’s
founders, views it more as a campaign.
“It’s a very encompassing campaign by different groups that bring
different agendas to the campaign, but all of them center around the
misuse of light weapons and small arms,” said Hogendoorn. “So, for
example, Human Rights Watch — we’re not a gun control organization per
se, and traditionally most of our work has been on human rights
concerns. But we do care about people selling weapons to human rights
Like Human Rights Watch, most members of IANSA are not gun control
organizations per se, nor are they involved in domestic gun-related
issues — but the measures developed to control gun trafficking at the
international level will necessarily require backup by domestic
measures. Membership in IANSA is open to non-governmental organizations,
community groups and professional associations that support at least
some of the group’s policy ojectives and “do not oppose or advocate
opposition to those objectives which they do not explicitly
support.” Organizers have developed a list of gun control measures
IANSA supports, including:
- Reducing the availability of weapons to civilians in all
- Providing resources to develop the capacity in national and local
governments to achieve effective controls over small arms possession and
- Promoting safe storage practices for small arms on the part of
citizens and states.
- Systematic collection and destruction of weapons that are
illegally held by civilians.
- Collection and verifiable destruction of surplus weapons as part
of U.N. peacekeeping operations.
- Promoting programs to encourage citizens to surrender illegal,
unsafe or unwanted firearms.
- Banning the advertisement and promotion of small arms to
International gun control treaty coming?
At least 200 organizations have signed on with IANSA as supporters or
active participants, including Human Rights Watch,
the Federation of American Scientists,
Pax Christi, World
Council of Churches, Amnesty
International, Gun Free South Africa,
Viva Rio, the leading anti-gun group in Rio de
Janiero, the Arias Foundation
in Costa Rio, and the British American Security Information
Council — or Basic, which has offices in
London and Washington.
The lobbying efforts of IANSA and “like-minded” governments has begun
paying off. A conference is in the works to be held in 2001 that will
cover all aspects of small arms — and some kind of a firearms protocol
or treaty will probably be on the agenda.
According to the National Rifle Association’s Tom Mason: “Proposals
are being floated of an international treaty banning civilian possession
of military-style firearms — though it’s impossible to distinguish
military from civilian; other proposals are calling for the destruction
of all surplus military firearms, calling for the registration and
regulation internationally of all manufacturing and shipping of firearms
— there’s a whole series of very radical proposals.
“They will have their first meeting to prepare for the conference on
February 28,” Mason said.
“We will be there,” he promised.
Stephan Archer contributed to this report.