Secretary of State John Kerry signed the controversial United Nations Arms Trade Treaty on Wednesday, which seeks to regulate the world’s annual exchange of $70 billion in conventional weaponry.
In signing the agreement, Kerry echoed many of its supporters, like President Obama, saying it is a “significant step” in stemming the international and illegal trade of munitions that typically benefits terrorists, despots and failed states.
“This is about keeping weapons out of the hands of terrorists and rogue actors. This is about reducing the risk of international transfers of conventional arms that will be used to carry out the world’s worst crimes. This is about keeping Americans safe and keeping America strong,” he said.
Kerry added that it would not do anything to subvert the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.
“This treaty will not diminish anyone’s freedom. In fact, the treaty recognizes the freedom of both individuals and states to obtain, possess, and use arms for legitimate purposes.”
However, the National Rifle Association vehemently disagreed, arguing in a press release that the ATT will lead to universal registration because of a record-keeping requirement for importers and exporters on “end use or end user documentation” for a “minimum of 10 years.” In other words, during an arms transaction, the U.N. wants to know exactly who is receiving the firearms and/or where they will end up.
“The Obama administration is once again demonstrating its contempt for our fundamental, individual Right to Keep and Bear Arms,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.
“This treaty threatens individual firearm ownership with an invasive registration scheme. The NRA will continue working with the United States Senate to oppose ratification of the ATT,” Cox added.
Although the Obama administration has signed the ATT, which it had planned to do all along, in order for it to be officially adopted by the U.S., the Senate has to approve the ATT by a two-thirds majority. As of right now, there is a bipartisan majority that has publicly stated that the will not approve the treaty.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is one of the lawmakers leading the fight to reject the agreement. Back in March, he offered an amendment to the FY 2014 Budget Resolution that established a fund for “the purpose of preventing the United States from entering into the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty.”
From Inhofe’s perspective, between the amendment and the bipartisan majority of senators who oppose the ATT, it is “dead in the water.”
“The administration is wasting precious time trying to sign away our laws to the global community and unelected U.N. bureaucrats,” he wrote in a recent statement.
What the arms trade treaty does, in theory
As U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon iterated, the goal of the ATT is to keep bad people from getting munitions.
It aims to do this by getting member states that engage in the import, export and transfer of conventional arms to be more scrupulous and discerning before selling different categories of weapons to other countries and regimes.
Those categories include: battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers and small arms and light weapons.
Susan Bissell, Chief of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) laid out the ATT in a news release:
“The Arms Trade Treaty asks States to explicitly consider the risk that an arms transfer could facilitate serious acts of violence against women and children before allowing it to proceed,” said Bissell. “This is critical given that weapons are now one of the leading causes of death of children and adolescents in many countries, including many that are not experiencing war.”
In other words, member states that ratify the treaty will be pressured to do self-reporting, which would include an honest, public assessment of their transactions and the humanitarian costs associated with those deals. If the international community considers an arms deal to be harmful, i.e. it foments terror, abets genocide, leads to war crimes, violates embargoes, etc., then the member states involved in the transaction would earn the ire of the “mighty” U.N.
Russia, which currently sells arms to war-torn Syria, might think twice about doing business with them under the new treaty, according to ATT proponents.
What the arms trade treaty does, in reality
Since there is no specific enforcement mechanism in place and since it relies on self-reporting and a ‘scout’s honor’ approach, it’s difficult to imagine that the ATT will have any tangible, real-world impact.
Who’s going to audit the reports? Who’s going to hold those who flout the regulations accountable?
The short answer: no one.
To make matters worse, Russia and China, both major players in the global arms industry, abstained from voting back in April when it was approved. While that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually follow suit, it shows an unease to embrace the ATT regulations.
Three other countries – North Korea, Iran and Syria – voted against the ATT. Big surprise there (In total, 154 countries voted in favor of the ATT, 23 abstained and 3 against)
Just as gun control does little to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, it seems as though the ATT will do little to stop despots and dictators, international criminals and terrorists, warlords and pirates, failed states and corrupt regimes, etc. from getting their hands on munitions.
What the arms trade treaty means for American gun owners
This last concern is a bit vague at this point.
Kerry, Obama and the U.N. all the claim that it will not “interfere with domestic arms commerce or the right to bear arms in Member States; ban the export of any type of weapon; harm States’ legitimate right to self-defense; or undermine national arms regulation standards already in place.”
Yet, as mentioned, the NRA, the GOP, and several Democratic senators and congressmen feel that the ATT is an affront on our right to keep and bear arms.
“These are blatant attacks on the constitutional rights and liberties of every law-abiding American. The NRA will continue to fight this assault on our fundamental freedom,” concluded Cox in that press release.
So, it’s kind of a “he said, he said” situation. Perhaps the best way to look at the ATT is by evaluating how much you trust the two sides involved. Do you trust Kerry, Obama and the U.N. when they proclaim that this will do nothing to effect gun owners? Or do you trust the NRA, the GOP and other lawmakers when they say the ATT is just another way to chip away at the Second Amendment?