Coming Soon: UN Arms Trade Treaty Round Two

Leah Barkoukis

7/30/2012 3:57:00 PM - Leah Barkoukis

Good news (sort of): The UN Arms Trade Treaty has died - but only for now it seems. Member states negotiating the treaty in New York this month failed to reach an agreement by Friday’s CoB deadline. The U.S. and Russia rejected the draft saying there was not enough time to clarify and resolve their respective issues with the final version.  

The treaty targeted the regulation of everything from small arms and light weapons to helicopters and tanks, which obviously elicited a firestorm of outrage from Second Amendment advocates. As a last measure and warning to the administration, a bipartisan group of 51 Senators sent a letter to Sec. Clinton and President Obama on Thursday indicating their intent to oppose the ratification of any version of the ATT that threatened the Second Amendment for the following reasons:

“First, while the Draft Paper nominally applies only to “international arms transfers,” it defines such transfers as including “transport” across national territory. It requires signatories to “monitor and control” arms in transit, and to “enforce domestically the obligations of this treaty” by prohibiting the unauthorized “transfer of arms from any location.” This implies an expansion of federal firearms controls that would be unacceptable on Second Amendment grounds.

Second, the Draft Paper requires nations to “maintain records of all imports and shipments of arms that transit their territory,” including the identity of individual end users. This information is to be reported to the U.N.-based firearms registry for all firearms that are either imported into or transit across national territory, which raises both Second Amendment and privacy concerns.

Finally, the Draft Paper requires that nations “shall take all appropriate measures necessary to prevent the diversion of imported arms into the illicit market or to unintended end users.” This clause appears to create a presumption in favor of the adoption, at the federal level, of further controls on firearms. We are concerned that, in this regard as well as in others, the treaty will create an open-ended obligation that will in practice be defined by international opinion, and will be used to push the U.S. in the direction of measure that would infringe on both Second Amendment freedoms and the U.S.’s sovereignty more broadly.”

The U.N. ardently denied any claims that the treaty was attempting to ban gun ownership by civilians. However, a paper sent out by the U.N. Office of Disarmament Affairs released shortly before the start of the conference stated that because of the problem of diversion, “the arms trade must therefore be regulated in ways that would…minimize the risk of misuse of legally owned weapons.” Commenting on this quote from the paper Heritage scholar Ted Bromund writes, “When asked about this, a U.N. spokesman described the distribution of this paper as a mistake.” Connecting the dots on this one isn’t rocket science.

But beyond the Second Amendment debate, it cannot be forgotten that the ATT was fundamentally flawed. Democracies and dictatorships were coming together as equals during the conference to negotiate the terms of an arms treaty. Iran, which the U.N. found guilty of illegally transferring weapons to Syria, was even rewarded with a top post at the conference!

Now that the talks have fallen apart, we can breathe a sigh of relief but only for the meantime -- this is not the end:

Now that the concept of the ATT has been invented, it cannot be uninvented. There are too many countries and too many left-wing nongovernmental organizations that want a treaty. So if this July’s conference collapses, there will sooner or later be another conference.

Great.