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UN Firearms Treaty Dead...At Least For Now

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The failure of the United Nations last week to reach agreement on an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) despite years of preparation and an entire month of meetings during July, illustrates perhaps the only reason to keep this dysfunctional institution around: it is so utterly incompetent that it makes our governmental institutions look downright efficient by comparison.

The good news is that the ATT process failed to reach agreement on the terms of an arms treaty, and that at least for now, the matter is dead. The bad news is that neither this arms-control effort, nor any other of the many bad ideas emanating from the UN headquarters on the banks of New York City’s East River, is ever really dead. Much like Great Britain’s Fabian Society, which seeks to achieve incremental political goals by simply outlasting its opponents, the bureaucracy at the United Nations will simply re-group, schedule more meetings and present more “papers” about the dire need to rein in out-of-control international “trafficking” in firearms.

The United States played a decidedly ambivalent role in this latest rendition of “Keystone Kops at the United Nations.” President Barrack Obama had signaled three years ago that the US was reversing a decade of opposition to a formal UN firearms protocol such as the ATT, and would support the treaty process. However, given the timing of this ATT process in the middle of a tight presidential race – and the fact that anything smacking of gun control would likely cost the incumbent votes in November -- Obama is likely offering a quiet prayer of thanks that the ATT is a dead issue for the moment.

In the summer of 2001, when the UN’s foray into gun control was just getting underway, Washington took a very different approach. Under the decisive leadership of then-Undersecretary of State John Bolton, the U.S. made clear it would neither support nor allow to be adopted any international instrument that directly or indirectly infringed any constitutionally-protected rights. Throughout the administration of George W. Bush, Bolton proactively prevented the international body from formally adopting any such instrument.

Throughout these years, however, the vast majority of other UN member states kept the issue alive. The effort was led by the U.K., Mexico, Japan, the Netherlands, and other countries that take a far different view of the basic human right of self-defense than do we. Advocates always have been careful to maintain with a collective straight face they would never dream of infringing any rights enjoyed by citizens of any member nation. However, the rhetoric and actions in this arena remain couched in UN doublespeak about “small arms and light weapons,” which includes virtually every firearm on the market anywhere.

In “UN World,” the responsibility to protect all of mankind from the scourge of firearms falls to this international body tasked with ensuring “world peace.” Despite repeated efforts to convince the American public that only international actions relating to firearms would be impacted by the ATT, the clear and inescapable fact is that every one of the documents drafted, debated, and adopted throughout this tortuously long process, sooner or later would impact domestic laws, regulations and rights as they relate to possession of firearms, even if indirectly.

If the draft ATT which was temporarily shelved last week were adopted, it would, for example, lead to registries of firearms “transfers” --activities covered by the proposal as necessary to stop international trafficking in firearms.

In the end, the Obama Administration was saved from having to live up to its predisposition to support the UN’s firearms-control agenda, not so much because it possessed the courage to openly oppose the effort, but thanks to two very different and unrelated factors. First, the American public – largely through the work of pro-Second Amendment organizations such as the NRA – was made aware of what was going on in the closed-door meetings at UN Plaza, and vocally alerted the Congress to the dangers thus posed.

America benefited also because a handful of other countries with a keen interest in not having the meddlesome hand of the UN involved in their firearms dealings – countries such as Russia -- opposed what the UN was trying to do. Sometimes, international relations does make for strange bedfellows.

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