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U.N. Arms Treaty Puts U.S. Gun Rights in Jeopardy

July 16, 2012
Weekly Columns

The Arms Trade Treaty currently under consideration by the United Nations is rightfully the subject of growing concern.  Typical of many U.N. initiatives, the treaty has an unrealistic but vaguely laudable goal.  According to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, the "robust and legally binding" treaty "will have a real impact on the lives of those millions of people suffering from consequences of armed conflict, repression and armed violence."  By establishing international standards on the import, export and transfer of arms, the U.N. aims to prevent weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists and other human rights abusers. 

Naturally, the U.N. has awarded Iran a prominent role in the treaty negotiations despite having just found that nation guilty of supplying guns and bombs to the regime of Bashar Assad, which is engaged in the ongoing slaughter of thousands of Syrian civilians -- just the type of atrocity the treaty is theoretically designed to prevent. 

It's tempting to dismiss the treaty --  and the outrageous involvement of Iran --  as just another U.N. absurdity.  However, the Arms Trade Treaty could have significant consequences for American security, foreign policy and gun rights.

A major threat to American rights involves the inclusion and definition of "civilian" arms and ammunition.  Due to varying regulations and standards, what we consider a civilian firearm in this country can be considered a military weapon by other governments.  For instance, laws in the United Kingdom prohibit handgun ownership, restricting handgun possession to military personnel only.  Treaty supporters assert that conventional firearms must be regulated in the treaty, along with weapons like tanks and missiles.  A spokesperson for the National Rifle Association warns, "Depending on the scope of this treaty, it could impact gun registration requirements in the United States, it could enact a ban on commonly owned firearms, it could require tracking and registration of ammunition purchases, and it could create a global gun control bureaucracy within the U.N."

Other clauses in the treaty could be manipulated to weaken American foreign policy objectives.  One draft provision prohibiting arms transfers that may "prolong" or "aggravate" instability is so broadly written that it could be interpreted to restrict U.S. ability to support endangered allies like Israel and Taiwan.  Conversely, a clause upholding access to arms for purposes of self defense could be twisted by Russia and Iran to justify support for the Assad regime or Hamas. 

Like all gun control policies, the Arms Trade Treaty would only be observed by law-abiding citizens, placing undue burdens on responsible individuals while doing virtually nothing to prevent dangerous activity among the world's terrorists and despots. 

I recently joined 130 House of Representatives colleagues in sending a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama listing serious concerns with the treaty and urging them to reject any effort to undermine American power and liberty.  We strongly urged the administration to unequivocally oppose the treaty if it infringes on our constitutional rights by including small arms or ammunition.  The letter further emphasizes that the U.S. must reject the dangerous moral equivalence of any treaty provision suggesting that free democracies and totalitarian regimes have the same right to conduct arms transfers.

In the event the Obama administration accepts a dangerously flawed treaty, we will act to prevent its implementation by opposing any legislation to authorize or appropriate taxpayer funds to enforce its regulations.  As treaty negotiations proceed throughout July, Second Amendment supporters in Congress will closely monitor the Arms Trade Treaty to ensure Americans' constitutional rights are protected.