Yesterday in New York, the United Nations General Assembly heard from several heads of state including our own president. One story from yesterday’s UNGA that has not been receiving much attention is that of the UN Arms Trade Treaty. President Obama stated that Secretary of State John Kerry would sign the treaty which would then need to be ratified by a 2/3 vote in the Senate. As always with this new normal in Washington, ratification will be a highly contested battle.
What does the treaty do?
The treaty is aimed at diminishing the trade of weapons to belligerents and those who use weapons for illicit activity. In essence, the UN wants to cut down on the black market gun trade for easy access by terrorist groups. The treaty “[underlines] the need to prevent and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and to prevent their diversion to the illicit market, or for unauthorized end use and end users, including in the commission of terrorist acts.” It goes on to “[reaffirm] the sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system.” Article I’s Object and Purpose is to “Establish the highest possible common international standards for regulating or improving the regulation of the international trade in conventional arms” and “prevent and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms,” for the purpose of “contributing to international and regional peace, reducing human suffering, and promoting transparency.”
The arms in which the treaty is aiming to regulate are battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons.
What is the problem with ratification?
This treaty seems like a no-brainer right? A lot of votes in Congress seem to be no-brainers such as verifying the UN Resolution to end discrimination against those with disabilities which was modeled after the United States’ Americans With Disabilities Act and was voted down in Congress last December. The main roadblock facing this UN treaty is the NRA. Republicans are again concerned that the guns belonging to Americans are in jeopardy. Fox News blew up yesterday with news of this new treaty. On Fox’s Special Report with Bret Baier, Baier stated “This U.N. arms treaty is raising eyebrows in gun control. Gun rights advocates are fearing that it is really going to infringe on their Second Amendment rights.” Tucker Carlson then responded to Baier affirming that there are “legitimate concerns.”
Many conservative members of Congress such as Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) have already expressed their disdain for the treaty maintaining it would be dead on arrival questioning why President Obama is wasting his time with it knowing it does not have the votes.
The most important line refuting their argument is located in the treaty’s preamble holding that States have a sovereign right to regulate their own arms. Nowhere in the text of the treaty does it reference taking weapons away from nations who already have them. It speaks to export and import of weapons. The treaty strictly deals with international arms trades and American citizens would be virtually unaffected by the regulation of tanks, missile launchers, and warships (which to my knowledge is not guaranteed by the Second Amendment.)
The Influence of the NRA
In the global scope of the War on Terror and even given what just happened at the mall in Kenya, wouldn’t limiting arms for illicit use internationally be a good thing? The NRA has exemplified and personified scare tactics masterfully. They have now become an international lobby against any type of arms restriction. They have shifted from a sportsman enthusiast's club to a major ammunitions and firearms manufacturing interest with several contracts and stakes in the gun industry.
Gun control has become such a huge issue in this country that it is affecting our global image now. The NRA has a strangle hold over politicians who fear recall for speaking out against them. The NRA is maintaining that the problem isn’t too many guns, its either poor mental health programs (which is a major contributing factor and most certainly needs to be addressed) or not enough “good guys” with guns as the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre stated so eloquently on this week’s Meet the Press with David Gregory while discussing the Navy Yard shooting. The many problems with the gun industry that we have in this country are now trickling down into foreign policy. The real question which needs to be answered is how much more politically influential will the NRA be allowed to get?