U.N. Arms Trade Treaty Nothing to Be Concerned About


As of Friday, the original deadline for the passing of the international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) has gone by without agreement on the treaty from U.N. member states. The United States delegation along with Russia and China have asked for more time to study the final draft of the document, and opinion regarding its future has grown contentious.

The final draft of the treaty was not officially put forward until late Thursday, and Julianne Versnel of the International Association for the Protection of Civilian Arms Rights (IAPCAR) claims that the severely limited amount of time to assess the document was a major factor in its postponement. Problematic to the treaty’s passing was also the requirement that all 193 U.N. member states approve the measure, with the New York Times stating that “a number of nations were still balking at approval,” including Syria and Iran.

Gun rights advocacy groups in the United States have been giving grassroots activists credit for the “defeat” of the treaty as well, with Chairman Alan Gottlieb of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms stating, “I think the grassroots surge by American gun owners against this treaty convinced our government to not sign this document,” and “This is freedom in action. We are gratified that so many did so much to protect their Second Amendment rights from an international gun rights grab.”

Much of this grassroots activism was driven by the theory that the ATT would adversely affect the Second Amendment rights of American citizens, and the claim swept through much, though certainly not all, of the shooting community throughout the months leading up to the U.N. meeting in New York. While there is a valid argument in the fact that some of those involved with the creation of the treaty support restrictions on the civilian arms market, and that groups like International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and Oxfam International and Control Arms were lobbying for ominously restrictive amendments to the treaty (with one flyer sent apparently by the latter group asking for “Global standards over national views” in the treaty), there is virtually no evidence to back up the claim that the treaty would have any effect on civilian firearms rights on U.S. soil.

In fact, United States Supreme Court rulings specifically prevent international treaties and other agreements from superseding the Constitution, such as the court ruled in Reid v Covert: “…no agreement with a foreign nation can confer power on the Congress, or on any other branch of Government, which is free from the restraints of the Constitution.” Or, more simply: “…an international accord that is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution is void under domestic U.S. law, the same as any other federal law in conflict with the Constitution.” This helped refine the legal interpretation of the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause to rule the Constitution as the highest law of the country, bar none, essentially eliminating the need for the proposed “Bricker Amendment” that would have made it a mandate that no treaty could be made that conflicted with the U.S. Constitution.

Coupled with the Supreme Court decisions in 2008 and 2010 (District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago, respectively) that asserted “the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense” and that this applied to the states, it becomes evident that there are very powerful protections in place to prevent international tampering with Second Amendment rights. This is not to mention that the final draft of the ATT makes no provisions for intra-nation firearms sales, and in fact reinforces the right for countries like the U.S. to do whatever they please within their borders, stating explicitly that they are:

Reaffirming the sovereign right and responsibility of any State to regulate and control transfers of conventional arms that take place exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional systems, and Taking note of the legitimate trade and use of certain conventional arms, inter alia, for recreational, cultural, historical, and sporting activities and lawful ownership where such ownership and use are permitted and protected by law.

In other words, despite the hype, there’s nothing to panic over. The actual point of the ATT is to cut down on the illicit international arms trade. As Great Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg put it, “Global rules govern the sale of everything from bananas to endangered species to weapons of mass destruction, but not guns or grenades. This anomaly causes untold suffering in conflicts around the world. 1,000 people are killed daily by small arms wielded by terrorists, insurgents and criminal gangs.’’ This treaty hopes to severely curtail these issues by restricting international sales of firearms to dictators, warlords, and other human rights abusers, and it has received “robust” support from U.N. member nations, including a group of 90 countries that reaffirmed in a joint statement on Friday that they “are determined to secure an Arms Trade Treaty as soon as possible.’’

However, as noted, the treaty has since been delayed for consideration, with some pundits claiming that the ATT won’t become an issue again until after elections, but others, such as Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan, the U.N. conference chairman, predicting that “‘we certainly are going to have a treaty in 2012.’’ Of course, even if signed by the U.S., the treaty would still have to pass the U.S. Senate with at least 60 votes, and 51 senators thus far have threatened to vote against the treaty if it falls short in its protection of the Second Amendment rights of American citizens.

The U.N.’s next session will begin in September, and until then, Moritan says options for moving forward will continue to be considered.

The text of the final draft of the treaty can be found here.

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