It has become the habit of many of those working for a robust Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to explain, on a regular basis, just what an ATT will and will not accomplish as the immense ignorance around this issue continues to grow. Opinions as to whether someone is for or against an ATT aside, it is the responsibility of all global citizens to do the research on what an ATT will actually entail before making wrong and unhelpful assumptions about a piece of international law that has yet to even be penned in its first draft form.
Case and point: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky recently began circulating a survey to stop the ‘UN Gun Ban.’ Senator Paul goes on to say that the Obama administration has decided to work with the UN on this ‘small arms treaty’ that is part of a ‘global gun control scheme.’ The Senator’s four main points of contention are that the treaty will:
- Enact tougher licensing requirements making it harder for Americans to obtain a firearm legally
- Confiscate and destroy all ‘unauthorized civilian firearms’
- Ban the trade, sale, and private ownership of all semi-automatic weapons
- Create an international gun registry that will ‘set the stage for full-scale gun confiscation.’
All of these assumptions are plain wrong. Senator Paul and his supporters clearly do not understand the goals, provisions, and limitations of the proposed ATT. From the outset, negotiations with respect to an ATT are focused exclusively on international transfers of conventional weapons between member states of the UN and have nothing to do with individual citizens, private ownership, or the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. Documents from the ATT preparatory committees have expressly disclaimed any intention to interfere with the right of states to self defense as well as national regulation of firearms within its own territory. Furthermore, all 193 member states as a unit, including many that are still highly skeptical of an ATT, would never allow a treaty to be penned that would encroach on such basic rights of sovereignty.
The original General Assembly resolution that called for negotiations to begin on an ATT explicitly and exclusively calls for ‘common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms’ without mentioning, even once, internal domestic policy regarding gun ownership or confiscation, destruction, or limitation on civilian firearms. The standards refer to criteria and parameters regarding transfers of weapons from one state (government) to another. Moreover, the most recent paper from Chairman of the ATT negotiating process, Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan of Argentina, from July 2011 recognizes the sovereign right of states to regulate internal transfers including ‘national constitutional protections on private ownership.’ As such, there is zero potential for an ATT to affect US domestic licensing laws or civilian firearms possession let alone give anyone the authority (certainly no imaginary UN enforcing squad) to confiscate and destroy civilian firearms.
As for the contention that the ATT will ban the sale, trade, and ownership of semi-automatic weapons is also, not surprisingly, entirely false. Firstly, the ATT explicitly refers to large conventional weapons used for military purposes, which include: tanks, military vehicles, military aircraft, naval vessels, missiles, missile systems, and military helicopters among others– with no mention of rifles whatsoever. Small arms and light weapons (SALWs) are not currently accepted by all UN member states as part of the scope of the ATT. The question as to whether they will be included under the scope of the treaty is still very much up in the air. Secondly, even if SALWs were to be included under the scope of the ATT, private ownership of such weapons is entirely unaffected as the ATT deals only with the regulation of state-to-state transfers.
Lastly, concern over an ‘international gun registry’ is entirely unfounded. None of the proposals tabled and considered throughout the ATT negotiating process contemplate creation of any such enforcement bureaucracy. The US delegation has made clear its position that oversight of the ATT’s provisions must remain under the control of national governments and should not be subject to international scrutiny as US law already provides for comprehensive regulation of international arms transfers. Many other states agree. As the ATT process is a consensus-driven one, all member states will have to come to agreement before any treaty will be accepted making acceptance of any ‘international policing unit’ utterly impossible. The main proposal under consideration is an International Support Unit (ISU) that would serve as a repository for annual transfer reports from signatories, assist states in implementing the treaty’s provisions when requested to, serve as a clearinghouse for requests for international cooperation and assistance regarding implementation, and promote understanding of the treaty and its provisions. There is no mention of ‘international policing,’ ‘a global registry’ of all firearms owned throughout the globe (which, moreover, is entirely unrealistic), or powers bestowed to some external UN body that will allow it to determine who should or should not have the right to own a firearm within the confines of their own national homeland.
It seems clear to me– there is neither a ‘small arms treaty’ nor a ‘global gun control scheme’ in the works. Advocates of a robust ATT are fighting for strong humanitarian language regarding arms transfers in order to prevent illicit diversion to terrorists, criminals, and other human rights abusers and ultimately limit human suffering. Even the most skeptical of member states do not disagree that such black market trade is harmful to the world at large and that international standards for state-to-state trade in conventional weapons are direly needed. No one is pushing for confiscation of civilian firearms in any individual country and any ATT would certainly have no impact on existing domestic law in any member state.
Therefore, before anyone starts brandishing the yet-to-exist-ATT a global conspiracy to ban all gun ownership, it is worth a look at the documentation of the process that proves nothing of the sort.