A sneaky way to control guns
A UN treaty could curtail our rights

Reuters

In this Feb. 2, 2012, photo, liberal Democratic congressional candidate Ken Aden examines a shotgun on display at S&L Pawn in Russellville, Ark. Aden, a 33-year-old Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, is challenging his former battalion commander, freshman Rep. Steve Womack (R), for a congressional seat.

Article Highlights

  • The United Nations Arms Trade Treaty has escaped media attention, many Americans are just now learning its implications.

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  • UNATT advocates hope to use restrictions on international gun sales to control gun sales at home.

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  • There is little evidence that UNATT will have any material effect on illicit international weapons trafficking.

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Gun-control advocates and the Obama administration are rushing to complete negotiations in New York on a proposed international agreement called the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty.

They hope to finish the drafting within weeks, perhaps having a document ready for signature so that President Obama could press a lame-duck Senate to ratify it after our Nov. 6 elections.

Because these UNATT negotiations had long escaped serious media attention, many Americans are only now learning about their disturbing direction.

Gun-control groups, frustrated by years of failing to impose harsh measures on American firearms owners, have pursued a covert strategy. Instead of constant defeats in Congress and local legislatures, they instead shifted their attention to the international realm, hoping to achieve by indirection what they had consistently failed to do at home.

Ostensibly, UNATT is about regulating government-to-government arms transfers or direct sales by manufacturers to foreign governments. But the hidden agenda of the gun controllers is to craft treaty language that, while seemingly innocuous, has long-range implications for the use and ownership of guns here in America.

The real danger lies in vague, ambiguous stipulations gun-control advocates could later cite as requiring further domestic restraints. In other words, they hope to use restrictions on international gun sales to control gun sales at home.

Indeed, the theme underlying the negotiations is that the private ownership of guns is inherently dangerous.

There is, of course, little doubt why dictatorships and authoritarian regimes don’t want their oppressed citizens to have weapons — but such positions do not merit American support.

There are compelling arguments for closely monitoring foreign sales of truly military weapons such as machine guns, crew-served mortars and shoulder-fired missiles. Keeping such arms out of the hands of rogue states and terrorists is, beyond dispute, in our national interest.

But the United States already has a strong regulatory regime under the Arms Export Control Act to license the export of American-made weapons.

Extensive controls surround the ultimate purchasers and the uses to which the weapons are put.

We can be justifiably proud of our regulatory system. Unfortunately, however, there is little or no evidence the proposed UNATT will have any material effect on illicit international trafficking of weapons.

Many other nations, such as Russia, are much less scrupulous than we are. And countries that are unwilling or unable to police their own domestic manufacturers are not likely to change merely by signing yet another international agreement.

Moreover, there is a world of difference between weapons for military campaigns and those used for recreation and hunting. The U.S. has a long history of respecting the individual ownership of firearms. It is against this legitimate tradition of private ownership that gun-control advocates are exerting their efforts.

Their strategy surfaced most clearly in 2001 at a UN conference aiming to restrict international sales of “small arms and light weapons,” a precursor to the current negotiations. I was part of the Bush administration’s diplomacy to block this effort, which we ultimately succeeded in doing.

During the 2001 debate, I spoke at the UN General Assembly in New York, and the reaction to my remarks revealed the gun-controllers’ hidden agenda.

I said merely that the United States would not agree to any proposed treaty that would violate our Second Amendment freedoms. From the gun-control lobby’s reaction, you would have thought I said something outrageous or even dangerous. In truth, they knew we had uncovered their agenda and spiked it.

Indeed, during the Bush administration’s remaining years, despite occasional flareups of activity, the gun controllers laid low, waiting for their opportunity.

They may have waited too long, because their current frantic efforts betray their fear that Obama could lose in November, replaced by a pro-Second Amendment Romney administration. Significantly, a bipartisan letter signed by 58 senators has already rejected any treaty that seeks, however cleverly, to impose gun-control obligations on the U.S.

The gun-control crowd’s strategy of trying to do through treaties what it cannot accomplish in America’s domestic political process is not unique to that issue.

We have seen and will undoubtedly see many more examples of frustrated statists, unable to prevail in free and open debate, seeking to take their issues global, hoping to find more sympathetic audiences.

Stopping UNATT will be one clear way to send a message that such strategies are doomed to failure.

Bolton was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush.

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John R.
Bolton
  • John R. Bolton, a diplomat and a lawyer, has spent many years in public service. From August 2005 to December 2006, he served as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations. From 2001 to 2005, he was under secretary of state for arms control and international security. At AEI, Ambassador Bolton's area of research is U.S. foreign and national security policy.

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