Can the U.N. Ban America’s Guns?


The rumor flashed across the Internet last winter: the Obama administration is going to use a United Nations arms treaty to get around the Second Amendment and ban all guns.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and the renewed push for "gun safety" (the current politically correct term) the rumor was all too believable. But was it true?

At the time the panic started, the answer was "no." The U.N. had been working on an anti-gun treaty for years but had never actually produced a result. Last fall, Obama gave his support to the next step of the process. That was enough to set the rumor mill churning.

But as of April 2, 2013, the long-rumored treaty finally exists. All Second Amendment supporters should be aware of it — but need not panic. It’s dangerous of course. The Obama administration and long-time anti-gunners in the Senate would love to use it to curtail firearms. But whether this treaty will ever affect U.S. gun owners is up to us.

What’s the treaty really about?

The Arms Trade Treaty, or the U.N. Small Arms Treaty, as it’s variously known, has been in planning stages since 2001. The U.N. general assembly formally endorsed the idea of creating of a treaty in 2006. A conference to come up with final, agreeable terms fell apart in July 2012. A second special conference in March 2013 also fell apart after some remarkably juvenile squabbling. However, this time the negotiations didn’t collapse until the final day — at which point representatives from UN countries had finished drafting a treaty.

Unable to get the unanimous vote from all 193 member nations required at the conference, treaty supporters took the draft to the full General Assembly of the UN, where it could pass on a simple majority vote. On Tuesday, April 2, it happened. The treaty received 154 "yes" votes, three "nos," and 23 abstentious.

The United States (a sponsor of the treaty) voted in favor.

It’s still not time to panic. But it’s certainly time to go on alert.

Before the treaty can take effect, several things have to happen:

  • 50 UN member nations have to ratify it
  • 90 days have to pass after that before anyone at all is bound by it
  • Even then, the treaty binds only those nations that have ratified it

The Obama administration cannot legally just impose the treaty on Americans. First, 2/3 of the U.S. Senate must vote to ratify it – and that is going to be a tough hurdle to get over. Second, even after Newtown, politicians are aware that Americans don’t submit easily to anti-gunnery – and that we’re likely to punish those who vote against the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment. Third, the Republican party has finally shown signs of growing a spine where firearms are concerned. Very few Republicans would be likely to vote for the treaty, and some (especially the Young Turks led by Rand Paul) would fight hard against it.

Still, the political climate can change overnight and politicians are experts at doing things behind our collective backs (as they did when a coalition of four R & D senators covertly and not-strictly lawfully passed the Brady Bill when no one was looking).

We must never allow this treaty to be imposed on us. Its terms have frightening implications, not only for American gun owners, but for anyone anywhere who ever has to fight tyrants.

But what’s in this treaty that we need to be so leery of? After all, supporters claim that the treaty’s only aim is to better regulate the import and export of these arms between countries to ensure that weapons don’t get into the hands of pirates, warlords, drug cartels, and other organized forces that terrorize innocents. In fact, there’s language in the treaty that specifically says it isn’t supposed to ban guns or override any country’s own laws.

However, it doesn’t take a genius to see straight through this claim. First, illicit trade is by definition illicit. Criminals ignore laws. They ignore treaties. Look at international drug smuggling. Making import/export illegal has done nothing but attract ever more ruthless and clever criminals who have built global enterprises strong enough to challenge (or utterly corrupt) governments. The same will happen with weapons. Criminals will get weapons by raiding military depots, by smuggling, by black-market trading, through bribery, by killing police and soldiers, or in dozens of other ways.

In fact, that’s already how most bandits, drug lords, and warlords get their weaponry. In 2012 a study from Routledge Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution concluded that very few arms were coming to bad guys through the import/export trade. Instead they were getting weapons through the "the diversion or misuse of officially authorized transfers" and other forms of theft. No treaty will prevent that; a treaty will only interfere with those who obey laws.

Also, the U.N.’s view has always been that government control of trade is inherently good and trade that is not directly controlled by government is always bad. Any international arms sales not explicitly authorized by governments would be illegal. A country could be under the thumb of a monstrous dictator, but according to the U.N. it’s a good thing for that dictator to be able to prevent his opponents from arming themselves. Had an arms treaty been in effect in the 1930s and 1940s, the United Nations would have sided with Hitler over his disarmed victims.

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