Hey, NRA! Hold Your Fire on the Arms Trade Treaty

Hey, NRA! Hold Your Fire on the Arms Trade Treaty

The U.N. General Assembly has voted in favor of the Arms Trade Treaty, which would do what exactly?  Its proponents say it will create an international mechanism to regulate the international sale of arms and other weapons.  Its critics say it will infringe on the individual rights of citizens and nations to buy and possess weapons by requiring member states to keep national registries of end users.

I am probably more sympathetic to gun rights and the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment than most of my fellow co-bloggers, but my general take is that the National Rifle Association should not bother fighting this treaty. Earlier versions of this treaty could have given extra legal and political power to Congress for creating a more aggressive national gun and ammunition registry, but the final text is pretty weak on this point. It requires records of exports, but it only “encourages” records of imports.  For instance,

Article 12 Record keeping
1. Each State Party shall maintain national records, pursuant to its national laws and regulations, of its issuance of export authorizations or its actual exports of the conventional arms covered under Article 2 (1).
2. Each State Party is encouraged to maintain records of conventional arms covered under Article 2 (1) that are transferred to its territory as the final destination or that are authorized to transit or trans-ship territory under its jurisdiction.
3. Each State Party is encouraged to include in those records: the quantity, value, model/type, authorized international transfers of conventional arms covered under Article 2 (1), conventional arms actually transferred, details of exporting State(s), importing State(s), transit and trans-shipment State(s), and end users, as appropriate.
4. Records shall be kept for a minimum of ten years.

(Emphasis added).  A similar approach is followed in Article 3 (exports of ammunition) and Article 4 (exports of gun parts).  There is also no mandatory dispute settlement system, and a weak Secretariat with no enforcement or oversight powers.  With all due respect to Ted Bromund over at Heritage, I am not as worried about the philosophical issues he raises in this critique.

The bottom line is that as a practical matter, I don’t think this treaty can be used to regulate domestic use of firearms, or even the domestic registry of firearms.  In fact, I have doubts that this treaty will do much of anything for anyone given how weak its provisions are.  I have never heard the NRA worry about regulation of gun exports, and in any event, I am sure their members care little about that.

I would hope that the NRA will hold its fire on this treaty, and save its political credibility for laws that really would constrain the right of self-defense and the right to bear arms.  We’ll see.

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Jens Iverson
Jens Iverson

The ATT won’t effect NRA members.  If the NRA is a member-controlled, member-oriented group, the NRA won’t object to the ATT.  If the NRA has been taken over by an extremist clique and now serves as an industry lobbying group for small arms manufacturers and retailers, it will object.  (Spoiler alert: it’s already objected.)  (In the first scenario, the NRA would also listen to their membership and support anti-gun violence measures that are widely popular amongst NRA members.)

Remember, it’s the National Rifle Association, not the National Gunowners Association.  They represent arms (and those that profit from them), not people.  
They stand with Iran, Syria, and North Korea, not the US.
The NRA has not, and will not, hold its fire.  Despite that, the US should lead on this issue – for the safety of its own personnel and its own strategic interests, if for no other reason.  We’ll see.


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