Apparently, the National Rifle Association isn’t content merely to enforce its no-gun-restriction marketing strategy on Americans. [Notice that I'm not calling it an ideology. It's a marketing strategy disguised as an ideology.] Oh, no. The NRA wants to prevent limits on gun sales world-wide—as evidenced by an intense lobbying effort the gun-manufacturers’ group is making in the United Nations. Yes, you read that right: The United Nations.
At issue is the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). According to the Washington Post, “the treaty would require countries to determine whether weapons they sell would be used to commit serious human rights violations.”
The UN has been trying to pass the ATT for years. Its provisions would cover battle tanks, artillery, combat aircraft, warships and missiles, as well as small arms and light weapons.
Human rights activists say that the ATT would reduce the trafficking of weapons, including small arms, such as the ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifle, to outlaw regimes and rebel groups engaged in atrocities against civilian populations.
The treaty is a common-sense alignment of the interests of governments, law-abiding citizens and individuals all over the world, who deserve the right to live free from harm,” says Amnesty International. “Any step toward restraining the illicit sale and transfer of weapons used to commit horrific crimes is a good move forward, and the world could use a lot more steps in the direction of ending human rights abuses.”
The NRA doesn’t like it, for all the usual reasons–the main one, unspoken of course, is that the NRA’s corporate sponsors simply want to sell as many guns as possible in a completely unregulated market. The reason quoted publicly is that “the treaty would imperil Americans’ right to bear arms.” In 2011 and 2012, Senate Republicansintroduced a resolution urging President Obama not to sign the treaty and calling on Congress to withhold funding to implement any part of it, saying it fails to “expressly recognize the … right to keep and to bear arms” and that its “vague” criteria for assessing the potential consequences of arms transfers could open up the United States to lawsuits.
That bill reflects the U.N.-conspiracy, “world-government” meme that right-wing conservatives have been serving up for as long as the United Nations has existed. Need I point out that the U.N. Charter specifically prohibits the organization from infringing on national sovereignty? Sigh.
The NRA also contends that ATT limits what the NRA calls “civilian weapons.” Not a valid argument, say pro-ATT advocates:
The NRA claim that there is such a thing as ‘civilian weapons’ and that these can and need to be treated differently from military weapons under the Arms Trade Treaty is—to put it politely—the gun lobby’s creativity on full display. There is no such distinction. To try to create one would render the treaty inoperative, as anyone could claim that he or she was in the business of trading ‘civilian weapons.’
The Obama administration has wavered on the treaty. In 2012, after initially backing the ATT, President Obama backed down, presumably as a result of election-year pressures. In 2013, he has once again signaled his support for the ATT.
Some supporters, such as progressive Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), like the treaty a lot—but note that it lacks enforcement powers, and want it to be even stronger. According to The Hill, advocates would like to see the current draft strengthened to:
• Ban arms transfers if exporting countries “know or should have known of a substantial risk” that the weapons would be used to violate humanitarian law;
• Establish clear standards that countries will have to use when assessing the risk that the weapons they export could be misused; and
• Create a comprehensive export-import control regime for guns and ammunition.
The NRA’s lobbying activities at the United Nations are not new. The NRA has had a lobbying presence at the UN for nearly 20 years. When the ATT was first introduced at the UN in 2006, the NRA was there to shoot it down. The NRA also successfully lobbied the Bush Administration to oppose the ATT. [That probably didn't take a lot of arm-twisting.]
You have to wonder if the NRA sees the tide turning against it on the gun free-for-all in the U.S., so it’s turning its attention to the wider world market, where it can sell more guns–sort of like what happened to the tobacco industry. We should also note that, while the NRA is adamantly opposed to the [false] notion that the United Nations might dictate gun-ownership policy to the United States, it’s perfectly comfortable attempting to dictate what the United Nations can and cannot do. [That particular hypocrisy is not exclusive to the NRA. of course.]
In any case, what the United Nations is calling “final negotiations” on the Arms Trade Treaty are taking place during the third week of March 2013. The question is, who will call the shots?
Gloria Shur Bilchik is a freelance writer and community volunteer in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the editor of Occasional Planet. She views the preservation of progressive values as vital to making the US a humane, livable place for her children and grandchildren.