Will the NRA kill a global arms trade treaty?

By William Hartung
July 13, 2012

As the world’s governments meet at the United Nations this month to craft a global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), one organization is making its voice heard loud and clear: the National Rifle Association. If you thought the NRA had restricted itself to rolling back gun regulations within U.S. borders, you might be surprised at the group’s intense interest in the U.N. proceedings. But on closer inspection, it’s clear that opposition to measures making it harder to arm tyrants or pour weapons into war zones is in keeping with the NRA’s overriding ideology: We love guns, and we hate treaties. That was the thrust of the remarks that NRA Executive Vice-President Wayne LaPierre made this week at the U.N. conference negotiating the Arms Trade Treaty, which he said would be “an offense to any American who has ever breathed our free air.”

LaPierre’s rhetoric may be over the top, but his organization has a detailed position on the ATT that is best encapsulated in a July 2 NRA-instigated letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed by 130 members of the House of Representatives. It makes the proposed treaty sound like an end to life as we know it, one that would “pose significant threats to our national security, foreign policy, and economic interests as well as our constitutional rights.”

The letter begins with a predictable ode to the Second Amendment right to bear arms, arguing that any treaty on the arms trade should “not cover small arms, light weapons or related materials such as firearms ammunition.” Since these are precisely the weapons that account for most of the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by war and repression each year, leaving them out is tantamount to gutting the treaty. But that’s not enough for the NRA and its allies. The agreement must also “expressly recognize the individual right of personal self-defense, as well as the legitimacy of hunting, sports shooting, and other lawful activities pertaining to private ownership of firearms and related materials.”

This aspect of the NRA’s posture is particularly ironic given that the treaty makes it clear it is only intended to regulate the transfer of arms across international borders, not their sale within individual countries. The NRA has set up a straw man, and it is using its lobbying muscle to knock it down again – all in the interest of killing off the ATT.

In fairness, the NRA seems open to something called an “arms trade treaty” as long as it doesn’t actually do anything. That puts it shoulder-to-shoulder with Iran, Syria and North Korea, the most obstructionist participants in this month’s ATT conference. The NRA’s bottom line is that the agreement place “no new requirements for action on the United States.”

The truth is that even a fairly robust ATT would ask far less of the United States than of virtually any other country in the world. The U.S. already has regulations for arms exports licensing, reporting and – at least for major weapons systems – congressional sign-off. It regulates arms brokers and has provisions in law for curbing sales to human rights abusers and conflict zones. These restrictions are already more rigorous than those in most nations, but they need to be enforced far more consistently, and efforts should be made to roll back attempts by the industry to undermine them. Ideally, an Arms Trade Treaty would encourage decision makers in Washington to observe the spirit and letter of U.S. law, but it wouldn’t entail any vast new regulatory structure. This would be a very small price to pay for an international agreement that helps keeps arms out of the hands of tyrants, terrorists and aggressor nations.

Getting a consensus within the U.N. on a treaty covering the full range of instruments of destruction and setting tough legal limits on their transfer to irresponsible users will be hard enough without the NRA’s interference. As the world’s leading arms exporting nation, the United States has a special responsibility to play a leadership role in beating back opposition to a meaningful treaty. Although the Obama administration has supported the treaty in principle so far, one major weakness in the current U.S. position is its unwillingness to support regulation of ammunition sales, a logical choke point in stemming the violence in wars being waged with small arms and light weapons. The U.S. needs to press for the best possible treaty now, before an historic opportunity to finally rein in the global arms trade is allowed to slip away.

As for the NRA, it will oppose the agreement unless it is a treaty in name only, and even then its support can’t be counted upon. The Obama administration would be in a far better position, both in terms of politics and policy, if it clearly explained why it supports a strong ATT – and why the agreement has absolutely nothing to do with domestic gun possession.



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I’m not a member of the NRA, and I do not usually vote for political candidates that they endorse. However, there is a logic to the NRA’s concern about a treaty regulating the transfer of small arms. Under the U.S. Constitution, a treaty that has been ratified is a type of Federal law and is, thus, “the supreme law of the land.” If Federal law in the form of treaty limits gun ownership rights in a manner that the NRA would be concerned about if it were done by Federal statute, then it makes sense for the NRA to be concerned about doing the same thing through a treaty. For example, it sounds like it would be a violation of the treaty for a private gun owner to sell or possibly even give a gun to someone in another country. In many states in the United States, such a transaction would be completely unregulated and invisible to any Federal, state or municipal authority if it did not have an international dimension. I can see the NRA being concerned about a treaty in which compliance by the United States might require Federal, state and/or municipal awareness of gun transactions between private owners which would otherwise be invisible.

Posted by Bob9999 | Report as abusive

Bob9999: You you think anyone anywhere should be able to buy as many guns as they want, no restrictions? Since the premise is for self-protection, it doesn’t make any sense to limit this to small arms. In fact, doesn’t your argument, and those of others, actually encourage the making and selling and purchasing of larger and more lethal weapons? If the Second Amendment does provides “the basis to assure all the rest,” as BluePelican states, then shouldn’t our goal be to arm ourselves to the hilt, to compete with a government that’s in control of the most powerful military machine in the history of the human race, replete with thousands of nuclear weapons?

It just seems to me that if we really care about the survival of the human race, we should be moving in the opposite direction, and in that light this treaty makes sense. It’s not an infringement on our 2nd Amendment rights. The 2nd Amendment guarantees American’s rights to bear arms; no one elses. This treaty doesn’t impinge on that right in any way, shape, or form, but it could very well infringe on the profit making of gun makers in the US, which is really what LaPierre is concerned with. Theoretically, it could be used to help prevent the gun trafficking along our Mexican border, something Mexico has been begging us to do something about, but something we tacitly encourage because of the profits involved for gun makers and their influence on our state and federal law makers. Sorry, but regardless of what LaPierre says, our Constitution, and specifically our 2nd Amendment, only applies to Americans and it doesn’t protect an American’s right to sell arms to people beyond our borders, though I don’t think this treaty will do much to restrict that either. It provides for too many ways around that.

What makes this all the more unsettling is that the NRA, like most political forces in the world, is about the profits of a few people. So we use the Constitution as a rationale for the profit making of a few by selling as many weapons to as many people as possible. Bad logic. Down the rabbit hole we fall and the more stupid we get, the more we convince ourselves we’re smart.

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

This is about selling guns.. about profit… “Arming the freedom fighters” where have we heard that before? How did that work out for us? Or them??? Again & again.. Don’t you get tired of making the same mistakes? I guess not if the right people continue to make their blood money…
Noo…I don’t support evil regimes, but I also don’t support evil rebels either…Y’all need to find ways to make money that don’t kill civilians in Mass and destroy the environment forever…Surly, y’all can find something better to do!

Posted by Tracy--lee | Report as abusive

What do all these anti-gun, far-left liberals think they would do if someone broke into their home and rapes their women and children?! You know, like what just happened in Mexico. Are they planning to just stand there and watch, hoping to call the nice police officers when it’s all over…if they’re still alive?!

Do home invasions not happen in their world? Do people not get raped, murdered, and robbed on a daily basis in their world? Do they think that the victims of the above daily crimes expected to be a statistic?

It is simply jaw dropping reading some of the comments from these nut-cases. The police cannot protect you in the instant of these violent crimes, all you can do is report them after the fact…if you survive. These weak minded cowards don’t want the responsibilty of protecting their own and they want to make sure you cannot as well. They want you to share in the shame of their pathetic, shameful cowardice.

Posted by stambo2001 | Report as abusive

Every gun is a symbol of human failure. The NRA now has created a country with the highest murder and incarceration rate in the world. That’s how they define “free” I guess.

After two generations under a military dictatorship, the US is living proof that Joe Goebbels’ methods continue to work. The average American has long since been brainwashed, he’s laughing in his grave.

Posted by DwightJones | Report as abusive

We can’t stem the international flow of illicit drugs so we’re going to take a stab at arms control? Are you serious? Take a look at who is involved in this business. There are some very nasty people who call themselves arms brokers. They are well financed and often protected by government officials who are in for a cut. This is just more election year tripe.

Posted by gordo53 | Report as abusive

Arms treaties are for the stupid.

The ones that should not have arms do not abide by the treaty, while those that should have arms abide by the treaty.

The facts no one wants to read.

Censorship is evil.

Posted by ALLSOLUTIONS | Report as abusive

Freaks. Glad I cancelled my membership. Did that after Columbine and that old fart Charlotn Heston’s “my cold dead hands” b.s.

Notice all the criminal-types bemoaning “arms treaties”. These are the same types of socio-paths that bemoan taxes, public schools, finance laws, or anything else based on commone sense.

The NRA serves the Gun Mfr industry. Anyone who really thinks they are protecting the 2nd Amd is a fool.

Posted by krimsonpage | Report as abusive

Some of the chief criminals and despots in this world are seated right there at the UN. Why should we ratify this? If any thing we should be hauling them Out of this country. Either that or they should at least punish Arabs countries like Iran for helping terrorist groups in Israel and Egypt. The UN IS A JOKE.

Posted by muse9657 | Report as abusive

While I remain frustrated with the amount of firearms floating around our city streets, it does appear that the NRA will right-wing itself out of existence. Which would be a good step forward on the issue.

Posted by SeaWa | Report as abusive

Yep you guys are right about how high cyber and economic risks are. When the systemic breakdown crap hits the fan in ther very near future, you will realize how stupid you are not to own firearms.

Posted by wisehiney | Report as abusive