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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Report of Canada’s National Firearms Association Distributed at UN ATT Treaty Talks 11 July 2012

Mr. President, I am Sheldon Clare, President of Canada’s National Firearms Association. Our members are collectors of everything from cartridges to fully automatic firearms; they’re sports shooters and Olympic competitors, wholesalers and retailers, re-enactors, members of the movie industry, hunters, people who hand load ammunition, and those who own firearms for defence. Our members are concerned that UN attempts to regulate trade in arms are misdirected and will have an unfair and unreasonable effect upon the ability of free people to have access to firearms and ammunition for perfectly legitimate purposes. It is a false premise that civilian access to small arms is the problem.
Canada’s National Firearms Association (NFA) recommends that controls on small arms and light weapons be limited solely to major weapon systems possessed or sold by nation states – not firearms owned or desired to be owned by civilians, also called non-state actors. The rights and property of Canadians, and our firearms businesses engaged in the lawful trade in firearms and ammunition, including surplus firearms and ammunition, must not be subject to UN edict or control. Quite simply, these are matters of national sovereignty, civil freedoms and property rights, and are related to national culture. Also, marking and accounting for ammunition would be exceptionally onerous and expensive for manufacturers and firearm owners alike. Control of ammunition would be unreasonable, unnecessary, and impossible.
The proposed Implementation Support Unit (ISU) could potentially serve as a form of promotional and enforcement agency for the ATT and thus interfere with national sovereignty over laws affecting firearms ownership and use. It could be used to operate a form of international registration system. Funds given to this body and other initiatives such as the Victims Assistance Fund could be directed to terrorist states. Supporting these potentially huge and inappropriate expenses is not in the best interests of Canadians.
Reducing arms in civilian hands can significantly limit the ability of people to defend themselves. This is especially important in the event of unrest and disorder, or in case of state-mandated crimes against humanity. Civilian ownership of arms is an important factor in preventing and limiting the effect of events such as what occurred in Sebrinica and Rwanda. While governments need to act against terrorism, perhaps better ways to deal with unrest would be to address the economic situations, political differences, and human rights issues that contribute to people agitating for change.
A global ATT would only be in the interests of those who would seek economic advantage by limiting market opportunity and of regimes who would use such a treaty to disarm their citizens in order to rule through fear. Thank you for your consideration Mr. President.

Posted by www.nfa.ca | Report as abusive

I’m curious. I’ve tried to correspond with the NRA on this and received little response. Is it the position of the NRA that 1) There should be absolutely no regulation of any kind within the US regarding weapons; 2) That everyone should own a weapon; 3) That political candidates should be primarily evaluated on their position regarding gun control rather than any other criteria; 4) That international arms sales should be unrestricted. I would welcome responses from any of the Posters above who are NRA members

Posted by steve778936 | Report as abusive

It is in the interest of the Elite Powers to arm the citizens of less powerful & poor nations, so as to overthrow theirs and install crony ‘Democratic’ governments that will join the corrupt New World Order Elite Club, presently chaired by Goldman Sachs.
Membership includes the governments of the USA, EU, China, Russia, and crony organizations such as the UN, IMF, World Bank, WTO, NAFTA, Wall Street, etc.

There is a good book out there titled “How Goldman Sachs Got To Control The World” or something like that.

Possession of conventional arms by their citizens poses no threat to the powerful nations. It is only effective in weak countries outside the Elite Club, eventually to be forced into membership.

If you ‘follow the money’ and connect the dots of recent international financial frauds, political, economic & military maneuvers, the picture becomes very clear.

The USA, China, Russia, Brazil, India & South Africa are the main members of the New World Order Club, and in that order, which reflects economic & financial strength.

China’s ‘opening up’ was nothing more than the Chinese Elite’s membership into this Club. Goldman Sachs has been operating there for many years ‘advising’ the Chinese Elite on how to play this game.
A very good indication of this is the fact the Chinese media has never reported the ongoing financial scandals of the West, they simply cover it up as a world economic downturn.
At a recent World Bank conference in Beijing, a 26 year old economist stormed in blasting & accusing the World Bank of their intentions in raiding the Chinese middle class and destroying their economy. You can find this video if you Google it.

Our world is entering a real Dark Age.

Posted by GMavros | Report as abusive

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.

Tell me sir, If the UN can regulate the transfer between countries of firearms, how can free and open trade of these firearms be conducted between the US and others? No foreign body should ever have any authority over the trade of anything between the US and any other Country.

Posted by Abetterplace | Report as abusive

Government elite want to find a way to take away your weapons and your ability to self defense because if they can take your weapons they can take your freedom and you will be powerless to do anything against the ones in power and the law enforcement and military with weapons that protect them. We can’t allow anyone to infringe upon our nations sovereignty and citizens rights! We need to label these as enemies and do whatever it takes to make sure their plans do not succeed.

Posted by CountryPride | Report as abusive

It’s hard not to be worried about the future of the US, once a great country and always a beautiful country, when our policies and politics are driven by groups founded on a delusion. I’m 60 years of age and never in my lifetime has there been, and never will there be, any conspiracy of our government to deprive citizens of the right to own small arms. There never will be a conspiracy of liberals and leftists to take away freedom. There never has been a threat of that in the US. Ever. It just isn’t going to happen and no one of any importance ever wanted it to happen. And none of our leaders have the courage to call bullshit on this. A country of fools led by self-interested cowards has only the dimmest future.

Posted by sandblast | Report as abusive

The world would be a better place if there were no weapons. The amount of money that we spend on “defense” (Is it no offense?) instead of education is incredibly stupid. I am currently a gun-owner, but only because I was the victim of a serious threat many years ago by a gun owner. It would have been a less tense world if neither of us had them. Does our love of weapons have any correlation to the amount of money that we spend imprisoning the largest percentage of our citizens of any country? Yes, let the world be as free of weapons and of violence as possible. Support this treaty!

Posted by jfxwsr | Report as abusive

I tell you the rhetoric and violence is crazy!

The pea shooters are meaningless.

Todays’ warefare is digital and cyber.

For personal safety our family has Airdales. With a hand signal or a flick of a finger a person with any weapon has no chance.


Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

Here’s just a brief, Heads Up, on where this nonsense about the UN having any say, ANY input what so ever, over ANY American policies regarding gun control… It aint gonna happen… AND,.. should any idiot believe that the American people will EVER let that scenario become a reality,.. You might consider deep pshyciatric help and medication.. Only a fool would think a US citizen would even consider heeling to ANY demand the UN might try to impose on American Sovereign Rights. Also, any attempt to enforce such a notion by any American Agency, should be seen as treasonous and should be met by the American People as a direct threat to subjugate them in an unlawful manner. The author of this article is delusional at the least. ANYONE supporting his opinionated piece is delusional as well. Sorry if that offends you.. but here is the reality…. No matter what a government official signs or agrees to sign regarding the control, or reliquishment of control, by a foreign entity over American Constitutional Rights will have absolutely no bearing on a patriot. For a government to believe that scenario is possible will ultimately end in violence (and rightfully so)and the dismissal of that entity as a governing factor. It WILL be replaced by an authority that will uphold the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That my friends IS what will transpire.

Posted by jerico911 | Report as abusive

@explorer08..REALLY?? I am a female with absolutely no gun lust or need to feel something warm on my hip. I am on the other hand an AMERICAN who understands exactly why the 2nd ammendment was created in the first place. Guns are not to protect you (only) from the psycho who wants to envade your home at 3am, or to add 3 inches to your genitalia as you seem to believe..GUNS ARE FOR YOUR PROTECTION FROM YOUR TYRANISTIC GOVERNMENT!! Look at Africa, Columbia…oh geez, we could go on forever. When the powers that be knock on your door, demanding your name, SS#, and weapons..you can proudly say, “I don’t have any”. Please refrain from running thru the streets looking for someone who does a way to protect themselves and their families. Do I sound crazy to you?? Then apparently, you don’t read the news!

Posted by trymcclinton | Report as abusive

Apparently Mr. Hartung didn’t actually watch Mr. LaPierre’s delivered remarks to the UN, nor did he read a transcript of those remarks. Had he done so, he would have clearly noted that Mr. LaPierre qualified his concerns to how the proposed treaty would treat CIVILIAN ownership of arms — and he made this qualification at least twice during his speech. Thus, Mr. Hartung’s flotsam about the NRA being in “opposition to measures making it harder to arm tyrants or pour weapons into war zones” has no merit.

Posted by Randy549 | Report as abusive

Any idea why the murder rate in the USA is 3 times that of its closest neighbour (Canada) and 5-8 times the rate of any western European country? It mystifies me that Americans are unwilling to look at the cold hard facts surrounding guns.

Posted by truenorthfree | Report as abusive

@OIFVetAtUSC. Do you also include the Taliban, Lenin and the Communists in 1917, the Viet Cong, and Zimbabwe in the list of armed insurrections where the people fought against and overthrew a tyranny and thereby established a wonderful democratic government and freed the people? Rebels frequently overthrow tyrants and then install their own. Many Conservatives in America argue that this is what is happening or needs to happen in their own country. The sacred Revolutionary War has been co-opted by the forces of darkness. A second Revolution is necessary to re-constitute the ideological purity that the Founding Fathers embodied in the Constitution (which was so phenomenally accurate that it has only been amended umpteen times). The world is not a simple place where adherence to an ideology will solve all problems. Unless you are an adherent of Islam. Or Christianity. Or Marxism. Or…

Posted by steve778936 | Report as abusive

To those who are pro gun control. I am not a member of the NRA but I do own guns and plan on getting a concealed gun permit this fall. I am 70, retired and am not a radical to the right or left. I have worked hard all my life and raised a family with my loving wife. I did my time in the military in Vietnam back in the 60′s and experienced what arms can do. I don’t think that I am an isolated case. There are probably millions of american gun owners with similar life stories. Your freedoms came at a price. I am willing to protect those freedoms, with arms if necessary, from those who want to see me and you in subjucation.

Posted by duet | Report as abusive

Although i do not own a gun i find this line laughable “Since these are precisely the weapons that account for most of the hundreds of thousands of deaths… leaving them out is tantamount to gutting the treaty.” – I wonder what people killed each other with before guns? Perhaps after small arms are banned we can ban sticks and rocks as those weapons will result in hundreds and thousands of deaths each year. And perhaps metal should be banned, lest people make spear or arrow tips.

The megalomania of the Left in wanting to ban this and that is out of control. The world is a dangerous place, you can’t wrap the whole world in cotton wool to death proof it nor should the Left try to force their opinion on how the world should look according to a utopian world view. And if it escaped anyones attention, small arms can be manufactured in backyards now… it’s simply wishful thinking to imagine you’d be able to disarm the world. BUt hey, dreams are the currency of the left, dreams far from removed from reality at that.

It’s like saying if a CCTV camera was on every street corner no one would ever get away with a crime again. Perhaps, but what do you give up for this supposed “safety”?

Posted by onlyif | Report as abusive

Unless Rush Limbaugh, Wayne LaPierre, and Grover Norquist all give their OK, nothing the GOP proposes ever gets off the ground. Kind of makes you wonder who’s really leading whom.

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive

It’s such a mind-stumping mystery. Year after year rightwing influences such as the NRA, Grover Norquist, the Tea Party, Karl Rove, the “Christian” Coalition, FOX News, the Republican Supreme Court, conservative talk radio, and the Chamber of Commerce keep exerting their ever-increasing power over our government and into our lives, and yet things continue to get worse for all but about .1% of the American people. But since these entities represent the best of conservative America and they continue to grow in size and strength, why aren’t things getting better instead of, well, worse? This has got to be one of the greatest conundrums known to man. Is it because taxes aren’t low enough yet? Is it because Americans don’t own enough guns? Could it be the burdensome regulations we have on our industries, despite the the all-time record profits they made in 2011? Are we not eating enough fast food?

The United States must have the largest collection of fools on the planet. The masses on the right are so darn gullible. They believe ANYTHING they’re told despite how obvious it is that these organizations only care about protecting the profit intake for the top .1%. It’s just dumbfounding. I’m not saying those on the left are that smart, but at least they tend not to support arming the world’s population with guns while claiming to give their lives to Jesus.

Take the NRA (please). They exist for one purpose only: to protect and increase profits from the sale of “small arms, light weapons or related materials such as firearms ammunition”. They’ve been overwhelmingly successful at protecting those profits here in the US, and now they’re exercising their control over the world. Great. For as long as I can remember, the NRA has been telling our American gunoholics that Uncle Sam, more specifically, the Democrats, are on the verge of taking our guns, yet I’ve never met a person who’s had any guns taken from them or had received any threats to have their guns taken from them. But there’s always that chance, huh? Let down your guard for just a moment, and that’s when it’ll happen, right?

This time it’s the UN who’s going to come and try to take our guns from our cold, dead hands . Jeez, people, is it really so hard to think for yourselves? No one’s coming to take away our guns, restrict our gun ownership, or do anything else with our guns. Wayne LaPierre has made himself a millionaire lobbying for the gun industry and for convincing millions of docile, empty-headed Americans that any attempt to pass any legislation that might interfere with the gun industry’s profit making, er, I mean, any legislation that has anything to do with guns, unless it promotes gun ownership in some way, constitutes a threat to American freedom. It’s just grossly ironic that here’s an organization that exercises a threatening amount of control over our entire population and they do it by pretending to protect our freedom. Can people not see the irony in that? Hello, hello, anybody home?

This country is doomed to fail, but the core threat to our Republic is not our massive debt, Congress’s inability to legislate, or even the industries and their chief profiteers that have seized control of our government. The single biggest threat to the United States of America is the American people’s inability to separate reality from propaganda designed to subjugate us while a tiny cadre of plutocrats are sucking every bit of profit from our lives and our nation’s resources. As the saying goes, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

People the world over need weapons so their governments will fear them. Socialism always comes with weapons bans, which pave the way for dictatorship. Witness Hitler, Stalin, Castro, and Chavez. The right to hold private property and own guns go hand in hand. One enables the defense of the other.

Posted by Truth_Teller | Report as abusive

May I add another Vietnam vet to the page. I’ve never been a member of the NRA, although in law enforcement for 28 years. However, I too support their position.
While attending the National Victims Academy put on
by Clinton’s DOJ, each participant was asked to chose
the amendment in The Bill of Rights they held dearest.
It was simple for me to say, “The Second Amendment, because it provides the basis to assure all the rest.”

Posted by BluePelican | Report as abusive

Under the US Federal government’s charter it was “only intended” to regulate trade between the states and under this cover it now interferes with many aspects of commerce within every state. The arms treaty only intends to regulate trade between nations. This means it will take a while before avaricious bureaucrats sustained by the document will attempt to distort the intent of the treaty to extend there powers where they have no place. Maybe 10 years, maybe 100. By example of the US federal alliance we can clearly demonstrate that an with agency power to regulate trade of something between states can easily expand that mandate over time. Our first president warned to avoid entangling treaties, I believe this would be an example of an “entangling treaty” and that there are other ways to crack down on arms traffic to dangerous regimes.

Posted by ser1010101 | Report as abusive