Dozens of lawmakers in the House are trying to stop a second-term drive by President Obama to sign a United Nations treaty they say would put Americans’ Second Amendment rights at risk.
Obama reversed the course of the George W. Bush administration in October 2009, supporting negotiations at the UN for the Arms Trade Treaty that began in 2001 with the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.
At the July 2012 international conference on the treaty, the administration called the selection of Iran to serve as vice-president of the conference “outrageous.” Global players accused the U.S. of undermining treaty efforts to look more gun-friendly on the campaign trail, and talks collapsed.
After Obama’s re-election, he proved — shall we say — more flexible.
Mere hours after his victory, the UN General Assembly’s disarmament committee seized the day and put forth a resolution calling for resumption of the arms treaty talks. It passed with no objections, 18 abstentions, and 157 “yes” votes. The U.S. voted in favor of the resolution.
Negotiations begin again in March, and a deal could be reached just months after that.
Lawmakers and lobbyists have expressed alarm that the July draft of the treaty, which aims to regulate international trade in conventional weapons, threatens the right to bear arms as well as U.S. sovereignty. One of many concerns is with the requirement in the draft treaty — which will be the starting point for final negotiations — for each member state to keep records on “end users,” or gun purchasers, for a minimum of 10 years. Hence, Americans who purchase an imported firearm may have to be registered in the country of origin. Ammunition could also be tracked and logged the same way, though the State Department has argued that they don’t see this as feasible due to “significant administrative and financial costs.”
Some groups have also pushed for the final treaty to be even more prohibitive, tracking and registering all weapons, all transfers, and all transactions. “The ATT should not exempt certain small arms (for example, sporting or hunting firearms) from its scope of application,” Amnesty International has stated.
Before the House left for the Thanksgiving break, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) introduced a resolution to make the treaty not binding and allow no federal funds to implement it unless it has consent in the Senate and has been the subject of implementing legislation by Congress.
“There is considerable cause for alarm regarding the UN’s renewed efforts to forge an Arms Trade Treaty that could trample the constitutional rights of Americans, and could seriously compromise our national security and the security of our allies, whom we will be less able to arm and less quick to defend due to the restrictions placed on us by the ATT,” Kelly said.
The resolution has 78 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, including Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Small Business Committee Sam Graves (R-MO), and Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.).
It comes on the heels of Kelly’s letter before the July treaty conference to Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, signed by 130 members of the House, outlining concerns that the document would not only violate personal freedom but compromise national security and America’s economic interests.
“The ATT must not accept that free democracies and totalitarian regimes have the same right to conduct arms transfers: this is a dangerous piece of moral equivalence,” stated the letter. “…Specifically, the ATT must not hinder the U.S. from fulfilling strategic, legal, and moral commitments to provide arms to allies such as the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the State of Israel.”
“…The ATT should not contain any language that legitimizes the arming of terrorists — for example, by recognizing any right of resistance to ‘foreign occupation’ — or implies that signatories must recognized the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.”
The lawmakers also expressed opposition to the creation of any international agency to “to administer, interpret, or add to the ATT regime because it might represent the delegation of federal legal authority to a bureaucracy that is not accountable to the American people.”
The resolution strikes many similar points, including that the treaty would open the floodgates for countries to use “lawfare” against the U.S. via the misuse of the treaty’s criteria in foreign tribunals and risks imposing “costly regulatory burdens on United States businesses, for example, by creating onerous reporting requirements that could damage the domestic defense manufacturing base and related firms.”
It resolves that “the President should not sign the Arms Trade Treaty, and that, if he transmits the treaty with his signature to the Senate, the Senate should not ratify the Arms Trade Treaty.”
“Until the Arms Trade Treaty has been signed by the President, received the advice and consent of the Senate, and has been the subject of implementing legislation by the Congress, no Federal funds should be appropriated or authorized to implement the Arms Trade Treaty, or any similar agreement, or to conduct activities relevant to the Arms Trade Treaty, or any similar agreement.”
The resolution has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It should get traction there as chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) was a top signatory on the June letter to Obama and Clinton.
Groups supporting the resolution include the National Rifle Association, Heritage Action, and the Endowment for Middle East Truth.
“The right to bear arms is guaranteed by the Constitution,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas). “I will oppose any measure that would infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans – that includes this arms treaty. I will continue to oppose efforts by the UN or any other person, organization, or country to fracture or supersede our Constitution.”
“My colleagues and I stand committed to fighting this threat to our sovereignty and to standing up for the U.S. Constitution, which we are all sworn to support and defend,” Kelly said.