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Pushing Back Against UN Arms Trade Treaty

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

International organizations like the United Nations (UN) cannot deny American citizens the right to bear arms.  We must protect and preserve this constitutional right.  That is why I joined 49 of my Senate colleagues in writing to President Obama to express strong concerns about his decision to sign the UN's Arms Trade Treaty.  We conveyed our opposition to ratification of this treaty and that we do not regard the U.S. as bound to uphold the treaty's purpose. 

On April 2, 2013, the UN approved the first international arms agreement, popularly referred to as the "UN Arms Trade Treaty."  According to the UN, the goal of this treaty is to establish "common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms."  It was adopted by the General Assembly by a vote of 154 to 3, with the support of the Obama administration.  In 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the U.S. supported negotiation of the Arms Trade Treaty only by "the rule of consensus decision-making", which ended up not occurring.  Twenty-three countries, including major arms exporters, abstained.

This treaty is scheduled to go into effect 90 days after 50 nations have ratified it.  Secretary of State John Kerry signed the treaty on September 25, 2013.  However, any treaty that the U.S. signs must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate before it can take effect.  The Obama administration stated that the terms of the treaty only apply to international trade and nothing in the treaty "could ever infringe on the right of American citizens under our domestic law or the Constitution, including the Second Amendment."  However, this vaguely worded treaty could be subject to broad interpretation by the UN and other international organizations and could subject the U.S. to internationally defined standards.

I am concerned that it fails to expressly exclude civilian firearm ownership from its scope and specifically focuses on small arms and light weapons and omits the right of self-defense; it gives power to impose firearms restrictions to an international body that is not accountable to the American people; and it urges long-term recordkeeping of arms end-users which would result in a registry of law-abiding firearms owners in the U.S. available to foreign governments.  Moreover, irresponsible countries it was aimed at already have vowed not to abide by it and, accordingly, it contains no enforcement mechanism.  The U.S. already has standards for controlling arms exports, and if other countries wanted to impose tighter rules on the arms trade, they could have already passed and enforced their own laws.

My most recent letter to the president reflects my ongoing concerns with the treaty.  I also co-sponsored S.Con.Res. 7, which was introduced by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) on March 13, 2013, to express that the president should not sign the Arms Trade Treaty, and that, if he does, the Senate should not ratify it.  This resolution provides that no federal funds should be appropriated or authorized to implement the treaty, or to conduct relevant activities, until the Senate ratifies the treaty and has enacted legislation.  On March 23, 2013, the Senate voted 53-46 to express its opposition to the treaty.  I will continue to resist efforts to advance the treaty in the Senate. 

The Second Amendment reads: "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."  I firmly believe this provision prohibits the federal government and the United Nations from denying citizens this right.  I will continue to protect our rights guaranteed under the Second Amendment.

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