The United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday signed off on a sweeping, first-of-its-kind treaty to regulate the international arms trade, brushing aside worries from U.S. gun rights advocates that the pact could lead to a national firearms registry and disrupt the American gun market.
The long-debated U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) requires countries to regulate and control the export of weaponry such as battle tanks, combat vehicles and aircraft and attack helicopters, as well as parts and ammunition for such weapons. It also provides that signatories will not violate arms embargoes, international treaties regarding illicit trafficking, or sell weaponry to countries for genocide, crimes against humanity or other war crimes.
With the Obama administration supporting the final treaty draft, the General Assembly vote was 154 to 3, with 23 abstentions.
American gun rights activists, though, insist the treaty is riddled with loopholes and is unworkable in part because it includes “small arms and light weapons” in its list of weaponry subject to international regulations. They do not trust U.N. assertions that the pact is meant to regulate only cross-border trade and would have no impact on domestic U.S. laws and markets.
Critics of the treaty were heartened by the U.S. Senate’s resistance to ratifying the document, assuming President Obama sent it to the chamber for ratification. In its budget debate late last month, the Senate approved a nonbinding amendment opposing the treaty offered by Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, with eight Democrats joining all 45 Republicans backing the amendment.
“The Senate has already gone on record in stating that an Arms Trade Treaty has no hope, especially if it does not specifically protect the individual right to bear arms and American sovereignty,” Sen. Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican who backed Mr. Inhofe’s motion, said in a statement. “It would be pointless for the president to sign such a treaty and expect the Senate to go along. We won’t ratify it.”
Despite the Senate vote, numerous groups have pressured President Obama to support the treaty, and Amnesty International hailed Tuesday’s vote.
“The voices of reason triumphed over skeptics, treaty opponents and dealers in death to establish a revolutionary treaty that constitutes a major step toward keeping assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons out of the hands of despots and warlords who use them to kill and maim civilians, recruit child soldiers and commit other serious abuses,” said Frank Jannuzi, deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA.
The American Bar Association also released a white paper arguing that the treaty would not affect Second Amendment rights.
General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic said Tuesday that the lack of a regulatory framework on the import and transfer of conventional arms “has made a daunting contribution to ongoing conflict, regional instabilities, displacement of peoples, terrorism and transnational organized crime.”
“Whatever the outcome of today’s meeting, for a treaty to be effective, we will need to keep working together to fulfill its goals,” he said.
Under the treaty, countries must also consider whether weapons would be used to violate international humanitarian or human rights laws, facilitate acts of terrorism or organized crime.
Proponents had hoped that the treaty could be ratified by acclamation at a final negotiating conference last week, but Syria, Iran and North Korea objected.
The final vote Tuesday was 154 countries in favor, three against, and 23 abstaining.
Some abstaining countries, like India and Egypt, felt the treaty did not go far enough on its language regarding terrorism and human rights.