By Nick Hildebrand
Herald News Editor/Weekends
3RD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT —
Negotiators picked up work on the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty this week, a document that its supporters hope will provide a means to stem the flow of weapons to human rights abusers and international hot spots and its detractors fear will lead to the confiscation of private firearms in the United States.
Count among those detractors U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly. The Butler County Republican who represents the Third District has spent much of the last week furiously beating the anti-ATT drum. Kelly says the treaty is a threat to America’s sovereignty and the Second Amendment.
“There is no good reason why America should allow itself to be entangled in a needless contract that would only serve to curb our freedom and threaten our ability to defend our friends around the globe,” Kelly said in a news release last week when he introduced a resolution in the House calling for the U.S. to reject the treaty.
Kelly has been fighting the treaty since last summer when he and other lawmakers expressed their opposition in a letter to the White House. Most recently he launched an online petition against the ATT which garnered nearly 20,000 electronic signatures.
The Obama administration withdrew from the negotiations in August, but after the election the administration signaled it was willing to return to the table and Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday expressed conditional support for the treaty.
As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, the United States’ support of the treaty is key to its adoption and future implementation.
The treaty’s goal is to create common rules for the export and import of conventional weapons, from tanks to handguns, that are intended to crack down on the illicit weapons trade and keep arms out of the hands of brutal regimes and loosely regulated militias.
Backers of the plan include gun control advocates and human rights groups such as Amnesty International, which says the treaty will provide “rules to end irresponsible arms transfers ... that fuel grave abuses of human rights.” They point specifically to the arms used by child soldiers sold into the service of Islamist fighters in Mali and the ongoing civil war in Syria.
Most of the weapons used in these conflicts come either directly or indirectly from the major powers. Five of the countries with permanent seats on the Security Council and charged with keeping the peace globally, according to Amnesty, account for 60 percent of the global arms trade. That’s a $70 billion a year business for the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K., and France, likely to grow to $100 billion in the next decade, the human rights group says.
The Obama administration has said it will only support a pact that protects the Second Amendment right of Americans.
The U.N.’s website says ATT “does not: interfere with the domestic arms trade and the way a country regulates civilian possession; ban, or prohibit the export of, any type of weapons; impair States’ legitimate right to self-defense.”
Those assurances don’t sway those who opose the treaty. The National Rifle Association and other gun rights supporters say the treaty’s goal of regulating conventional arms sales could nullify the Constitutional right if the U.S. actually submits to it.
“The ATT threatens Second Amendment rights. The treaty omits the fundamental, individual right to keep and to bear arms enshrined in our Second Amendment,” Kelly said.
Kelly noted that the treaty “expressly includes ‘small arms and light weapons’ ... and implies that it also includes the domestic arms trade.”
The Internet is awash with theories about how the ATT is part of a hidden gun control agenda and its adoption by the U.S. could lead to registration and confiscation of privately owned guns. Critics say ambiguous language in the treaty could be cited later to limit gun ownership or use.
The American Bar Association issued an opinion last month saying the treaty “would not require new domestic regulations of firearms.”
Ted Bromund, senior research fellow in Anglo-American Relations with the conservative Heritage Foundation and a leading critic of the treaty, argued in an online post that the evolving nature of the ATT could threaten private gun ownership in the U.S.
Treaty foes say the pact’s defenders are naive if they think that the bad actors involved in the international arms trade will be bound by it.
“It will leave them free to carry on, for the simple reason that the ATT, like any treaty, will be meaningless unless it is enforced. The world’s democracies will enforce it upon themselves, but the world’s dictatorships will not,” Bromund wrote.
Kelly and others say the U.S. already has strong controls in place to keep arms out of the wrong hands. He cites former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s description of those rules as the “gold standard.”
“The goal of stopping the illicit trade in arms cannot be advanced by the fundamentally flawed ATT,” Kelly said. “We do not need to water down our system. Instead, we should continue to work with our allies and friends on a cooperative basis to curb the illicit arms trade.”