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NRA vs UN: Arms Trade Treaty stirs frenzy in US gun lobby

Published time: March 17, 2013 10:58
Edited time: March 18, 2013 00:39
AFP Photo / Alexander Astafyev

AFP Photo / Alexander Astafyev

The National Rifle Association, America’s most powerful domestic lobby, is preparing for debate on the UN-sponsored Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that it fears could infringe upon Americans’ Second Amendment right to bear arms.

UN ministers are hoping to convince the 193-member states to better regulate the import and export of particular weapons – for example, the omnipresent AK-47 assault rifle – which they say could be used to commit human rights atrocities, as well as acts of terrorism.

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) would apply to small arms, as well as tanks, artillery, warships, fighter aircraft and missiles.

The UN treaty carries a provision that suggests UN members “adopt appropriate legislative, administrative or other measures to regulate, where necessary and feasible, conventional arms covered by this Treaty that transit or transship through its territory.”

These supranational efforts by the United Nations have been fiercely condemned by the NRA and other US civil groups, mostly on the right of the political spectrum, who fear a “global gun grab,” as well as the creation of an international database of gun owners.

“What we really object to is the inclusion of civilian firearms within the scope of the ATT,” said Tom Mason, an attorney who has represented the NRA at the UN for nearly two decades, the Washington Post reported. “This is a treaty that really needs to address the transfer of large numbers of military weapons that leads to human rights abuses. We have submitted language that you can define what a civilian firearm is.”

Human rights groups, however, insist these fears are misplaced.

The National Rifle Association(NRA) headquarters is seen March 14, 2013, in Fairfax, Virginia. (AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards)

Michelle A. Ringuette, chief of campaigns and programs at Amnesty International USA, said the opposition proved the “gun lobby’s creativity” in claiming that ‘civilian weapons’ differentiated from military weapons under the ATT.

“There is no such distinction,” she emphasized in her statement. “To try to create one would create a loophole that would render the treaty inoperative, as anyone could claim that he or she was in the business of trading ‘civilian weapons.’”

The NRA views the UN debate on ATT as the latest challenge to gun rights. Last week, the US Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure to reinstate a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, since the law prohibiting the firearms expired in 2004. Although the legislation is unlikely to pass a Senate vote, it shows that public opinion on gun ownership may be turning.

Gun control has become a hot topic in the United States following a spate of horrific mass shootings carried out with semi-automatic weapons.

On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza went on a shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 children and six staff members. The incident ranks as the second-deadliest shooting in US history, after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre (32 dead; 17 wounded).

On July 20, 2012, another mass shooting, this one inside of a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, sent shockwaves of grief through the country. The gunman fired into the audience with various firearms, killing 12 people and injuring dozens. The sole suspect is James Eagan Holmes, who was arrested outside the cinema following the shooting spree.

Due to the increase in such incidents, the Obama administration is displaying a new resolve towards implementing gun control measures, saying it supports the UN initiative.

“The United States is steadfast in its commitment to achieve a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty that helps address the adverse effects of the international arms trade on global peace and stability,” Secretary of State John Kerry said.

Negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty begin Monday at the UN headquarters in New York.

The NRA, which is a founder of the World Forum on Shooting Activities, an international alliance of gun owners and gun manufacturers, will also be in New York this week petitioning against the controversial treaty.