Obama Administration Defies Will of Congress, Signs UN Arms Trade Treaty

On Sept. 22, President Obama turned a memorial service for the victims of the tragedy at the Washington Navy Yard into a platform to call for a "transformation" of federal gun laws. For his remarks, the president found inspiration for such a transformation in the example set by foreign nations. The president admonished his fellow Americans that gun violence "ought to obsess us" and invoked the United Kingdom and Australia as modeling the correct paradigm. After "just a single mass shooting occurred in those countries," he said, "they '¦ mobilized and they changed '¦."


The extent to which the president seeks international direction for American gun control became even more apparent three days later, when Secretary of State John Kerry, on behalf of the Obama administration, signed the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty despite the objections of the U.S. Congress. At the signing, Secretary Kerry remarked, "The United States is proud to have worked with our international partners in order to achieve this important step towards a '¦ more peaceful world, but a world that also lives by international standards and rules."



The broad and ambiguous language of the ATT poses a significant threat to U.S. gun owners. While it purports to focus on international trade in such items as "[b]attle tanks," "[c]ombat aircraft" and "[w]arships," its inclusion of small arms and light weapons is universally understood to encompass ordinary firearms.  This is underscored by the treaty's non-binding, preambular reference to "the legitimate trade and lawful ownership, and use of certain conventional arms for recreational, cultural, historical, and sporting activities, where such trade, ownership, and use are permitted or protected by law." Battle tanks and warships, needless to say, are rarely used for recreational or sporting activities.

Among many other measures, the treaty establishes factors a participating country would have to consider before authorizing an export of arms to another country, including whether the exported arms would contribute to or undermine peace and security.  To mitigate these supposed risks, the exporting state could extract "confidence building measures" from the importing state. To accomplish this, each importing country must ensure that relevant information is provided to the exporting country, including end use or end user documentation.


In other words, even if the Senate never ratifies the treaty, the United States could be required, as a condition of receiving firearms exported from a participating nation, to hand over lists of individual end users of such guns.  Thus, the stage is set for the United States either to be ostracized as an outlier in the global gun control community or to establish a national registry of firearms imported from other countries, as well as the Americans who own them.


A further threat is posed by the International Small Arms Control Standards (ISACS) Module 03.30, produced as part of the U.N.'s efforts to get countries to "voluntarily" adopt gun control. The standards endorsed are similar to the gun controls now in place in Australia and the UK. While not formally part of the ATT, eventually the ISACS 03.30 standards could be considered best practices to implement the treaty, and the U.S. could face international pressure to incorporate these recommendations into its own law and practices.

Fortunately, strong opposition to the ATT has come from both sides of the aisle in Congress. On October 15,  two letters were sent by 50 U.S. Senators and 181 members of the U.S. House, clearly stating Congress' opposition to the treaty. The Senate letter, led by Jerry Moran (R-Kans.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), concluded by stating that "we pledge to oppose the ratification of this treaty, and we give notice that we do not regard the U.S. as bound to uphold its object and purpose."  Following these two letters, on October 22 an additional letter of opposition was sent to the president by four Democratic senators — Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Max Baucus, D-Mont., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind. — stating that "because of unaddressed concerns that this Treaty's obligations could undermine our nation's sovereignty and the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans, we would oppose the Treaty if it were to come before the U.S. Senate."

To ensure continued opposition in the Congress to this ongoing threat, we urge you to contact your senators and representative to express your firm opposition to this treaty and thank those members who have stood on the side of freedom. You can contact your Senators by phone at (202) 224-3121, and your Representative by phone at (202) 225-3121.

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