By: Enid Burns
With the global interest in mind, the United Nations has worked hard to reduce or even eliminate illegal arms trade worldwide with a Small Arms and Light Weapons treaty, which aims to develop a means to “ensure that weapons are properly and reliably marked, to improve cooperation in weapons tracing, and to engage in regional and international cooperation and assistance.”
The program sounds good in theory, as it was meant to reduce conflict around the globe, yet there is a very real concern that it could conflict with our nation’s Second Amendment.
While the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (PoA) was originally adopted in 2001, there have been incremental “enhancements” since that time. The U.N. has even sought to implement and improve weapons tracing as part of its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The question is whether or not the Biden administration will join the cause by adding the United States to the roster.
Biden campaigned with a promise of preserving certain gun rights, however, he has turned more extremely toward gun control since taking office. Whether President Joe Biden wants to join, though, is not as easy as signing on the treaty; it requires ratification by Congress, which isn’t likely.
Still, supporters of gun rights worry that a treaty such as the U.N. is putting forth will infringe on rights as they currently stand nationally. At the center of the issue is the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a multilateral treaty that essentially regulates the international trade in conventional weapons. It has been in effect since 2014, and it was meant to regulate the sales and transfers of tanks, military aircraft, and other military hardware. Again, this sounds noble, but critics, including the National Rifle Association (NRA) and National Shooting Sports Foundation, have warned that the ATT could impact U.S. gun owners by limiting the availability of commercially made firearms and parts.
To date, 110 nations have ratified the treaty, while 32 have signed but not ratified it. Among those latter nations is the United States. Former President Donald Trump even took the U.S. out of the treaty two years ago, and stated at the time, “We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy.”
President Biden apparently has other plans.
The Current State of the Arms Trade Treaty
The United Nations held the Seventh Conference of State Parties (CSP5) of the Arms Trade Treaty, which took place from August 30 to September 3. The conference held sessions on security challenges, gender and armed violence, and arms trade globally and with a focus on the developing world. These are countries where illegal arms trade poses the most threat.
Within the United States, guns are regulated at the federal and state levels. Each state enacts laws to regulate who can own a gun, and who can carry a gun when out in public. While there is a strong contingent looking to restrict the purchase and possession of firearms, gun rights supporters and lobbyist groups fight to hold their ground on the second amendment.
What It Means for America
While the U.N. is interested in tracking firearms sales in developing countries, joining the treaty means that America must become compliant with the guidelines of the treaty in terms of tracing firearms sales.
The measure could help keep illegal firearms off the streets in North America; however, it will also mean more stringent guidelines for the sale and ownership of firearms. Firearm manufacturers will be responsible for marking all parts of any weapons manufactured, and gun shops will have to keep records – as they do in most states already. The government may impose more stringent background checks to ensure the legality of each sale.
What Biden Must Do to Ratify
To join the treaty, the Biden administration must get congressional approval. Biden can act quickly while the Democrats have control of Congress, however, it is unlikely the legislation will get enough votes to pass.
Control may change in the mid-term elections. It is possible that Biden will attempt to push this through. “The Biden Administration can be expected to push for U.S. ratification of a number of international agreements, including human rights conventions, environmental agreements, arms control treaties and the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea,” noted an issue brief on Heritage.org.
That doesn’t mean Congress will agree with the president. “The U.S. Congress must fulfill its constitutional role by scrutinizing such treaties and rejecting any that undermine the interests and national sovereignty of the American people,” the brief added.
Gun rights groups feel the treaty will impinge on second amendment rights, and therefore the U.S. should not participate in the treaty.
Enid Burns is a freelance writer based in Michigan. She covers a wide range of topics from antique relics from around to the world to the latest bleeding edge technology too. Her exposure to military history and firearms comes from her husband, fellow freelance writer Peter Suciu, and together they have traveled the world visiting around 20 countries on five continents. Together they have built a collection of helmets, uniforms and small arms representative of armed forces and conflicts that span the globe. She and her husband continue to travel to military collectibles and antique arms shows around the country to find more treasure, and to discover more topics to research and to write about.