UNITED NATIONS (TRNS) – A proposed U.N. treaty to regulate international arms sales would likely have no impact on U.S. domestic gun laws, according to a white paper released by the American Bar Association earlier this week.
The report by the ABA’s Center for Human Rights, which comes less than three weeks before U.N. members states are set to resume negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), seemingly weakens claims by the National Rifle Association and other groups that the treaty poses a great risk to Second Amendment rights.
The Obama administration backed away from the ATT negotiation conference last summer after the American gun lobby and members of the US Senate and Congress alleged the deal threatened private ownership of firearms for American citizens.
But the American Bar Association’s latest analysis of the ATT concludes that while the treaty would impose obligations on the U.S. government to block international arm transfers to suspected human rights abusers, war criminals, and terrorists, it “would not require new domestic regulations of firearms.”
“If the United States signs and ratifies the ATT, in its most recent iteration in the President’s text of 26 July 2012, the United States retains the discretion to regulate the flow of weapons into and out of the United States in a manner consistent with the Second Amendment,” reads the white paper.
The ABA report also found that the majority of weapons covered by the Arms Trade Treaty do not enjoy Second Amendment protections, citing the Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, that “the Second Amendment applies only to firearms that are ‘typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes,’ but not to ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.”
It says the current version of the agreement would cover the international transfers of all conventional weapons, including tanks, armored vehicles, attack helicopters, combat aircrafts, artillery systems, and missile launchers, as well as small arms and light weapons.
The National Riffle Association has energetically lobbied against the inclusion of small arms and light weapons in the ATT, blasting treaty negotiators for targeting “civilians weapons” it says are protected by the U.S. constitution.
However, the ABA white paper notes that District of Columbia v. Heller does not extend Second Amendment protections to “small arms and light weapons” such as short barreled shotguns, machine-guns, and automatic M-16 rifles.
It says that even though constitutional protections apply to some weapons classified as “small arms and light weapons,” the Second Amendment does not cover activities like importing and exporting arms.
“The Second Amendment is generally inapplicable to arms exports. Though the amendment protects “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,” it does not protect the right to supply arms to persons who are not themselves among “the people” of the United States,” says the ABA report.
But conservative groups and gun rights activists remain unconvinced, and maintain that possible future amendments to the ATT might eventually infringe on American gun laws.
Dr. Ted Bromund, a Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and outspoken critic of the Arms Trade Treaty, says the American Bar Association’s white paper fails to consider the longterm implications of the agreement.
“What the ABA has missed is that although the ATT is a treaty, it is fundamentally a process. It is going to be a treaty with annual conferences, a secretariat for annual implementation,” Bromund told TRNS. “This is a treaty regime. What you see is going to be changed and added to by new interpretations of international law. By accepting the treaty, the US is entering into that process… That’s why I think this kind of thing is liable eventually to lead into second amendment concerns.”
The ABA report, however, says the current ATT draft ensures countries have the ability to address any future changes to the treaty “within the bounds of their own constitutional requirements.”
But the Heritage Foundation’s Bromund argues the ATT’s shortcomings go well beyond Second Amendment concerns.
While groups like Amnesty International and OXFAM have emphasized the importance of the ATT as an international mechanism to stem the flow of weapons to human rights abusers, Bromund says such expectations are far too optimistic given the powerful U.N. Security Council’s own struggles to implement arms embargoes.
“A treaty is the wrong mechanism to fix this because it assumes that more laws are going to stop illegal activity,” he told TRNS. “The ATT is going to cover the entire world and every country’s arms transactions. You have to be crazy to think that’s going to be easier to enforce than the arms embargoes.”
The Arms Trade Treaty negotiations conference is set to resume at the U.N. headquarters in New York March 18-28th.