NRA draws red line on UN arms treaty

The National Rifle Association (NRA) warned the United Nations on Wednesday that the effort to craft international rules for weapons sales will go nowhere in Congress if it includes civilian arms.

Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the powerful lobby group, said 58 senators have pledged to oppose the treaty if it covers civilian weapons, fearing an infringement of America’s gun rights. 

“I am here to announce NRA's strong opposition to anti-freedom policies that disregard American citizens' right to self-defense. No foreign influence has jurisdiction over the freedoms our Founding Fathers guaranteed to us,” LaPierre said at the UN Arms Trade Treaty Conference in New York.

“The only way to address NRA's objections is to simply and completely remove civilian firearms from the scope of the treaty. That is the only solution. On that, there will be no compromise.”

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The UN will be negotiating the treaty throughout the month of July. If the members involved in the effort all agreed on the final product, it would still need to garner a two-thirds majority in the Senate to be binding on the United States.

Proponents of the treaty say the NRA’s concerns are unfounded, and argue excluding civilian weapons would gut the effort to keep deadly arms out of the hands of terrorists and rogue regimes.

Advocates say the treaty would bring much of the world in line with U.S. standards without affecting the rules that govern domestic sales. And they say gun enthusiasts are wrong to worry about their Second Amendment rights, since the Constitution trumps international law.

“This is where we part ways,” Scott Stedjan, a senior adviser for Oxfam America, said at a recent press briefing by treaty proponents. “What is a civilian arm is a real concern. I don't think anybody wants the United Nations to define what is a civilian weapon is, what a military weapon is, because different countries have different views. That would never happen, plus small arms and light weapons are the weapons that … are wreaking the most havoc, and that we most need control over.”

The Obama administration has not ruled out supporting a treaty that covers civilian weapons. The issue was not included on a list of red lines published by the State Department, although the administration does vow to oppose “restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution.”

“The Arms Trade Treaty will not in any way handicap the legitimate right of self-defense,” Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller said in a tweet last week.

On Tuesday, the State Department's assistant secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation informed the UN that the administration would oppose efforts to include ammunition in the scope of the treaty unless it hears regulatory proposals that are both “practical and effective.”

“Ammunition is a fundamentally different commodity than everything else we have discussed including within the scope of an [Arms Trade Treaty],” said Thomas Countryman. “It is fungible, consumable, reloadable, and cannot be marked in any practical way that would permit it to be tracked or traced. Any practical proposal for ammunition would need to consider the significant burdens associated with licensing, authorizations, and recordkeeping for ammunition that is produced and transferred in the billions of rounds per year.”

Those restrictions don't go far enough for many lawmakers, however.

“Already, 58 senators have objected to any treaty that includes civilian arms,” LaPierre said at the UN, referring to senators who have signed on to letters from Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.). While those letters to Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton aren't unequivocal in their opposition, they do suggest a tough slog in the Senate if civilian arms are included in the treaty.

The letter from Moran expresses the signatories' “grave concerns” about the treaty and goes on to say that earlier proposals to cover “all types of conventional weapons (regardless of their purpose), including small arms and light weapons, ammunition, components, parts, technology and related materials … would be completely unenforceable.” 

The signers of the GOP letter vow to oppose a treaty that “in any way restricts the rights of law-abiding U.S. citizens to manufacture, assemble, possess, transfer or purchase firearms, ammunition, and related items.”

The letter from Tester opposes “any inclusion of small arms, light weapons, ammunition or related materials that would make the treaty overly broad and virtually unenforceable.”