UN votes to reopen talks on arms-trade treaty opposed by NRA

The United Nations General Assembly on Monday voted to reconsider an international treaty to regulate the global arms trade, a measure opposed by the nation’s largest gun-rights lobby.

The move could intensify another high-profile fight between the administration, which backs the treaty, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) which says it will restrict the domestic sale of firearms.

The General Assembly set the final round of negotiations on the treaty for March 2013. While the results of the vote were not available, Reuters reported that diplomats said the U.S. voted in favor of the resolution.

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The arms-trade treaty stalled in July, with gun-control activists accusing the Obama administration of sandbagging support for the bill to avoid criticism from Republicans and pro-gun-rights Democrats ahead of the election.

The U.S. mission to the U.N. denied that the timing of the election had anything to do with the treaty’s talks being delayed.

At the time, 50 senators — including eight Democrats — signed on to a letter signaling their opposition to the treaty, saying they were worried it would affect the sale of civilian weapons within the United States.

The Obama administration, which backs the treaty, has said its language would not affect domestic arms sales and would merely require the rest of the world to adopt America's already strong export controls.

The treaty would have a hard time being ratified by the Senate, which requires a two-thirds vote, but if the president signs it, that would create some obligations under international law, such as agreeing to refrain from actions that would defeat the treaty's purpose and goals.

The U.N. vote comes as the NRA, which has lobbied hard against the treaty, finds itself at the center of the nation’s renewed debate over domestic gun-control measures in the wake of a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14, which left 26 dead, including 20 children. 

While President Obama has pressed Democrats to introduce legislation banning the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity clips, the NRA is maintaining its tough stance against further restrictions. The group sparked controversy on Friday by calling for a national program to place armed guards in the nation’s schools to prevent future violence.

In a press conference last Friday, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said new limits on gun ownership would not prevent future massacres, instead urging more security officers in schools and calling for a focus on mental health and violence in entertainment. 

Last July, the NRA warned the U.N. that the effort to craft international rules for weapons sales would go nowhere in Congress if it includes civilian arms.

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

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.

A final vote on the U.N. treaty is expected to take place in mid-2013.