Standing up to U.N. on guns

Conservatives upset with the Bush administration’s performance in many areas should be more than pleased with the president’s continuing willingness to do whatever is required to defend and protect Second Amendment rights.

Conservatives upset with the Bush administration’s performance in many areas should be more than pleased with the president’s continuing willingness to do whatever is required to defend and protect Second Amendment rights.

That willingness was on display last week at the final session of something called the “United Nations Conference to Review Progress Made in the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.”

The delegates have been meeting for five years. The process was originally designed to address the easy availability of military hardware to terrorists, rogue nations and various groups of organized thugs around the world but became a battleground pitting domestic and international anti-gun groups against nations and organizations that believe in the private ownership of sporting, collectible and hunting firearms.

At this final conference, dozens of so-called NGOs, or nongovernmental organizations, milled around doing what they could to advance the anti-gun agenda. Spokesmen for nation after nation pandered to them, parroted their agenda, denounced firearm ownership and in the process took a jab or two at George W. Bush’s United States.

To most of them the United States stands virtually alone blocking the worldwide ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of “small arms” that they so fervently seek. Oh, a few other countries side with us, and some others dare not speak up but silently applaud our intransigence on the issue, but without the opposition of the United States there is little doubt they would have their way.

The simple truth, of course, is that they are dead right. In 2001, when the conference convened for its initial sessions, the Bush administration sent its newly minted Undersecretary of State John Bolton to New York to let the delegates know just what the United States would and would not tolerate. Bolton reminded them that this nation’s citizens enjoy a constitutionally protected right to “keep and bear arms.”

Bolton said then that as long as the conferees focused on military weaponry and its illicit use the United States would be with them. At the same time he warned them that we would not tolerate direct or indirect threats to the rights of Americans or seek to inject the United Nations into our internal affairs.

This was not the sort of speech the conferees came to hear and not one they would have had to sit through if the Democrats had managed to retain the White House in 2000.

At that first conference, it became clear to anyone paying attention that a significant number of those attending, while expressing concern about the availability of military weaponry in Third World nations, were just as interested in restricting the ability of civilians to own firearms of any sort.

If they had their way they would impose by treaty, U.N. mandate or other international edicts the anti-gun regime that the Charles Schumers of this country have been unable to enact through the democratic process.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) worried about what might come out of the conference from the day it was convened and worked closely with the administration to make certain that career people within the government wouldn’t be allowed to undercut the president’s commitment to standing up for U.S. gun owners. Thus, when Bolton was dispatched early, his words were calculated to send a message not just to other nations but to our State Department as well.

It worked.

Since then, the conferees have met and talked and repeated the process. Last week’s meeting represented the culmination of an effort leading to some sort of consensus on an international regime to deal with the manufacture, transportation, transfer, possession and use of “small arms and light weapons.”

The problem was, however, that over five years the United States hadn’t budged. In fact, everyone in the U.S. delegation this year worked in concert to make certain any resolutions or findings that might be adopted fit within the parameters laid down in 2001.

Such steadfastness of purpose was perplexing to many of those in attendance, and the conference ultimately adjourned without doing anything at all.

As a private-sector representative for the NRA, I knew that but for the commitment of the Bush administration things could have turned out differently, and for that the president deserves credit.

Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, is a managing associate with Carmen Group, a D.C.-based governmental-affairs firm (