Arms bill supporters fight claims US citizens will be robbed of guns

Advocates of a pending arms trade treaty are billing it as a way to strengthen U.S. import/export laws as they seek to counter claims that it will rob citizens of their guns.

The United Nations is slated to craft a long-delayed international treaty next month, with the Obama administration's blessing. Groups that support the treaty's stated goal of crafting “common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional weapons” are organizing a slew of events starting next week to build support with the U.S. public and a skeptical Senate, which would have to approve it for the United States to join.

Far from impeding on U.S. sovereignty, argue groups such as Oxfam, Amnesty International and the Arms Control Association, the treaty instead targets those countries with weak or non-existent regulations. The lack of international minimum standards, they say, allowed a notorious gun smuggler like Viktor Bout to circumvent U.S.-backed sanctions and sell weapons to rogue regimes for years before he was captured in Thailand and sentenced to 25 years in prison in New York earlier this year.

“What happens is arms dealers … can hang out and do their operations in countries with weak laws and continue to trade with sanctioned countries or terrorists with impunity,” said Scott Stedjan, a senior policy adviser to Oxfam America.

“The U.S. standard would be so much higher that it would have no impact on U.S. laws. That's where I disagree with people who claim it would violate the 2nd amendment,” he said.

Some lawmakers aren't buying it.

“I believe there is a threat to include civilian firearms within its scope,” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) said in a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation this past week. “And the arms trade treaty, if that's true, could restrict the lawful private ownership of firearms in the United States.”

Moran and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) have been leading the effort in the Senate to ensure that the treaty doesn't infringe on the right to bear arms. The two have spearheaded letters to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, signed by 45 Republicans and 13 Democrats, opposing restrictions on civilian firearm ownership.

In his speech, according to a Heritage summary, Moran said the treaty would only be acceptable if it:

• explicitly recognizes the legitimacy of hunting, sport shooting, and other lawful activities related to the private ownership of firearms and related materials; • explicitly excludes small arms, light weapons and related materials that are legal for private ownership; • doesn't contain any open-ended obligations that could imply any need to impose domestic controls on any of these items; and • explicitly states that any assertion of the right of sovereign states to individual or collective self-defense does not prejudice the inherent right of personal self-defense.

The National Rifle Association shares those concerns, and has lobbied senators to reject any treaty that includes restrictions on civilian arms.

Treaty advocates in the United States insist that's not the treaty's goal, even if many foreign countries disapprove of the U.S. attitude toward gun ownership. They say the treaty is vital to national security in a world where only 52 countries have laws regulating arms brokers – and fewer than half of those have criminal or monetary penalties for illegal brokering.

“Thousands of civilians around the globe are slaughtered each year by weapons that are sold, transferred by governments or diverted to unscrupulous regimes, criminals, illegal militias, and terrorist groups,” more than 50 U.S.-based organizations wrote to President Obama last month.

“The lack of high common international standards in the global arms trade also raises the risks faced by United States military and civilian personnel working around the globe. It is in U.S. security interests to help reduce the human suffering and instability caused by the lack of an effective international legal regulatory framework on conventional arms transfers,” they said.

In a related effort, Amnesty International next week will launch a month-long campaign by issuing a “bananafesto” in New York's Times Square drawing attention to the fact that bananas are subject to stricter global trade rules than conventional weapons.