By Julian Pecquet - 09/25/13 02:18 PM EDT
Secretary of State John Kerry signed a U.N. arms trade treaty Wednesday that's opposed by the National Rifle Association and a majority of senators.
"I signed it because President Obama knows that from decades of efforts that at any time that we work with – cooperatively to address the illicit trade in conventional weapons, we make the world a safer place. And this treaty is a significant step in that effort."
The timing of the U.S. signature aims to give the treaty an international boost. The United States is the 89th country to sign the treaty since it opened for signatures in June, with a dozen more expected to join by the end of the day.
Republicans say the treaty is dead on arrival in the Senate and won't be ratified.
“The ATT raises significant legislative and constitutional questions,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations panel, wrote in a letter to President Obama sent Tuesday. “Any act to implement this treaty, provisionally or otherwise, before the Congress provides its advice and consent would be inconsistent with the United States Constitution, law, and practice.”
Kerry said the treaty aims is aimed at "keeping weapons out of the hands of terrorists and rogue actors."
"I also want to be clear about what this treaty is not about," he said. "This treaty will not diminish anyone’s freedom.
"In fact, the treaty recognizes the freedom of both individuals and states to obtain, possess, and use arms for legitimate purposes. Make no mistake, we would never think about supporting a treaty that is inconsistent with the rights of Americans, the rights of American citizens, to be able to exercise their guaranteed rights under our constitution."
Human rights groups cheered the administration's move.
“The US is the world’s foremost arms exporter, and US signature is a powerful step demonstrating the United States’ commitment to preventing mass atrocities and protecting civilians from armed conflict,” Oxfam America President Raymond Offenheiser said in a statement. “We hope that the US signing will lead other major exporters to get off the fence and sign the ATT as soon as possible.”
Kerry had already announced in June that the administration would sign the treaty as soon as it was satisfied with its translations into the different official U.N. languages.
The National Rifle Association argues the pact is a U.N.-backed gun grab. An amendment from Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) to the Senate Budget resolution in March blocking the U.S. from joining the treaty garnered 53 “yes” votes.
Advocates of the treaty say it's only aimed at regulating international sales to prevent terrorists and other rogue actors from getting their hands on weapons.
Updated at 1:40 p.m.
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