Obama under pressure to resume talks on arms treaty that is opposed by NRA

President Obama is coming under renewed pressure to back a worldwide arms trade treaty at the United Nations after backing off ahead of last year's elections.

Human rights groups are demanding that the United States take the lead in creating international standards for cross-border weapons sales when the U.N. starts a second round of talks March 18.

Last year's talks came to a screeching halt after the Obama administration asked for more time following intense lobbying from the domestic gun lobby. The National Rifle Association (NRA) said it would oppose the treaty until civilian firearms were excluded from it.


Thomas Countryman, the assistant secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, is hosting a closed-door roundtable Wednesday morning with non-governmental organizations to discuss the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty. And Amnesty International on Tuesday issued a “call to conscience” to the White House.

“President Obama cannot ignore the plight of millions of civilians who too often are caught in conflicts fueled by unscrupulous arms brokers,” Michelle Ringuette, the chief of campaigns and programs at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.

“To stop the carnage, we must have rules to stop weapons from flowing to governments, armed militias and others that could use those weapons in the commission of human rights abuses. President Obama can and must lead this fight.”

Amnesty International was one of the harshest critics of Obama's inaction on the treaty last year, with executive director Suzanne Nossel accusing the administration of “stunning cowardice.” 

Critics of the treaty say it could impact American citizens' right to own guns. “No foreign influence has jurisdiction over the freedoms our Founding Fathers guaranteed to us,” NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said last year.

Amnesty and other groups say those concerns are unfounded and that the treaty would merely call on other countries to adopt America's strict laws when it comes to international weapons sales.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill aren't convinced, making ratification unlikely even if U.N. members can agree to a text and Obama signs it. Some 51 senators signed a letter last year raising their objection to any treaty that would regulate “small arms" or "light weapons," as last year's draft treaty proposed to do, leaving treaty proponents far shy of the two-thirds majority needed to move a treaty through the Senate.