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United Nations Arms Trade Treaty Could Shut Down Flow Of Surplus Ammo


(Jeff Knox)  On Tuesday, April 2 2013, the United Nations General Assembly, by a vote of 154 to 3, with 23 abstentions, voted in favor of adopting a sweeping Arms Trade Treaty that has been the source of much speculation, derision, and concern within the rights community in the US.

While the language adopted by the UN is more in line with the demands of groups representing US gun owners and representatives of our firearms industry, there are still aspects of the treaty that are of concern.

The UN’s long-standing antipathy toward private firearms ownership demands that the language of the treaty must be viewed through the prism of that hostility.

The treaty began life in 2001 as the “Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.” That mouthful of a title formed the framework for meetings that eventually became the basis of the treaty. During the Bush administration, Ambassador John Bolton almost completely shut down the UN Small Arms Trade Treaty with his dogged objections to any provision that encroached on private firearms ownership or that encompassed any firearms, parts, or ammunition popular with US consumers.

During Obama’s first term, the treaty was revived, though his administration moved cautiously and worked to mitigate Senate concerns about provisions that would overtly impact US citizens’ Second Amendment rights.

During that first term, the one reassuring promise from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was that the final treaty draft had to achieve the full consensus of the drafting committee in order to gain US support. It was this demand for full consensus – a unanimous vote – that effectively tabled the troublesome treaty during Obama’s reelection campaign.

Enter 2013 and a new Obama administration no longer concerned with reelection, and a new Secretary of State, John Kerry. At the conclusion of what was scheduled to be the final meeting of the committee drafting the treaty, the US suddenly reversed its position on consensus. On March 29 2013 we reported that the draft treaty had again been stymied in committee by a few countries objecting to certain provisions – thus denying consensus. But we warned that the reversal of the US position on consensus could mean the treaty would come out of committee and be pushed through the UN General Assembly. The US representative to the drafting committee, Thomas Countryman, had declared at the close of the conference that insisting on true consensus was not realistic, and said that the US would vote for the treaty if it were to come to the floor of the General Assembly. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was quick to express his support for moving forward with the treaty, and just a few days later, on April 2 2013, the treaty was introduced on the floor of the Assembly where it was quickly adopted – led by the US delegation.

Careful examination of the treaty language that was adopted offers little that raises serious concerns for US shooters and gun owners. The most hyped aspect has been regarding requirements that participating nations maintain lists of arms and armament as something of a global inventory of available weaponry. Some have construed this to be a requirement for universal registration of guns, ammunition, and gun owners. That interpretation is a stretch at best, but given the history and attitudes of the UN and the current administration, anything that we could perceive as a threat, has the potential for realization, no matter how much of a stretch it is.

Beyond that, the main concerns we have with the treaty are that it fails to distinguish between military armaments and civilian arms, it will, at the very least, complicate matters for foreign manufacturers who serve the US consumer market, it invites abuse that could make traveling with firearms for hunting or other lawful purposes virtually impossible, and it has serious potential to interfere with, if not completely shut down, the flow of surplus ammo and parts into the US.

As gun owners and activists have learned through hard experience over the years, it is not the expressed intent or objectives of legislation (or in this case of a treaty) that matters, but how the specific language could be interpreted to our detriment by an adversarial administration.

President Lyndon Johnson captured a truth when he said; “You do not examine legislation in the light of the benefits it will convey if properly administered, but in the light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered.”

In that light, this treaty has a lot of potential, both good and bad. The Obama administration has permitted it to become a reality and there is nothing to be done but resist its ratification based on the harms it could cause if fully applied. We are only likely to feel some slight ripples of the impact of this treaty as it goes into effect around the world, but over time, those ripples could begin to hit harder and higher.

For now, it appears that the current drive to get what you can while you can, as it applies to ammo and surplus parts, has officially been extended indefinitely.

The Firearms Coalition is a loose-knit coalition of individual Second Amendment activists, clubs and civil rights organizations. Founded by Neal Knox in 1984, the organization provides support to grassroots activists in the form of education, analysis of current issues, and with a historical perspective of the gun rights movement. The Firearms Coalition is a project of Neal Knox Associates, Manassas, VA. Visit:

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