This article was originally published in the latest newsletter from the Peace Economy Project. We’re re-posting it here as the Arms Trade Treaty is discussed this week in New York. Over the weekend, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) proposed an amendment to the Senate’s budget bill that would prohibit the U.S. from signing the ATT. The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 53-46. Although it’s likely that we will end up with some sort of treaty, whether or not the Obama Administration or anyone else supports it. It’s a matter of how strong of a treaty we are going to get.
Earlier in July, Iceland became the first country to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty. If 49 more countries ratify this treaty, then the international arms trade regulations outlined in the treaty will be entered into force. The United States, although supported and instrumental of bringing this treaty to fruition, will not be on of 49 countries to ratify this treaty. In fact, it will be a shock if we even sign this treaty at all.
Even though the Arms Trade Treaty is specifically about international arms trade, and has nothing to with the Second Amendment or how U.S citizens use or purchase guns in this country (unless, of course, they plan to commit human rights abuses or purchase guns directly from China), many Americans still oppose this treaty. The main reasons behind this opposition are unfounded fears and untruths. Here are three of these unfounded reasons that, unfortunately, will prevent the U.S from signing this treaty at all.
The Arms Trade Treaty will create a national firearms registry, or will require American gun owners to register their guns with the United Nations
Even though the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the President have the power to control the import of firearms and defense items, this has nothing to do with any sort of national registry. All the treaty does is require each country to adopt measures to prevent weapons from getting into the black market by keeping records of weapons entering or leaving the country. A registry wouldn’t do anything because the weapons are already in the country, and wouldn’t mean anything to the overall international arms trade. Besides, the requirements outlined in the treaty are the same as current U.S. law. There wouldn’t be any change to the law or domestic registration if the treaty were ratified.
The Arms Trade Treaty Doesn’t Mean Anything if Countries Like Russia and China Don’t Sign It
This argument is ridiculous, because it’s similar to arguing that a law against murder shouldn’t exist because axe murderers will still murder, so the law means nothing unless axe murderers stop murdering and follow such a law. Yes, murder still exists in today’s world, but that doesn’t mean the law isn’t doing anything. Just because some countries may not sign this doesn’t mean that having the treaty in place isn’t going to have an impact or make any substantial difference. Yet, this is an argument that has been used to oppose previous international treaties, most notably the Kyoto Protocol and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The Arms Trade Treaty will Prevent the U.S from Aiding Israel
Weapons should not end up in the hands of human rights abusers, even if these abusers are our political allies or are receiving aid from the United States. If Israel is committing human rights abuses, then they should not be receiving weapons from us or anyone else. That’s the point of this treaty. If we still want to provide aid to Israel, then we can do so in a way that doesn’t mean giving or selling weapons. However, no politician wants to be seen as anti-Israel, so this argument will be enough to drive representatives away from supporting the Arms Trade Treaty.
Opposition to the Arms Trade Treaty is like opposing the construction of a school because it could be a horrible school, or because kids could fight in the halls, or because bad teachers could end up there. Sure, those things could happen, but that doesn’t mean you don’t build the school and stop kids from getting an education. You address these other issues as they arise, or you implement additional measures to prevent these things from happening. Opposing the construction of the school in this example means overlooking the bigger picture of education, just like opposing the treaty overlooks the bigger picture of human rights violations and the current contribution of the arms trade to those violations.