WASHINGTON — The latest front in the Senate battle over gun control opened Wednesday, as Secretary of State John Kerry signed the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty in New York.
The treaty establishes standards for the global trade in conventional weapons, with the goal of preventing such weapons from being sold to those who would use them to commit genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
In the United States, however, the ATT has been the target of fierce opposition from the gun rights lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, which claims the treaty violates the Second Amendment rights of gun owners.
Supporters, on the other hand, argue that the treaty is necessary to help protect millions around the globe in danger of human rights abuses. “This treaty says that nations must not export arms and ammunition where there is an ‘overriding risk’ that they will be used to commit serious human rights violations,” said Amnesty International USA’s Frank Jannuzi in a statement on Tuesday. “It will help keep arms out of the hands of the wrong people: those responsible for upwards of 1,500 deaths worldwide every day.”
In order to ratify the ATT, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would have to assemble a two-thirds majority, or 67 votes, in the Senate, a gargantuan task even for relatively uncontroversial treaties. On Tuesday, Republican Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.) wrote to Kerry urging the secretary not to sign the ATT. Inhofe warned that, should the U.S. become a party to the treaty, ATT would meet the same staunch Republican opposition as other U.N.-sponsored treaties have in recent years. The ATT, he wrote, “will collect dust alongside the Law of the Sea Treaty, the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, and the Kyoto Protocol.”
Opposition from a powerful lobbying group like the NRA, which claims to have more than 5 million members, only makes ratifying the ATT more challenging. “This treaty threatens individual firearm ownership with an invasive registration scheme,” said top NRA lobbyist Chris Cox in a statement on Wednesday. Sections of the treaty that mention small arms, including some types of guns, he said, represent “blatant attacks on the constitutional rights and liberties of every law-abiding American.”
Still, the very fact of the treaty’s adoption in the U.N. General Assembly, and the Obama administration’s decision to sign it, represent a defeat for the gun lobby, which boasted as recently as last summer that it had killed the ATT.
Supporters of the treaty were encouraged Wednesday by the news that the treaty was signed. Like many U.S. foreign policy decisions, American support for the ATT is likely to carry weight among U.S. allies.
“The United States’ signature reinforces our moral leadership and commitment to protect innocent civilians, our troops, missionaries, and aid workers,” said Eric Sapp, executive director of the American Values Network, part of a coalition of groups that supported the ATT. “This treaty will keep children from being orphaned and parents from having to bury children, and that is something we should all celebrate.”