There are more international regulations for the cross-border sale of comfy armchairs than there are for deadly arms. Yes, you read that right. Furniture, fruit and iPods are just a few of the items that cross international borders on a daily basis with more regulation than weapons that can be used to fuel war, tyrannical repression and genocide.
That simply has to change.
Representatives from countries all over the world, including the United States, voted at the United Nations in April to do just that — create an international treaty to establish basic rules and procedures governing the cross-border flow of weapons and to close the loopholes that allow irresponsible arms brokers to operate outside the international regulatory system. Now the treaty has to be signed by President Barack Obama and ratified by the U.S. Senate.
The goal of the Arms Trade Treaty is to prevent weapons from reaching the hands of warlords and human rights abusers; it does not interfere one bit with domestic arms sales or legitimate international trade.
As a recent publication by Oxfam America states, “the Arms Trade Treaty will not infringe on your right to bear arms ... unless you are an international war criminal.” It is no surprise that the only countries to vote against the treaty were Iran, Syria and North Korea.
The United States is already the world’s leader when it comes to export controls for arms transfers. Our laws are the toughest in the world, and all we want is for other nations to follow our example.
The ATT would urge other countries to adopt laws that would govern the flow of weapons in and out of their borders — an extremely important effort as countries such as China are entering the global arms market. It is fundamentally in our interest to promote the same high standards that we and other responsible arms exporters set for our own manufacturers. America benefits if other countries play by the same rules.
Unfortunately, the National Rifle Association and its lobbyists are deliberately distorting the requirements of the treaty in an effort to ensure that there is no barrier to the international trade in weapons such as tanks, machine guns and shoulder-fired missiles.
The NRA somehow claims the treaty would violate Americans’ Second Amendment rights. That is absolutely false. The ATT explicitly states that it has no control over the domestic ownership or transfer of arms within the United States, affirming that it is the “sovereign right and responsibility of any State to regulate and control transfers of conventional arms that take place exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional systems.” In fact, no international treaty can override U.S. constitutional rights, including our Second Amendment rights.
The treaty only addresses the export and import of weapons from one nation to another, requiring that importing states adopt measures to prevent dangerous weapons from reaching the hands of war criminals, violent extremists or nations under international arms embargos.
So if the ATT does nothing to affect Americans’ right to bear arms, why is the NRA funding an expensive ad campaign against this treaty’s ratification?
Maybe because the NRA’s most important constituents on this matter are not individual American citizens but rather the corporate gun-makers who oppose any limits on arms sales, no matter who the intended recipient might be.
The NRA should not be allowed to misrepresent the treaty’s requirements to further its agenda seeking the unrestricted flow of the tools of war throughout the world.
Instead, we should come together to stop the illicit arms trade that has brought devastation and horror to places such as Mali, Syria, Israel, the Balkans and Mexico. In Africa, about 95 percent of the weapons most commonly used in conflict — derivatives of the Kalashnikov rifle — come from outside the continent, often illegally.
Conflicts fueled by the unrestricted sale of the deadliest arms have destroyed families, inflamed ethnic hatred and caused the tragic death and maiming of millions of men, women and children. This treaty will not end all conflicts or save all lives, but it is a step toward a safer, more humane world.
Obama should sign the Arms Trade Treaty, and the Senate must ratify it without delay.
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy is a Democrat from Connecticut.