UN Arms Treaty: Why is the NRA Freaking Out Over It?


The National Rifle Association (NRA) is up in arms over the UN Arms Trade Treaty, despite knowing that it has almost no chance of being ratified by the U.S. Senate. 

The United Nations General Assembly passed the Arms Trade Treaty on April 2 by an overwhelming margin: 154 states in favor, 3 opposing, 23 abstaining. The United States voted in favor of the historic treaty, which is the first to regulate the $70 billion conventional arms trade.

The treaty encourages states to exercise restraint in transferring arms to parties that commit war crimes. It’s an important step forward for advocates of regulation of the international arms trade, which has so far lacked global standards for arms transfers. However, by treaty standards, it is relatively toothless, lacking a monitoring body or implementation support. 

Negotiations for the treaty represent a sharp break from past U.S. policy on international arms control under President Bush. The Bush administration opposed a resolution to start negotiations on the issue in 2006 but the Obama administration has been more supportive, although still cautious.

The NRA has been issuing increasingly enraged statements about the UN Arms Trade Treaty over the past year. They claim that the treaty will interfere with Second Amendment rights of U.S. citizens. 

In July 2012, Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said that, "It's an outrage that the Second Amendment is a talking point to a group of global elitists ... it's up to us to stand up and say, 'No! our freedoms will not be negotiated away.'"

After the treaty passed the UN General Assembly on April 2, Cox said in a statement: "This treaty disregards the Second Amendment to our Constitution and threatens individual firearm ownership with an invasive registration scheme ... It is a sad, yet telling, day when the president of the United States and his administration refuse to defend America's Constitution on the world stage."

The NRA’s opposition to the treaty are grounded in constitutional concerns about restrictions on gun ownership. By contrast, treaty advocates note that the treaty explicitly states that it does not govern domestic gun transfers or ownership and that countries can craft their own regulation of international arms transfers. They also note that the United States already has similar regulations in the Arms Export Control Act (1976).

The NRA’s hysteria over the treaty seems unnecessary in the face of the overwhelming congressional support for their position. 53 senators supported an amendment to the budget resolution on March 23 that would keep the U.S. from entering into the Arms Trade Treaty. 

The symbolic vote demonstrated the challenges ahead for Senate ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty. Two-thirds of the U.S. Senate (sixty-seven senators) must vote in favor of the treaty in order to ratify it.

The treaty’s advocates are realistic about the process of ratification, meaning that they do not anticipate it to occur any time soon.

Virginia Tech shooting survivor and gun control advocate Colin Goddard called the treaty a "a very easy fundraiser" for the NRA, saying that the organization has cultivated the hysteria over the treaty for its own political and financial gain. In this context, the NRA’s strong rhetoric is understandable: the more attention it draws to the treaty, the more political power it ultimately gains.