UN Arms Control Treaty: Will It Be Ratified by the Senate?


On April 2, the United Nations held a vote on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that passed overwhelmingly in the General Assembly by a tally of 154 to 3 (23 abstentions), with the U.S. voting for approval as well. The treaty seeks to set rules that countries would follow for international arms sales which would include anything from ammunition and firearms to tanks and warplanes. However, even though the Obama administration has supported this treaty, and even if the president intends to sign it, the measure must still go through the U.S. Senate in order for it to be ratified. Ratification by the Senate, though, is highly unlikely.

Domestic proponents of the UN ATT say that it would have no bearing on the Second Amendment rights of U.S. citizens as the treaty gives each member nation the authority to implement the protocols in their respective nations and only targets international arms that fall under the treaty. These claims, though, are disingenuous, especially as roughly 35% of all firearms in the U.S. are imported. For example, in 2010 roughly 3.2 million firearms had been imported into the U.S. from abroad. All of these firearms would all have been subject to regulation by the ATT. The international regulation of such a large market share of firearms in the U.S. would undoubtedly be felt throughout the firearms industry domestically.

Proponents also believe that the treaty is needed in order to control the flow of munitions for humanitarian reasons. This is to ensure that these munitions would not be used in human rights abuse, terrorism, and other such acts. One of the main mechanisms for the accountability is the UN Register of Conventional Arms, which would be used to track even small arms sales and acts as a registry. The idea of an international arms registry of civilian firearms undoubtedly sparks fierce opposition, especially from Second Amendment advocacy groups like the NRA.

However, ratification of the ATT by the U.S. Senate is highly unlikely. In order for any treaty to be ratified, 67 out of the 100 senators must vote in favor of ratification, and there has been bipartisan opposition to ratification. Last month Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) offered an amendment to a Senate budget bill that specifically stated the U.S. would not enter the ATT. The Inhofe amendment passed 53-46, with eight Democratic senators voting for the amendment. Even if all eight of those Democratic senators voted for ratification, the treaty would still lack the necessary votes and then some.

It should be noted that the Obama administration originally scuttled discussion of the Arms Trade Treaty back in July of 2012 while the president was seeking reelection. This was a calculated move to be sure as any discussion of an anti-Second Amendment agenda may have cost Obama the election. Despite the unlikelihood of ratification, the Obama administration will still support and push the ATT domestically, as they have nothing to lose by doing so now that Obama has been re-elected. This should come as no surprise as his administration continues its anti-Second Amendment agenda domestically as well.