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gun grabThe Arms Trade Treaty

The landmark U.N. The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), regulating the international trade in conventional arms – from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft, and warships – entered into force on December 24th, 2014.

As United Nations officials welcome the entry into force of The Arms Trade Treaty – UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, its progress in the U.S. remains hampered by significant Senate opposition and funding prohibitions included in appropriations legislation.

Basic facts

  • How many States have signed the treaty?        130
  • How many States have ratified the treaty?         61
  • General Assembly vote to adopt the treaty:      154-3-23
  • Entry into force:                                              24 December 2014
  • Deadline for report national implementation:    24 December 2015

Most recently, the Omnibus government funding bill passed by the Congress earlier this month contained new prohibitions on the administration using any funds to implement the conventional arms treaty. Under U.N. procedures the U.S. would be liable for 22 percent of the budget for the ATT secretariat, the body that will oversee its implementation.

In October 2013, 50 U.S. senators signed a letter to President Obama pledging not to give advice and consent to the ATT. In order for a treaty to be ratified, no more than 33 senators can oppose it.

The opposition is a setback for the administration, which maintains that its hard-nosed stance during negotiations delivered a text that meets key U.S. priorities. Still, ATT critics are urging lawmakers in the new Congress to take steps to ensure the administration does not advance the treaty even if it is not ratify.

Alarm bells have been triggered by advocacy groups’ assertions that the treaty will form part of the broad body of international law, implying that even in the absence of Senate ratification the U.S. will be bound by its provisions.

UN: ‘Virtual stampede’ of states rush to join Arms Trade Treaty

Amnesty International

Amnesty International and its supporters have lobbied and campaigned relentlessly for an ATT since the mid-1990s.

‘It is good that the Obama administration signed the Arms Trade Treaty. Of course, getting it ratified through the Senate has proven difficult. Particularly since critics have raised issues of National sovereignty and Second Amendment rights. Another UN assault on national sovereignty and the right to bear arms” has been the frequent charge from the right and is unlikely to abate.’

‘Today is a historic day for human rights. The global Arms Trade Treaty has entered into force! After two decades of campaigning we now have the first international treaty to stop the flow of weapons into the wrong hands. 130 states have signed and 61 have ratified. It is time for ALL governments to bite the bullet and commit to a global Arms Trade Treaty.‘- Amnesty International 

In a statement last week, Amnesty International also said that ‘the ATT will become binding international law on 24 December, after which it will require states to adhere to strict global rules on international arms transfers to stem the flow of conventional arms and munitions that fuel atrocities and abuse.’

Similarly, Germany’s mission to the U.N. in a release this month described the ATT as “a legally binding treaty that will regulate the international arms trade by establishing universal criteria for the export and import of arms.”

Not so, says Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Ted Bromund.

“Both the administration and Congress should formally state that the ATT is simply a treaty, that it is binding only on nations that have ratified it, that it is not customary international law, and that its entry into force has no implications for the U.S.,” he said in a recent issue brief.

Entry into force comes 90 days after a threshold of 50 ratifying states was crossed last fall. The U.S. is among 70 nations that have signed, but not ratified, the treaty.

Another 61 countries had as of Wednesday both signed and ratified the ATT. Most are European democracies and island nations in the Caribbean and Pacific.

arms-treaty-infographicOnly seven of Africa’s 54 countries (Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and South Africa) are among them, and no Middle East country bar Israel has ratified – even though those regions include conflict zones most affected by uncontrolled arms flows.

Overwhelming Majority of States Say ‘Yes’ To Arms Trade Treaty

When the U.N. General Assembly adopted the ATT in April 2013 only three member-states voted against it: Iran, Syria and North Korea.

The list of nations that have not signed the treaty includes some of the world’s more controversial regimes. Among the non-signatories are Russia (the world’s second biggest arms exporter, after the U.S.), China (the fifth biggest), Cuba, Ecuador, India, Iran, Iraq, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Venezuela and Vietnam.

Some provisions of the treaty that would, despite assurances, immediately impact the right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, are:

• Article 2 of the treaty defines the scope of the treaty’s prohibitions. The right to own, buy, sell, trade, or transfer all means of armed resistance, including handguns, is denied to civilians by this section of the Arms Trade Treaty.

• Article 3 places the “ammunition/munitions fired, launched or delivered by the conventional arms covered under Article 2” within the scope of the treaty’s prohibitions, as well.

• Article 4 places all “parts and components” of weapons within the scheme.

• Perhaps the most egregious threat to the rights of gun owners in the Arms Trade Treaty is found in Article 5. Under the title of “General Implementation:”

  • Article 5 mandates that all countries participating in the treaty “shall establish and maintain a national control system, including a national control list.” This list should “apply the provisions of this Treaty to the broadest range of conventional arms.”

• Article 12 adds to the record-keeping requirement, mandating that the list include “the quantity, value, model/type, authorized international transfers of conventional arms,” as well as the identity of the “end users” of these items.


US Secretary of State John Kerry signs the UN Arms Trade Treaty on September 25, 2013 in New York City.

Even though the Treaty has very little chance of being ratified by two-thirds of the Senate, Second Amendment advocates are concerned that the Obama administration will use a United Nations treaty as a basis for executive action on gun control as well they should be. Still, others feel that this leftist gun control treaty could be binding under international law and any Executive Action by Obama would merely be an endorsement of our nation’s contractual obligation to  support the UN ban on guns, such as the Kyoto protocol.

Assistance provisions under the Arms Trade Treaty

The agreement also states that national governments take “appropriate measures” to enforce the terms of the treaty, including civilian disarmament.

If these countries can’t get this done on their own, however, Article 16 provides for UN assistance, specifically including help with the enforcement of “stockpile management, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs.”

Article 16

Article 16 of the ATT notes that states may request ‘legal or legislative assistance, institutional capacity-building, and technical, material or financial assistance. Such assistance may include stockpile management, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes, model legislation, and effective practices for implementation.’ States ‘in a position to do so shall provide such assistance, upon request.’ Such assistance may be offered and received via ‘the United Nations, international, regional, sub-regional or national organizations, non-governmental organizations, or on a bilateral basis.’ The text also states that a voluntary trust fund will be set up to assist states with “treaty implementation.”

Article 18

Article 18 notes that the secretariat charged with “assisting states parties” in the effective implementation of the treaty will, among other actions, carry out the ‘matching of offers of and requests for assistance for Treaty implementation’. The preamble to the ATT also notes that regional organizations can assist states parties in implementing the treaty, and that civil society can also support implementation, in recognition of its role in strengthening transfer controls.

If a treaty is ratified by the US, it is binding. And because it’s an international agreement, it’s a lot harder to untangle and repeal after the fact than, say, Obamacare.

The founders included the words “shall not be infringed” for a reason.



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  • National sovereignty legal definition of National sovereignty


    The supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable power by which an independent state is governed and from which all specific political powers are derived; the intentional independence of a state, combined with the right and power of regulating its internal affairs without foreign interference.

    Sovereignty is the power of a state to do everything necessary to govern itself, such as making, executing, and applying laws; imposing and collecting taxes; making war and peace; and forming treaties or engaging in commerce with foreign nations.

    The individual states of the United States do not possess the powers of external sovereignty, such as the right to deport undesirable persons, but each does have certain attributes of internal sovereignty, such as the power to regulate the acquisition and transfer of property within its borders. The sovereignty of a state is determined with reference to the U.S. Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.

    SOVEREIGNTY. The union and exercise of all human power possessed in a state; it is a combination of all power; it is the power to do everything in a state without accountability; to make laws, to execute and to apply them: to impose and collect taxes, and, levy, contributions; to make war or peace; to form treaties of alliance or of commerce with foreign nations, and the like.

    Story on the Const. Sec. 207.
         2. Abstractedly, sovereignty resides in the body of the nation and belongs to the people. But these powers are generally exercised by delegation.
         3. When analyzed, sovereignty is naturally divided into three great powers; namely, the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary; the first is the power to make new laws, and to correct and repeal the old; the second is the power to execute the laws both at home and abroad; and the last is the power to apply the laws to particular facts; to judge the disputes which arise among the citizens, and to punish crimes.
         4. Strictly speaking, in our republican forms of government, the absolute sovereignty of the nation is in the people of the nation; (q.v.) and the residuary sovereignty of each state, not granted to any of its public functionaries, is in the people of the state. (q.v.) 2 Dall. 471; and vide, generally, 2 Dall. 433, 455; 3 Dall. 93; 1 Story, Const. Sec. 208; 1 Toull. n. 20 Merl. Repert. h.t.