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US Gun Lobby Targets International Arms Treaty

The National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre (2012 photo)The National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre (2012 photo)
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The National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre (2012 photo)
The National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre (2012 photo)
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— The U.S. Senate recently rejected measures that would expand background checks on potential gun buyers, renew and strengthen a ban on military-style assault weapons and limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds. The National Rifle Association - a powerful gun lobby group - is widely credited for helping defeat the measures. The organization is now expected to work against Senate ratification of an international treaty regulating trade in conventional weapons.

The Senate action defeating the gun control measures came four months after a gunman fatally shot 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and was seen as a major defeat for President Barack Obama and gun control advocates.

Following the vote, President Obama did not mince his words.

“The gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill. They claimed that it would create some sort of ‘big brother’ gun registry, even though the bill did the opposite. This legislation, in fact, outlawed any registry. Plain and simple, right there in the text,” said Obama. “But that didn’t matter. And unfortunately, this pattern of spreading untruths about this legislation served a purpose, because those lies upset an intense minority of gun owners, and that in turn intimidated a lot of senators.”

Obama said it was a “pretty shameful day for Washington.”

Earlier this month, the United Nations by a vote of 154 to three with 23 abstentions overwhelmingly approved a landmark treaty regulating trade in conventional weapons - from battle tanks and warships to small arms and light weapons. Only Syria, Iran and North Korea voted against the pact.

The National Rifle Association is also opposed to the treaty.

Martin Butcher, an arms policy adviser with Oxfam, the international humanitarian organization, said “If I were the National Rifle Association, I wouldn’t want to be standing with Iran, Syria and North Korea on this - and that’s where they are.”

The National Rifle Association argues that the Arms Trade Treaty infringes on the rights of Americans to bear arms under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It is part of the Bill of Rights guaranteeing individual freedoms.

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre made that point during a speech to the treaty conference last July.

“Without apology, the NRA wants no part of any treaty that infringes on the precious right of lawful Americans to keep and bear arms,” said LaPierre. “Let there be no confusion. Any treaty that includes civilian firearms ownership in its scope will be met with the NRA’s greatest force of opposition.”

But Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association, an independent research organization, said the NRA’s charge that the treaty limits domestic gun ownership rights is simply false.

“The National Rifle Association is demagoguing the arms trade treaty. They are trying to scare their members into thinking that this treaty is a problem for domestic gun ownership when it is not,” said Kimball. “And what that does is it enables the NRA to raise money and to be able to claim that they are somehow protecting domestic gun ownership rights.”

The treaty will be open for signature beginning in early June and will become part of international law once 50 countries ratify it.

President Obama is expected to sign it. But John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said Senate ratification of the treaty will be a difficult task.

“I think it has almost no chance of passing. We have already seen resolutions in the Senate where a majority of senators have disapproved of the treaty, even before they had the language,” said Bolton. “And of course under the U.S. Constitution, treaty ratification requires two-thirds of the senators present and voting to approve. So if advocates of the treaty don’t even have a majority, obviously there is simply no chance, I think, that this treaty will be ratified.”

Martin Butcher with Oxfam said many of the senators who expressed their disapproval of the treaty “were misled by the NRA.”

“It will be a process of educating them what the treaty is actually about, how it will actually work, and the fact that this is intended to help populations in conflict affected areas, in Africa and elsewhere, and nothing to do with the United States," he said. "I’m sure that will reduce opposition to the treaty in the Senate.”

Analysts also said the National Rifle Association will make sure that its opposition to the treaty is well-known in the Senate chambers.

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

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