Rumor: UN arms treaty will ban guns in US

Pundits and lawmakers allege that a United Nations firearms treaty is a sinister plot to strip Americans of gun rights.


The United Nations Arms Trade Treaty neither seeks to, nor is capable of regulating domestic firearm laws

Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Mitt Romney foreign-policy advisor John Bolton teamed up with previous George W. Bush-appointed attorney and author of the infamous "Torture Memos" John Yoo to pen a column in the Wall Street Journal titled "Obama's United Nations Backdoor to Gun Control." The piece alleges — like many conservative publications and lawmakers have — that the United Nations' Arms Trade Treaty (read it) will infringe upon the rights of American gun owners. The language of the U.N. treaty itself, along with international law attorneys who spoke with MSN News, however, say otherwise.

The facts

The U.N. Arms Trade Treaty is a piece of draft legislation that seeks to regulate the international trade of guns and other weapons like tanks, grenades and warplanes. After seven years of negotiation, the language of the treaty was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on April 2. The only three nations that voted to oppose the treaty were Iran, Syria and North Korea. While the bill's language has been passed by the United Nations, in order for it to have any meaning in the United States it would need to be ratified by a two-thirds majority vote in the U.S. Senate — something most analysts say will never happen. Even upon ratification, however, it would still be up to the U.S. congress to pass, and the president to sign, any laws relating to domestic gun sales. Such laws could then be judged by courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to determine if they violate constitutional mandates, such as the Second Amendment.

Claim: Treaty a 'scheme'

Bolton and Yoo call the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty a "scheme" that not only allows countries like Iran, North Korea and Syria to trade arms at will, also "demands domestic regulation of 'small arms and light weapons.'" The authors cite Article 5 of the treaty, which encourages nations to "establish and maintain a national control system," as being proof that such a system will be used to deprive law-abiding Americans of their gun rights. Groups like the NRA, along with lawmakers like Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and 130 House Republicans, have vowed to oppose ratification of the treaty on grounds that it's a danger to the Second Amendment.

In reality, however, the treaty explicitly states that it only applies to international importing and exporting of arms. The word "domestic" only appears once in the treaty, and then only to assure that it will not interfere with "matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State." The treaty's Article 5 mentions its "national control system" not as a tool to regulate domestic arms sales, but international arms sales. Indeed, the language of the bill that expressly states it will not venture into individual nations' domestic firearms laws was made at the request of the United States, lest there be any confusion over its intent.

Domestic gun sales not regulated

Speaking to MSN News, Stanford University law professor John J. Donohue says allegations of the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty infringing on domestic gun laws "really is a bunch of malarkey." UC Berkeley Law Professor and expert on the United Nations, David D. Caron also tells MSN News that he "sees no connection" from the treaty to U.S. domestic gun law.

"There is language in the bill saying it will not infringe on the sovereign right of any nation to regulate their own domestic arms within their territory," Donohue says. "I really don't see how, given the nature of this treaty and its limitations to international arms sales, that it has any potential to violate the Second Amendment... It surprises me at times that the United States would take an initiative that seems to put them in alignment with Iran, North Korea and Syria."

Indeed, as Donohue notes, the preamble of the the treaty states that it "Reaffirm(s) the sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system." Driving home this point, United Nations spokesperson Ewen Buchanan tells MSN News that the current arms treaty "has nothing to do with domestic possession of firearms or domestic regulations. It's purely about international trade."

No way to enforce

In their column, Bolton and Yoo illustrate a common allegation among some conservatives aimed at the United Nations, which says the organization's agenda can trump the will of the American people. In fact, even if the treaty did seek to regulate an individual country's domestic gun laws, the U.N. itself has no way to enforce such laws. The organization has no representatives in national legislative bodies, no military force and no ways by which to make certain that any nation adhere to its treaties -- whether they signed onto them or not. In fact, the United States has been ruled to have violated, or been accused of violating, numerous U.N. treaties before and suffered, by most measures, no ill effects; including the execution of a Mexican national in 2009, the torture of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center during the War on Terror, and the legalization of marijuana by Washington State and Colorado in 2012.

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