Fact vs Fiction: Arms Trade Treaty and Gun Ownership in the US

July 6, 2012

child soldier in liberia
Countries in several parts of the world grapple with the horrific problem of the use of child soldiers exacerbated by the unregulated flow of weapons. © AFP/Getty Images

As world leaders meet in New York this month to negotiate the first ever global arms trade treaty, the Internet has been buzzing with conspiracy theories that such a treaty would infringe on Second Amendment rights in the US.

This is a fallacy, driven at best by misinformation and at worst by a deliberate effort to undermine the treaty. Given the incredibly lucrative arms trade estimated to exceed $60 billion annually (with the US exporting 34% of all weapons) it’s not a surprise that such a misinformation campaign has taken the Internet by storm.

Here let me break down fact from fiction.

Will the ATT stop the sale of handguns in the US?

NO it will not.

The UN General Assembly resolution starting the process on the Arms Trade Treaty explicitly states that it is “the exclusive right of States to regulate internal transfers of arms and national ownership, including through constitutional protections on private ownership.”

No ATT can therefore infringe on that exclusive right. To that end, all the papers circulated by the Chair of the UN ATT (Ambassador Roberto García Moritán of Argentina) process clearly reference that right.

Further, Ambassador Moritán has stated that the definitive goal of the small arms treaty “is to try to have common standards to be applied by all countries when they export or import weapons.”

Furthermore, about the ATT, the State Department has said:

“There will be no restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution. There will be no dilution or diminishing of sovereign control over issues involving the private acquisition, ownership, or possession of firearms, which must remain matters of domestic law.”

What the ATT will do

It will stop the black market in arms on global level.

Every minute, someone dies from armed violence. Because of the out-of-control worldwide arms trade thousands more are injured, raped, forced into becoming child soldiers and worse.

While the international community regulates things like bananas and dinosaur bones, there are virtually no global rules for the trade of products designed to kill and injure.

There are several factors contributing to the crisis that is being caused by the global trade.  Key among those are:

  • Irresponsible decisions by governments – who regularly flout or ignore their obligations not to contribute to human rights violations;
  • Gaping loop holes in the current international regime regulating global arms sales, transfers and other exchanges and,
  • A lack of implementation by governments of the regulations that do exist.

These factors contribute to and facilitate the black market as well as the terrible human rights abuses linked to this trade.

An ATT would improve transparency and accountability, and would establish common standards to regulate the different kinds of transfers that make up the global arms trade.

A robust ATT will require governments to establish stronger, more rigorous systems to manage and regulate their countries’ export and import of weapons and munitions.

In short, the ATT will help keep weapons out of the hands of the worst human rights abusers and save countless lives.