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

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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.

AIUSA welcomes a lively and courteous discussion that follow our Community Guidelines. Comments are not pre-screened before they post but AIUSA reserves the right to remove any comments violating our guidelines.

50 thoughts on “Fact vs Fiction: Arms Trade Treaty and Gun Ownership in the US

  1. the black arms market works both ways… the "bad guys" get armed, but so do the "good guys". Let's look at Sudan for example. The Sudanese government is armed, overtly and/or covertly, by nations like China. I don't mean just the national army but militia groups such as janjaweed. Shouldn't the victims of that genocide be able to defend themselves? They have no weapons beyond what they are able to capture, and that isn't much. South Sudan is a recent creation, and the non-Muslims in Dardur still need help. The black arms market supplies them with the capability to fight back. With the ATT, the Sudanese government may still receive military aid from China because that follows the rules, but who will help those in Darfur on the receiving end of those weapons? The US does a lot of black market arms deals *for a reason*. How do you think the communists were deposed from Afghanistan? Not because we sent the mujahadeen water bottles, but because we sent them AK-47s and anti-aircraft missiles, under the table. How do you think Hosni and Ghadaffi were deposed? How are the Syrian people supposed to rid themselves of Assad? They need weapons and ammo, but the US can't be openly feeding them, so it must take place under the table.

  2. Guns go where the money is. We only hear about the National rifle Association, but not about the arms manufacturers who surely sell them to all sorts of crooks, of course, only for money. I have never heard of a gun manufacturer accused of illegal sales.It is the military-industrial complex, as President Eisenhower told us, that suppliies weapons to anyone who can pay, legal or illegal, and who apparently, are never prosecuted.

  3. ''What the ATT will do

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

    An ATT, even a strong one, would not stop the balck market in arms. There will always be a black market in arms at the global level. An ATT may reduce the number of arms (and hopefully ammunition) being traded in the black market but it will not stop it entirely.

  4. Most gun crimes in Canada are with smuggled American guns. Americans are seen as crazy, brain-washed fools – terrorists, really – because of their love of guns. The whole world sees it this way, but Americans only look at the amount of lint in their own navels.

  5. If we can reduce the number of guns and the amount of ammunition available to dangerous people, that is a very good thing. Martha ryder

  6. I'm with the NRA on this one, as (1) the (US) Department of Justice doesn't recognize the validity of the 2nd Amendment, as recognized by the US Supreme Court,; (2) "foreign trade" (under US law) includes a transfer between non-citizens within the US, and (3) the regulations required to enforce the treaty would almost certainly infringe on rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. It's possible the treaty could be drafted to avoid point 2, making it _only_ apply to _really_ foreign trade, but it may not be possible to do and to meet the goals of the treaty.

  7. ITAR…. look it up.

    Also, what about Fast and Furious? that was the US Justice dept trafficking arms illegal to elements in war with the government of mexico.

  8. "When seconds count…. ……the police are only Minutes away!"
    It looks like the arguments here break down to two mindsets:
    1. The Cloistered, privileged and lucky (so far)
    2. Those who have seen life's ugly realities & also know that Governments always seek to more thoroughly dominate their Subjects.

  9. Looks like the NRA and arms dealer flacks were all over this one. Yeah, guys, let's just arm *everyone* because that will save lots of lives… and your concerns are all about protecting human rights and saving lives. Couldn't have anything to do with money, could it?

  10. Coments are allover the lot, but the real culprit is the NRA. Without it and its millions (humans and $) ranting behind their misunderstanding of the constitution, plus its wholehearted support of the arms industry and together with it literally blinding the rest of the country, the American people would be able to stand back and take a critical look at themselves. We are, indeed, gun crazy, myself included. Yes, I own three handguns. Why? Irrational fear that someone, and you read about them every day in the papers, will take a notion to invade my home or acost me. I'm not proud of it, but to me it's real.
    The NRA should support the ATT

  11. Let the arms treaty say that the government will not abuse, will not violate the human rights of the people, will not jail persons without just cause, will provide due process, will not execute, or otherwise disappear a person, will not deprive a person of his or her life, liberty, property or common rights and freedoms, will provide freedom and justice for all people and will at all times act in the best interest of all citizens or persons resident or visitor. Let the government be by the people, for the people and let the government be unarmed except for such necessary arms to defend the people from criminal elements and forces that wish to overpower, subjugate and abuse the people. Let the government stop abusive tactics and the people have no use for arms. Let the Arms Treaty say that no restriction shall be placed on the right and use of arms by the people to defend themselves against a despotic, tyrannical, abusive,non responsive government. Arms to the people, limit of arms to the government.

  12. I just don't understand the NRA. Just because the UN Gun Treaty committee is headed up by the nation that is one of the worse offenders of terrorism and the key US people behind it are some of nations leading gun control proponents is no reason to suspect it is a sinister plot. After all just because they have spent their lives trying to kill the basic human rights of millions of people is no reason to think that they would do anything to harm that most basic of rights.
    Maybe if Amnesty International had spent more time and effort protecting our rights we might trust them more. I am sorry but on this matter I must give to the NRA the money I used to give Amnesty.

  13. Evil is a human characteristic. Governments are formed by humans and therefore capable of evil. Ours is the only Constitution constructed to check government by protecting the rights of the individual. This treaty undermines that Constitution. Those who would put their ultimate trust in government for protection and security will always lose that security along with losing their freedom. Amnesty has chosen the side of evill on this issue.

  14. …Follow the money. It is as simple as that. The ATT will have no jurisdiction that would infringe upon the laws within the U.S. that guarantee american citizens their enumerated rights under the second amendment; those that think that it will are simply misinformed.
    Further, the debate over the issue of second-amendment rights in this context is not a question of sacrificing freedoms for a sense of security, it is that a well informed citizenry cannot be exploited. And (in this context) the NRA is far less a heroic defender of the second amendment, than it is a well funded mouth-peice for the industrial gun lobby. Follow the money, people…. The staggering amount of money that the Industrialized military complex sees itself loosing if the ATT were 'adopted' is far more the reason that the NRA is pulling out all the stops to rally its base in opposition to the ATT. In this case, the NRA flaunts that it is the bastion of our second-amendment rights while actually using fear to exploit anyone who will listen to its well funded well organize and expertly crafted misinformation as it conjures the imaginary threats to our civil liberties to further industrial gun-lobby interests.
    It is logical, reasonable and humane to adopt ATT to help to address the cycle of violence and tragedy caused by 'insurgent' arms around the world; and it will not infringe upon our rights as responsible gun owners and american citizens.

  15. Very few people ever really believe or can quite comprehend the truly uncalled for miseries of so many others unless it happens to be someone in THEIR family or circle of friends! I suppose I don't really quite wish them the all too common misfortunes just so that they might actually understand before it's too late! Peace, Pat

  16. If this wee to be ratified in the US, would that mean no more imported guns and ammo sold here?

  17. @John – no. The US is still free to make its own legislation and to import guns and ammo as the market dictates.

  18. Thanks to everyone for the comments and lively debate. Please remember: what is at stake here is not the right to gun ownership, but rather accountability and transparency in the international arms trade. Amnesty International is calling for an arms treaty that would prevent weapons from being sold to regimes and armed groups that use these weapons to commit atrocities.

  19. I wish armed conflict would disappear, but this is obviously "pie in the sky." People want real justice, not kangaroo court of law type justice, and when the traditional institutions don't provide it, folks will take the law into their own hands.

    Guns are neutral, just as is a knife. In the hands of a skilled surgeon it can save a life; in the hands of a killer, it can take one.

    One thing I've noticed about the International Court of Justice is that it seems that only losers are charged with Crimes Against Humanity…

    I had a colleague who was in the Arms Business; he had lots of stories to tell…


  20. What people should be petitioning for is for the law to STRICTLY ENFORCE the so called …….10-20-LIFE LAW….. All you anti gun people should know of that law well maybe not cuz THEY DONT ENFORCE IT. Posess a gun during a felony .10 MANDATORY yrs if ya shoot it during a felony 20 MANDATORY yrs ya shoot somebody (kill or not) MANDATORY Life in prison. Dont take away the guns PUT AWAY the criminals Guns are not the problem… Criminals idiots mostly kids young adults. You can tighten the reigns & pass all the laws ya want the majority of most all the guns involved in crime are STOLEN. HELLOO thats why they are called throw aways on the streets people ya dont really believe that criminals actually have legal legitimate firearms think about it convicted FELONS DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS so what good is the crap in this petition gonna do? Its like my uncle always said….The Day Guns Are Outawd Is When Only Outlaws will Have Guns. Nobody want that day to happen

  21. As a person who supports the rights of gun owners I would still like it to be harder to obtain a gun, and certainly hard to obtain large amounts of ammunition. Also I would like to see more comprehensive laws in the area of gun exports. If we are going to do this, we should make our own laws, not allow some do nothing body like the U.N to mess in our affairs. The U.N is one of the most pathetic organizations in the world, and we would be foolish to allow them to dictate such an important aspect of American culture.

  22. Reply to Anon:
    Given that the proposed Arms Trade Treaty has nothing to do with U.S. domestic gun law that pertains to our rights as enumerated in the Second Amendment…
    Anon, where would YOU like to start with your plan " to see more comprehensive laws in the area of gun exports" ? Keeping in mind that the NRA's lobby machine has nearly unlimited resources to protect, not the rights of you and I as responsible gun owners, but the rights of the massive gun manufacturing industry and their vested interests in the steady flow of weapons to anywhere in the world that they can make a buck? Do you think that our congress will make laws to support the restriction of these arms exports that ultimately make their way into the destructive, global, black market, arena while "Citizens United" ,thanks to our short-sited friends on the right side of the Supreme Court, has opened the flood gates of corporate money flowing into the pockets of our current law-makers and candidate's elections?
    But if you have some solution to that problem it will only solve the U.S. contribution to the global, black market, mayhem. Because, Anon, the U.S. Congress has no legislative powers beyond our borders. So how do you propose that we address the massive amount of arms getting into the global black market from a host of other countries that are contributing to the violence and tragedy? Now, I'm among those that know that the U.N. is far from perfect– much like our own system of government, but it is still the best system we have for peaceful, and sometimes constructive, dialogue between nations. And, I'm not saying that you or someone else can't think of a better way to help stem the disastrous affect that the global, black market gun trade has had in so many desperate countries and regions around the world; but what's wrong with the countries that contribute to most of the insanity — agreeing to a proposed Arms Trade Treaty that is intended to reduce the catastrophic brutality of the international, black market, trade of arms?

  23. What about MACHETES Mr. ADOTEI AKWEI, why have you not called on a ban of them. Surely you must know Adotei that HALF A MILLION people were hacked to death at a rate guns would have found hard to keep up with. 500,000 Africans killed without a single shot, killed by their own countrymen.
    No, don't blame guns, the USA, has millions of guns in the homes of private citizen, yet the picture you
    show at the beginning of your article doesn't shock anyone, as it is common place to see such things in black African run regimes. No that's not racist that is truth, as you would never see such a picture in the streets of the US.. One last thing, you do know Adotei that passage of this treaty would affect every black run govt. in the world, and you could not come back later and say it's a racist bill.

  24. Also, Logan, name one thing the UN has done that has had any positive affect, just one. You can't they are a joke, how many times has genocide occured while the UN stood by and did nothing but have meetings. The whole organization is waste of money, time, and do nothing but give false hope to those who need help. If they can do nothing to help stop a genocide, you think they can keep guns out of the hands of a people whose culture says it's ok to arm 8 yr olds. Grow up guy, and stop watching cartoons.

  25. Oh yes, let's rush to ban weapons because the ban on drugs is working so well…

  26. Yeah well, funky ad….is there anyone with a gun that is not an abuser? Amnesty writes "prevent weapons to fall into dangerous hands" – possessing a weapon implicates that you are dangerous, isn't it??

  27. Let the government be by the people, for the people and let the government be unarmed except for such necessary arms to defend the people from criminal elements and forces that wish to overpower, subjugate and abuse the people.

  28. You will surely consider me an extremist and whatnot. Still, I will say my piece:

    Guns are a necessary evil. My family survived the war in Bosnia. Neither my dad, nor my mom, nor their friends would have survived without the black market. See, the international community thought it was a good idea to deny us weapons when somebody was commiting genocide against us. If my father didn't have an AK, I wouldn't be alive today. Neither would my brothers. And we aren't a special case, it is common for us refugees to have had to use weapons to survive. And because of that it is also nice to be armed for the next time something like that happens. Stuff like war is always unthinkable that it will happen until it actually happens. Yugoslavia was rich and nobody thought there'd be a war, yet it happened. Lybia? Rich country, still a war broke out.

    Also, going after the civilian and per default legal gun owner isn't really a solution. In regards to crime, you need a prison system that isn't for profit but rather focused on reforming the criminals. Look at Norway, they have done things right in that regard.

  29. At least there should be more restriction to gun owners – especially for those who want to buy a new one. Get more detailed medical report, make sure that they don't have any mental issue, or under stress/depression/family problems.