Secretary of State John Kerry signed Tuesday the United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty, intended to discourage the sale of conventional weapons to individuals and groups involved in human rights abuses or other crimes, but ratification of the agreement still faces stiff domestic opposition.
The U.S. hopes the treaty, under which countries would have to establish systems to track the import and export of weapons sales between them, could help stop or slow the flow of weapons from Russia to Syria.
But it is running into stiff domestic opposition from the gun lobby. The treaty requires at least 50 United Nations member countries to sign it and two-thirds of the U.S. Senate to ratify it before it can take effect.
The National Rifle Association signaled its opposition and warned senators to vote against it in a statement today that said, in part, the treaty “threatens individual firearm ownership with an invasive registration scheme.”
The NRA has shown its strength again and again this year, first being able to pressure legislators not to act after the massacre at an elementary school in Connecticut and then again, leading the effort to recall two Democratic state senators in Colorado who supported that state’s stricter gun laws that passed earlier this year.
During the treaty signing ceremony Tuesday, though, Kerry said the treaty would not impose any additional regulations on U.S. weapons transfers because there is already a robust system in place, nor would it “diminish anyone’s freedom,” because it would not apply to domestic sales.
U.S. officials recognize the political realities. During a May Atlantic Council event, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman acknowledged that the treaty would likely not get through the Senate to be ratified. So far, 107 countries have signed on, but only six have fully ratified it.
The treaty does not impose specific requirements, but the United States has recommended its own system of regulation as a model. All weapons imported to or exported from the United States must be licensed under the Arms Export Control Act, enforced by the State Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The Arms Trade Treaty “will require States Parties to establish export and import control systems closer to the high standard the United States already sets with its own national system,” a fact sheet released by the State Department read.
The discretion of each signatory to come up with its own regulations has caused some skepticism of the treaty’s effectiveness. At a panel discussion at the May Atlantic Council meeting, one panelist said the “treaty won’t do anything on its own,” because it is left up to the states to determine whether the recipient of an arms transfer might commit crimes with those weapons.
But Countryman countered that the treaty would provide a “moral imperative” for signatory countries, many of whom have no weapons transfers regulations currently in place, to more rigorously monitor where their arms end up.”