U.S. Gun Rights at Issue in United Nations Effort
BY BRUCE ALPERT
c.2005 Newhouse News Service
WASHINGTON -- Expressing concern that the United Nations' efforts to stem international gun running could impede the rights of U.S. gun owners, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., is proposing legislation to bar financing for the world organization should it infringe on Americans' Second Amendment rights.
Critics of Vitter's bill, including Eric Howard of the Brady Campaign = to Prevent Gun Violence, accuse the freshman senator of placating voters who oppose gun control and are cynical about the United Nations. Howard said the bill could torpedo international efforts to stem the flow of arms to brutal militias in Africa and elsewhere that target civilians, particularly children.
Vitter, who calls his bill The Second Amendment Protection Act of 2005, said he's all for reducing the spread of weapons to terrorists, criminals or violent insurgents. "But the U.N. efforts seem to go well beyond that into an area that threatens the Second Amendment rights of Americans to keep and bear arms," he said.
Among the steps Vitter said have been discussed by U.N. delegates at a recent meeting are tracking lists of all firearm sales, worldwide record-keeping of all manufactured guns and even the licensing of all gun owners, measures he said are anathema to U.S. gun owners.
Vitter, who introduced his bill just before the start of the August recess, has nine co-sponsors, all Republicans.
Rebecca Peters, director of the London-based International Action Network on Small Arms, said that while the National Rifle Association is trying to portray the U.N. effort as an attempt to require Americans to register their guns, the consensus of delegates who met at the United Nations last month is quite different.
The emphasis, she said, is on getting international agreements to notify countries when arms are being shipped across international boundaries, a requirement that manufacturers produce an identifying trait, much like a fingerprint, so officials can identify guns used in crimes and military attacks, and a system to ensure the destruction or securing of surplus military weapons and those confiscated in crime investigations.
U.N. delegates at the conference said they would return for another meeting next summer to try to draw up a treaty, although Peters said opposition from the United States and its new U.N. Ambassador John Bolton may make that task difficult, if not impossible.
"I'm sorry if the senator (Vitter) is feeling anxious, but I'm happy to assure him that there is no danger of the United Nations coming in and confiscating guns of his constituents," Peters said. Even if that's what U.N. delegates wanted, she said, the United States would be unlikely to ratify a treaty with such provisions.
At its July meeting on gun running, the United Nations released a report estimating that 500,000 people have died over the past decade from injuries caused by small weapons or guns used in crimes or military attacks. Children are frequent victims, the U.N. report said.
Wendy Cukier, president of Canada's Coalition to End Gun Violence, said the issue is a priority to the United States' northern and southern neighbors because 80 percent of gun crimes committed in Mexico and 50 percent in Canada involve guns that originated in the United States. Strong gun control laws in Mexico and Canada, she said, are being undermined by lax laws in the United States.
"The United States never hesitates to impose standards on other countries: pushing Canada to strengthen its border controls in the fight on terrorism and for Mexico and Central American countries to reduce the flow of drugs north across the border," Cukier said. "But it won't take steps to reduce the flow of guns outside the United States, and that's a big problem in Canada and Mexico."
Under the Vitter bill, the United States would be barred from providing financing to the United Nations unless the president of the United States certifies that the United Nations "has not taken action to restrict, attempt to restrict, or otherwise adversely infringe upon the rights of individuals in the United States to possess a firearm or ammunition ..."
Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said that Vitter is right to be concerned about what the United Nations might do in the name of reducing gun violence. "While the goals may be noble, their intent is very clear and that is impeding the rights of law-abiding Americans to own guns," Arulanandam said.
Aug. 16, 2005
(Bruce Alpert can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)