According to the Christian Science Monitor, the United Nations will release the final version of its Arms Trade Treaty this today. Many Second Amendment activists are concerned that the treaty will be used as a vehicle to force gun control measures and bans on the American people in spite of strong congressional and public opposition.
According to Yahoo News, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney recently said, “"I think there is an issue about the stalemate in Congress"[on gun laws]. He continued, "And there are things that we can do short of legislation and short of gun laws, as the President said, that can reduce violence in our society and, as he mentioned last night, in our urban centers."
In the past, when President Obama has encountered a congressional stalemate, his response has often been to act unilaterally and without regard to the Constitution or existing law. When Congress did not pass net neutrality rules, President Obama’s FCC did it anyway. Likewise, President Obama’s EPA unilaterally enacted carbon regulations when Congress failed to pass cap-and-trade. Earlier this year, President Obama used recess appointments to fill several positions even though Congress was still in session. In June, the president announced unilateral changes to U.S. immigration policy after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act. Ironically, in a White House video from 2011, President Obama can be heard saying of the DREAM Act, “I just have to continue to say this notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is just not true,” yet that is exactly what he did a year later. Earlier this month, President Obama waived welfare’s work requirement, a clear violation of the law that essentially repeals the successful Clinton-era welfare reform.
Now there is widespread fear that the president is going to use the same tactic on America’s gun owners with the UN Arms Control Treaty. According to the Constitution, treaties require approval by a two-thirds majority, 66 votes, in the U.S. Senate. US News reports that 12 Democratic senators have joined 45 Republicans in opposing the treaty. In email responses, both of Georgia’s senators, Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, responded that they are opposed to the treaty. This means that an attempt to approve the treaty would fall far short of the required votes. So why are gun owners worried?
Political strategist Dick Morris points out that the United States is bound by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. According to Morris, under the Vienna Convention the United States is bound by a treaty signed by its representative until the treaty is approved or disapproved by the senate. Under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, treaties are the “supreme law of the land.”
In Morris’ view, the Arms Trade Treaty would take the force of law in the United States as soon as it is signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. If Obama simply failed to submit the treaty to Congress for approval, it would remain in force because the senate would not be able to disapprove it. If a Republican president submitted the treaty to the senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid would simply refuse to bring it to a vote. The treaty would remain in force until a Republican president presented it to a Republican senate which then voted it down.
Morris writes that the treaty will be administered by an international support unit (ISU). The ISU determines which nations are in compliance with the treaty and can direct those that are not to use “all necessary measures… to prevent the diversion of exported arms to the illicit market or to unintended end users. ” This could mean that the UN could force the US to halt support to freedom fighters like those that toppled Moammar Gadhafi in Libya or even to established nations like Taiwan, which is not recognized by China. Morris believes that it would also lead to gun registration, restrictions on ownership and bans of guns.
Former UN Ambassador John Bolton agrees with Morris. “The real danger,” he writes, “lies in vague, ambiguous stipulations gun-control advocates could later cite as requiring further domestic restraints. In other words, they hope to use restrictions on international gun sales to control gun sales at home.”
A draft of the treaty that circulated last week “would require all countries to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms and to regulate arms brokers” and “prohibit states that ratify the treaty from transferring conventional weapons that violate arms embargoes or facilitate acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes” according to US News. “Crimes against humanity” and “war crimes” are very vague and subjective terms. Such charges have even been alleged against members of the U.S. military.
President Obama has not commented publicly on the arms treaty, but Hillary Clinton released a statement in 2009 endorsing the treaty as it was in the negotiations stage. “The United States,” she wrote, “is committed to actively pursuing a strong and robust treaty that contains the highest possible, legally binding standards for the international transfer of conventional weapons.”
The upcoming election is makes the situation even more complex. Support for gun control has seen a long-term decline according to Gallup. Even in the wake of the Colorado killings, only 41 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws according to Rasmussen. Overwhelming support for the Second Amendment means that even few Democrats admit to supporting more gun control. This is especially true of Democrats in swing districts.
The lack of support for gun control means that it is unlikely that President Obama wants to be seen as advancing gun control measures just before a close election. It is much more likely that President Obama would sign the Arms Trade Treaty as a lame duck or re-elected president. The battle over gun control and ratification of the treaty would then move to the senate where the results of the election could determine the future of the right of Americans to keep and bear arms.
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