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The NRA and the Arms Trade Treaty


The National Rifle Association says, “Guns don’t kill people.  People do.”  But I think the gun helps.

— Eddie Izzard,  British Comedian 

April 2, 2013 was a great day for those in favor of the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty.  It was last considered (but not approved) at the United Nations in July 2012, one week after the Aurora, Colorado movie theater mass murder.  It did not get approval because, among other countries, both the United States and Russia wanted more time to study the treaty.  Their concerns satisfied, on April 2, 2013 it was approved by 154 votes in the General Assembly.  The United States supported its approval and Russia abstained.

The object of the treaty is to:  “Establish the highest possible common international standards for regulating or improving the regulation of the international trade in conventional arms “ and to “prevent and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms. . . .” The treaty applies to conventional arms within the following categories: battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers and small arms and light weapons.

Only four countries voted against the treaty.  They were The Islamic Republic of Iran,  The Syrian Arab Republic,  The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea  and The Republic of N.R.A. (The Republic of N.R.A. is not technically a country but it has complete control over what decisions are made by the U.S. government when it considers matters pertaining to guns and for those purposes it can be considered a country.)

North Korea has recently been in the news because of assorted comments made by that country’s “dear respected Marshal” or “the greatest ever commander” Kim Jong-un, and the N.R.A. has recently been in the news because of comments made by its chief executive officer, Wayne LaPierre.

While visiting the Wonae Islet Defense Detachment Mr. Kim told the troops: “A guy who is fond of playing with fire is bound to perish in flames, all the enemies quite often playing with fire in the sensitive hot spot should be thrown into a cauldron once I issue an order.  Once an order is issued, you should break the waists of the crazy enemies, totally cut their windpipes and thus clearly show them what a real war is like.”: Mr. LaPierre has suggested we’d all be  better off if  every school in the country had armed guards, a suggestion that would require hundreds of thousands of armed guards and cost billions of dollars.

The four countries that opposed the approval of the treaty on April 2 had different reasons for their opposition.  Syria objected to the lack of a ban on weapon sales to “terrorist armed groups and to non-state actors” referring, of course, to those opposing Bashar al-Assad’s government.  Iran argued that the treaty was “hugely susceptible to politicization and discrimination.” North Korea, Syria, and Iran, all agreed that the part of the treaty that requires an arms exporter to determine whether arms being exported to a country could be used to: “commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law [or]. . . human rights law” would be used to block their purchases of weapons. Those three countries fear potential exporters would think that they violate humanitarian and human rights law even though the leaders of those countries know that’s untrue. The N.R.A. was not concerned with the part of the treaty dealing with tanks and warships. Its concern is with the language referring to small arms and light weapons.

Discussing the treaty in 2012, N.R.A. president, David Keene, said:   “Where people don’t get what they want through Congress they say:  ‘Let’s go to the United Nations and try and end-run the Congress, end-run the Constitution, end-run the state legislatures and the federal courts.  And that’s what the Obama administration is doing with the Arms Trade Treaty at the U.N. . . .’” He might have added that it’s also an end-run around the N.R.A..  Mr. Keene made those comments even though the preamble to the treaty specifically reaffirms “the sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its territory pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system” and, in addition, recites that it is:   “Mindful of the legitimate trade and lawful ownership, and use of certain conventional arms for recreational, cultural, historical, and sporting activities, where such trade, ownership and use are permitted or protected by law.”

Thomas Countryman is Assistant Secretary of State.  Unlike Messrs. LaPierre and Keene he has read the treaty. Speaking at the 2012 conference on the treaty he observed:  “[T]his treaty will regulate only the international trade in arms.  Any attempt to include provisions in the treaty that would interfere with each state’s sovereign control over the domestic possession, use, or movement of arms is clearly outside the scope of our mandate.”

The treaty will go into effect 90 days after 50 member states approve it. Only those signing on to it will be bound by it. For the U.S. to be bound the treaty must be ratified by  the United States Senate, a body controlled by the N.R.A.

Until the N.R.A. approves, Senate ratification of the treaty will not take place. People wondering when that may occur should contact either David Keene or Wayne LaPierre at N.R.A. headquarters.  They can be reached at 1-877-NRA-2000.

Christopher Brauchli is an attorney based in Boulder, Colorado. He can be reached at:

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