While Washington was busy watching Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz bloviate during his not-really-a-filibuster, Secretary of State John Kerry was in New York at the U.N. General Assembly signing the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty, known as the ATT. This is a long overdue step for the U.S., joining a treaty meant to crack down on the international transfer of weapons to human rights abusers, criminals and terrorists.
America, the top arms exporter in the world, was the 91st country to sign the treaty, which passed the U.N. overwhelmingly in April. But no measure having anything to do with stricter scrutiny of guns goes anywhere in the U.S. without the gun rights lobby becoming apoplectic. So it was that the National Rifle Association's Chris Cox said, "These are blatant attacks on the constitutional rights and liberties of every law-abiding American. The NRA will continue to fight this assault on our fundamental freedom." Right-wing media piled on, railing against the "global gun grab treaty."
To get a sense of the company those opposed to the treaty are in, the only countries voting against it were Iran, North Korea and Syria (while about 20 others, including China, Cuba, Myanmar and Russia abstained). But that hasn't stopped the NRA from not only opposing the treaty, but fundraising off of it, warning that the President Obama is "trampling our Second Amendment freedoms."
Just to be clear, the treaty does no such trampling. According to a white paper from the American Bar Association's Center on Human Rights, "the treaty would not require new domestic regulations of firearms ... [Under the treaty] the United States retains the discretion to regulate the flow of weapons into and out of the United States in a manner consistent with the Second Amendment." In fact, the preamble of the treaty pays homage to the "legitimate trade and lawful ownership, and use of certain conventional arms for recreational, cultural, historical, and sporting activities."
As Amnesty International USA's Deputy Director Fank Jannuzi explained, "This treaty is simple but profound. It says that nations must not export arms and ammunition where there is an 'overriding risk' that they will be used to commit serious human rights violations." Fears that the treaty would result in jack-booted U.N. thugs coming to your house and confiscating your guns (and probably signing you up for Obamacare in the process) are completely unfounded and paranoid.
But nuttiness regarding the treaty is not confined to the gun lobby. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., reacted to Kerry signing the treaty by saying, "The administration is wasting precious time trying to sign away our laws to the global community and unelected U.N. bureaucrats." Score one more for paranoia.
But Inhofe did make a good point about the tough lift the administration will have in getting the two-thirds Senate vote necessary for ratification. In a test vote earlier this year, the Senate voted 53-46 against joining the then-unfinished treaty.
It's depressing enough that, even after the massacres at Sandy Hook, Aurora, Tuscon and the Navy Yard, Congress can't find the wherewithal to pass even the barest of domestic gun control measures. But surely we can agree that shipping guns to mass murderers in other countries is probably not a good idea?
Sadly, even that is not assured in a Congress beholden to the interests of the gun lobby. And to the NRA and its ilk, preventing the export of tanks and missile launchers to human rights abusers is akin to shredding the Bill of Rights.