Arms Trade Treaty: Myths and Realities

Demonstrators from Amnesty International chant outside the White House in Washington, DC, March 22, 2013, as they protest cal
Demonstrators from Amnesty International chant outside the White House in Washington, DC, March 22, 2013, as they protest calling for strong support for a comprehensive global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

More than 150 countries are in New York at the United Nations finalizing negotiations for an international Arms Trade Treaty. The leadership of the National Rifle Association and their allies are mounting a campaign of lies and fear to build American opposition to the treaty, inaccurately arguing that the treaty would infringe on Americans right to bear arms. Before the lies spread too far, I'd like to set the record straight.

MYTH: The Arms Trade Treaty attempts to limit Americans Second Amendment freedoms.

The Arms Trade Treaty is an enormous and long-overdue step toward reducing violent conflict around the world by helping to keep weapons out of the hands of war criminals and violent extremists. The treaty being negotiated will not, however, have any impact whatsoever on domestic ownership or domestic transfers of arms. In fact, no international treaty can override US constitutional rights, including Second Amendment rights.

MYTH: The Arms Trade Treaty will impose greater costs and regulatory burdens on United States businesses, particularly gun manufacturers.

The treaty will not require any additional reporting by U.S. companies. The United States already has some of the strictest and transparent reporting systems for the import and export of arms. The State Department currently publishes a report, mandated by Congress that lists the value and quantity of defense equipment and services sold to each foreign country from US arms and defense manufacturers. The U.S. also reports annually to the UN Register of Conventional Arms. Congress may elect to require additional reporting on the arms trade in the future, but that will be up to Congress and not the treaty.

MYTH: The Arms Trade Treaty threatens the security of the United States by giving totalitarian governments the right to transfer arms.

Unless a country is under international sanctions, governments already have the right to trade arms. The treaty is needed to restrain that right by making it unlawful for countries to facilitate human rights abuse and other crimes through the arms trade. The treaty enhances the security of the United States by extending standards similar to those in U.S. law to all nations, many of which don't have any laws at all.

MYTH: The treaty requires American gun owners to register their guns with the United Nations.

The treaty does not require individuals to register their guns with the United Nations or any government agency. The treaty will require each country to adopt measures to prevent weapons from leaking out of the legal arms trade into the black market by keeping records of weapons entering or leaving the country. The record-keeping requirements in the treaty for cross-border trade are the same as current US law.

MYTH: The treaty is worthless if major arms exporters like Russia and China do not sign on.

While it is true that a treaty will be most effective if it is universally agreed to, there is still great value to a treaty that is supported by both exporting countries -- such as the U.S., Germany, France, and the United Kingdom -- and countries suffering from the damaging effects of irresponsible arms transfers. Even if major manufacturers like Russia and China don't ratify the treaty, it would still become binding international law and send a strong message to those that don't adopt it. This has been the case with other treaties, such as the Ottawa Convention on anti-personnel mines. Many countries, including the United States, are not a party to the convention. However, the U.S. has not used, exported, or built anti-personnel landmines since the treaty was developed and landmines have become so stigmatized due to the treaty that only three governments have put landmines in the ground since 2010.