The Myth of the UN Gun Grab

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem speaks during the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the United Nat
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem speaks during the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations in New York on October 1, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/GettyImages)

The United States debate on guns is a national one, and that's the way it should be.

Some, however, are trying to drag the United Nations into this fray, because of its alleged intention to end private gun ownership in this country. They say that this is a goal of the draft Arms Trade Treaty, being negotiated at the UN since Monday.

This absurd but often-repeated claim requires a strong rebuttal. So let me set the record straight, starting with what this treaty will not do.

It will not in any way deprive citizens of the right to possess guns. Each country establishes its own rules on gun ownership and the UN Charter prohibits interventions in their domestic affairs.

Yet the UN does have a constructive role to play as a global "town hall" for countries to pursue their mutual interests, including through the negotiation of global pacts like the Arms Trade Treaty.

And this treaty is certainly neither anti-U.S. nor anti-gun. It is grounded in common sense, not some hidden agenda. Consider the context in which this treaty will be negotiated.

Many countries are fed up with the diverse and often vague -- or non-existent -- criteria some export licensing authorities use for licensing arms transfers. Others object to the lax national controls on the international arms trade.

We have today agreed international standards regulating trade in t-shirts, bananas and toys, and virtually all other goods -- but not for weapons. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called the absence of a global arms trade treaty "a disgrace" and with good reason.

The resulting free-for-all has become a tragedy-for-all. This is not a problem to leave for tomorrow. It is a plight of humanity today. On the average, over a half million people are killed each year -- including 66,000 women and girls -- and many more injured by armed violence.

We see some governments using airplanes, tanks and artillery against their own civilians. Some acting as conduits for illicit weapons transfers to points unknown, no questions asked. Some supplying arms used in civil wars that have split nations. Some still importing arms despite longstanding UN arms embargoes against them.

Meanwhile, various non-state groups are adding more fuel to this fire. There are drug cartels in Latin America that have arsenals larger than the armies of entire countries while gun runners are profiteering on the blood of innocent civilians across the globe.

Even international aid workers have been drawn into the line of fire: some humanitarian organizations have to spend up to a quarter of their budget on their own security. In the first decade of this century, more than 780 humanitarian workers were killed in armed attacks.

Poorly regulated international arms deals also affect a great deal of the work of the United Nations. They encourage armed conflict and prevent the peaceful resolution of disputes. They set back social and economic development. They lead to massive human rights violations. They kill innocent civilians and our peacekeepers.

All of these tragedies raise the same questions. Where were the weapons produced? Were they properly licensed for export or re-transfer? What standards were used to authorize such transfers?

There is an obvious and compelling need for improved transparency, accountability and responsibility by all governments engaged in the international trade in conventional arms.

This is what the treaty will do. It will cover a comprehensive array of arms, from warships and fighter jets to battle tanks and machine guns--including their ammunition. It will set the highest common standards for the global trade in weapons and prevent arms export requests denied by one country from being approved by another.

So don't be deceived by the gun-grab rhetoric. An international commitment to strong standards on arms transfers will help to ensure that the global arms trade meets the legitimate security needs of all countries.

This is why the Arms Trade Treaty is so urgently needed.

It is a legitimate response to the challenge of curbing the senseless supply of arms to dictators, and their diversion to warlords, criminal gangs, pirates, child soldiers, and terrorists. It's time to take sides. Time to tell the truth. Time to conclude this treaty.