John Yoo and John Bolton — the former Justice Department official responsible for the “Bush torture memos” and the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. respectively — took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal on Monday sounding the alarm against the sneaky way the Obama administration will come for Americans’ guns: the United Nations. In particular, the recently passed Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is, according to Yoo and Bolton, the vehicle that the White House means to use to go around Congress and the Constitution itself to violate citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
Yoo and Bolton see in the text of the ATT — drafted to regulate the $70 billion arms trade and keep tanks and fighter jets out of the hands of frequent human rights violators — a clear and easy way for the Obama administration to get everything the authors believe to be the end goals of the gun violence debate in the U.S. without the approval of the American people:
But the new treaty also demands domestic regulation of “small arms and light weapons.” The treaty’s Article 5 requires nations to “establish and maintain a national control system,” including a “national control list.” Article 10 requires signatories “to regulate brokering” of conventional arms. The treaty offers no guarantee for individual rights, but instead only declares it is “mindful” of the “legitimate trade and lawful ownership” of arms for”recreational, cultural, historical, and sporting activities.” Not a word about the right to possess guns for a broader individual right of self-defense.
Gun-control advocates will use these provisions to argue that the U.S. must enact measures such as a national gun registry, licenses for guns and ammunition sales, universal background checks, and even a ban of certain weapons. The treaty thus provides the Obama administration with an end-run around Congress to reach these gun-control holy grails.
Their article syncs with other conservatives dire warnings of a new “national gun registry,” despite precisely zero proposals from Democrats to enact one. The portion of the treaty Yoo and Bolton cite does not include specifics on what a “national control list” looks like, and refers to the export of arms and their components. This in turn does not imply the type of Federal individual ownership list Republicans fear and Vice President Joe Biden has made clear isn’t soon coming.
Already, though, the Federal government implements many of the provisions of the Arms Trade Treaty, requiring no new enabling legislation. The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco already keeps regulates and tracks the import of firearms into the United States, despite the best efforts of Republicans to choke off its authority. And as the American Bar Association points out in a White Paper on the ATT, the export of firearms and other weapons is not covered under citizens’ Second Amendment rights. And the authors fail to mention that while Article 10 does call for states to “regulate brokering” of conventional arms, they are required to do so “subject to its national laws.” Unless Yoo and Bolton mean to imply that the Federal government has no right to regulate the sale of guns whatsoever, the point they make is moot.
The passage of the Arms Trade Treaty at the U.N. came at the apex of the renewed debate over gun laws in the United States, lending itself well to a multitude of crackpot conspiracies. Seemingly comfortable in joining such international pariah states as North Korea, Syria, and Iran in opposing the treaty, the conservative wing in American politics vowed to block the agreement from coming into force before the text was even written. The reasoning given — that the ATT will violate the Second Amendment — has already been debunked by one of their own.
Republicans are still rallying in the Senate to completely block the treaty from receiving the two-thirds vote required for ratification, as figures like Bolton and Yoo spur forward. Given their expansive view of the powers granted to the President under the Constitution, and their frequent urging to President George W. Bush to use them, Yoo and Bolton’s worries over abuse come across as hollow.