United States Signs Global Arms Trade Treaty


Secretary of State John Kerry signs the Arms Trade Treaty

Secretary of State John Kerry signs the Arms Trade Treaty

CREDIT: ThinkProgress

UNITED NATIONS — The United States on Wednesday finally added its name to the signatories of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a step sure to please human rights activists and enrage Republicans.

Secretary of State John Kerry signed the treaty on behalf of the United States on Wednesday, making the U.S. the 91st country to do so. “I signed it because President Obama knows that from decades of efforts that anytime we work with cooperatively with the illicit trade in conventional weapons, we make the world a safe place,” Kerry said. “And this treaty is a significant step in that effort.”

The legal arms trade, comprised of both the import and export weapons, constitutes around $70 billion annually. Attack helicopters, tanks, and other larger arms are covered under the treaty, as well as small arms and ammunition for these weapons. Under the terms of the treaty, states are required to determine whether the shipment of arms to a second country would be used to commit atrocities or violate human rights or if they could diverted for such a purpose, and report back to the U.N. Secretariat on their efforts.

Counter to worries that the ATT will constitute an infringement of the Second Amendment in the United States, the American Bar Association has concluded that Americans needn’t fear such an outcome. As the ABA points out in their white paper, import restrictions on firearms have been ruled constitutionally valid. At present, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms already regulates and tracks the import of firearms into the United States, leaving no need for further domestic legislation regarding the ATT’s implementation. Exports of firearms, the ABA also notes, are not protected under the Second Amendment.

“This treaty will not diminish anyone’s freedom,” Kerry said. “In fact the treaty recognizes the ability of both individuals and states to obtain, possess, and use arms for legit purposes. Make no mistake, we would never think about supporting a treaty that is inconsistent with the rights of Americans, the rights of American citizens, to be able to exercise their guaranteed rights under our Constitution.”

The U.S. voted in favor of the treaty in April, as did the vast majority of the world. In fact, only Syria, Iran, and North Korea voted against it.

Activists have been urging President Obama to sign the Arms Trade Treaty for months now. At the end of a meeting with Obama administration officials in August, members of a coalition of activists ranging from religious evangelicals to arms control advocates to passed along a letter to the President, urging swift action on the ATT. “Your Administration demonstrated leadership by supporting the Treaty through its development,” the letter read. “Signing the Arms Trade Treaty will demonstrate strong US leadership and help create important momentum for the treaty.”

Conservatives have been insisting, absent real evidence, that the ATT will kick the U.S. down a slippery slope towards mass gun confiscation. The National Rifle Association — never fans of the treaty — has been fundraising based on that premise, urging its members to write to their senators to vote against the treaty. For the treaty to be ratified, two-thirds of the Senate will have to vote in favor of it, giving the ATT slim prospects in the face of virulent GOP opposition.