That didn’t take long. Less than a day after President Obama’s re-election, the administration breathed new life into the United Nations‘ previously comatose treaty regulating guns.
Last July, the U.N. General Assembly began formal discussion of the Arms Trade Treaty, which seeks to establish “common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.” Talks on the controversial agreement were put on indefinite hiatus after the United States requested an extension to the time allotted to negotiate the agreement.
Gun rights supporters blasted the treaty as it inched toward approval, and many suspected U.S. procedural maneuvers were intended to delay the treaty so it wouldn’t become a topic of discussion during the election. It appears these suspicions were correct since “indefinite” turned out to mean until hours after Mr. Obama was re-elected.
The administration line is that the treaty applies only to firearms exports and poses no threat to domestic gun owners. “We seek a treaty that contributes to international security by fighting illicit arms trafficking and proliferation, protects the sovereign right of states to conduct legitimate arms trade, and meets the concerns that we have been articulating throughout,” an administration official said. “We will not accept any treaty that infringes on the constitutional rights of our citizens to bear arms.”
It is hard to take the White House response seriously. The treaty instructs countries to “take the necessary legislative and administrative measures, to adapt, as necessary, national laws and regulations to implement the obligations of this treaty.” The agreement’s language is so broad, vague and poorly defined it could be stretched in a variety of ways that would pose a threat to the Second Amendment. Treaty backers also want to insert provisions forcing ratifying states to promote a variety of fashionable left-wing causes including “sustainable development,” even though they have nothing to do with the arms trade.
Though the treaty is supposed to be about “gun exports,” its provisions can still be applied domestically. Activist judges adjudicating cases arising under the treaty and enabling legislation could see to that. The definition of international commerce could follow the same expansive logic liberal courts have used to redefine “interstate commerce.” Anything that indirectly or incidentally affects the trade in arms would fall under its control.
A ratified treaty, with constitutional authority, could be interpreted in a way that applies to any imported weapon or round of ammunition, those made with foreign components, those containing imported materials, those that might some day be exported, and those capable of being exported. If it affects the overall arms market, it could be said to be part of “international” trade, even if the item never leaves our shores.
In practice this logic would give the government free rein to regulate all weapons, foreign and domestic. With the election out of the way, the White House can move swiftly to get the treaty through the U.N. General Assembly and up to the Senate by the summer of 2013. Elections have consequences.