Just over a month after the Senate defeated a gun-buyer background-check bill put together by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), which received only 54 of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster, the Obama administration has taken a symbolic step by announcing that the U.S. will sign a controversial UN treaty on arms regulation.
Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement Monday saying, "We look forward to signing it as soon as the process of conforming the official translations is completed satisfactorily.” Kerry called the treaty "an important contribution to efforts to stem the illicit trade in conventional weapons, which fuels conflict, empowers violent extremists, and contributes to violations of human rights."
Once signed, the treaty will be sent to the Senate for ratification, where it is sure to fail. If a two-thirds majority ratified it, the treaty would require national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms, from light weapons to combat aircraft, by evaluating whether the weapons would be used to violate international human-rights laws or employed by terrorists or organized crime. It would not, however, control the domestic use of weapons. Nonetheless, senators understand that approving the treaty would be construed as supporting stricter gun-control legislation for citizens.
There is bipartisan resistance to the treaty in Congress stemming from both a fear that it will catalyze renewed attempts at gun control, and that it will set a precedent for international law superseding the Constitution and domestic laws. That is the message 130 lawmakers sent in a letter to Obama and Kerry: "As your review of the treaty continues, we strongly encourage your administration to recognize its textual, inherent and procedural flaws, to uphold our country's constitutional protections of civilian firearms ownership, and to defend the sovereignty of the United States, and thus to decide not to sign this treaty," the lawmakers wrote.
In March, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) successfully introduced an amendment into the budget preventing the U.S. from entering into the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty in order to uphold the Second Amendment. However, that amendment would only enter into effect if the budget itself were passed.
The treaty aims to regulate the $60-billion global arms-trade industry. The Control Arms Coalition, which includes hundreds of non-governmental organizations, says this treaty will be a major step in preventing the more than 500,000 deaths caused by armed violence every year. Signatories will be prohibited from transferring conventional weapons in violation of embargoes or when a state believes they could be used against civilian targets.
This symbolic gesture shows that Obama believes that on an international level something must be done to control the arms trade. This also serves as a notice to countries such as Russia, which has been selling weapons to Syria's Assad regime. In the unlikely event that the Senate realizes that these measures will do little to affect law-abiding American citizens, there is hope that this treaty could help set international standards to avoid massacres such as the ones we have seen in Syria.