THE UNITED NATIONS -- On the day the Arms Trade Treaty was scheduled to face a consensus vote by 193 countries, ending the years-long process to establish an international agreement to curtail arms trafficking to nations torn by conflict, I listened to a member of the Liberian delegation explain his country's concerns. "We wanted a much tighter treaty," he said, referring the large group of African countries most affected by the global black market arms trade. "Those of us who live in countries devastated by civil war very clearly understand the need for a strong regulatory framework to deter non-state actors from getting weapons. This is why we wanted a mechanism for risk-assessment, and why we wanted penalties."
Without the view from Liberia, it's hard to understand yesterday's headlines about the General Assembly's approval of the treaty. Which is why during two weeks of negotiations last month, African delegations could often be seen chatting with media from around the world. On the last day of the conference especially, the North Lawn building buzzed with reporters seeking perspectives. There were Russian and Arab TV crews, Japanese magazine journalists, and writers from at least half a dozen African publications. The U.S. media presence, hailing from the world's largest arms exporter, was harder to find. Which is to say, it was nearly impossible to find.
In two weeks of commingling with ATT delegates and observers, the only American reporters I met were Ginny Simone, the face of NRA News, and Richard Johnson, a freelancer who has covered the U.N. since Brezhnev, most recently for an obscure website called South-South News. "In terms of media, it's gotten pretty sleepy around here," said Johnson, before recounting the glory days of the 1970s. "Now it's more about Twitter than press conferences. The institutional media only flocks when North Korea does something, or there's drama in the Security Council."
This lack of media presence was reflected in the pages of the nation's largest newspapers, which largely ignored the treaty negotiations. The Washington Post was a no-show. So was The Wall Street Journal. The Los Angeles Times reported from the West Coast on a State Department press release and published a story on the treaty's passage credited to "Times Staff and Wire Reports."
Lapping the field, The New York Times published three full-length reports with a U.N. dateline, two news briefs, and a table-setting piece at the start of the treaty conference. The paper benefits from investing in a full-time UN beat reporter, Neil MacFarquhar, as well as a New York-based foreign desk writer who covers the body, Rick Gladstone; the LA Times, by contrast, dispatches a New York-based reporter when they deem it necessary.
None of the major broadcast networks appear to have found the treaty worthy of even a passing mention on their airwaves. Nor did CNN, the cable network historically most interested in world news. The only major cable news channel to show up was Fox News, which relied so heavily on NRA talking points for its anti-treaty coverage that the dishes on its sat-truck outside the UN gate reminded one of turrets on an enemy tank.
The dearth of media interest runs counter to the last month's historic events, as the U.N. finally capped two decades of study groups and negotiations spanning most of the continents. On Tuesday 154 countries defied the National Rifle Association and voted yea on a treaty with aspirations to do for global arms flows what a similar majority of Americans wants done for the domestic gun market: put regulations in place to stop zealots, criminals, and terrorists from acquiring weapons and wreaking havoc. The resulting treaty is not perfect, but represents what advocates call a crucial first step in staunching the flood of lethal weapons to conflict sites around the world.
National Rifle Association News investigative reporter Ginny Simone suggested that the NRA may have influenced Iran's attempt to block the enactment of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty.
Simone's claim that that Iran "all but came out and named the NRA" during a speech against the treaty on March 28 comes as a number of commentators and news outlets are noting that the few opponents of the Arms Trade Treaty include Iran, North Korea, Syria and the NRA.
On March 28, after a week of negotiations on a treaty with the stated aim of preventing the diversion of weapons to human rights abusers, Iran, Syria and North Korea made a last minute move to block a vote to adopt the treaty. The treaty could still be adopted at a later date by a vote of the U.N. General Assembly.
In covering these developments, Carol Giacomo, a foreign affairs expert and member of The New York Times' editorial board, noted that the NRA joins rogue nations in its opposition to the treaty:
But the conclusion reached on Thursday was stark: On one side, opposing the new pact, were three of the world's pariah states - Syria, Iran and North Korea. On the other side, favoring the new pact, was ... everybody else.
The opposition included the conservative Heritage Foundation and the National Gun Rifle Association. As usual they ginned up dark visions of how any limits on conventional arms sales would deprive Americans of their weapons, which is totally false: The Obama administration bent over backwards to make sure the treaty excluded domestic sales and, in any event, as the American Bar Association affirmed, the treaty did not and could not infringe on Americans' constitutionally-guaranteed Second Amendment Rights.
The NRA and its lobbying arm, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, have so far remained silent on the negotiation outcome - even though the NRA fiercely lobbied against the adoption of the treaty during negotiations. On July 27, 2012, the day a previous round of negotiations stalled, the NRA issued a celebratory press release that took credit for "killing the U.N. ATT."
Simone, however, addressed the most recent developments during the March 28 edition of the NRA News' Cam & Company show on the Sportsman Channel:
SIMONE: You know earlier today everybody said, "We're pretty sure it's gonna pass." They were saying earlier on that maybe there be problems with India. But it looks like that's been ironed out. And then all of a sudden right after lunch they came back and said it looks like there's problems with Iran. And then more we started talking to people the more the list got longer to include North Korea and Syria. And it was really interesting, Iran's statement. They all but came out and named the NRA, Cam. They said it didn't like the treaty because it favored the constitutional protection of gun ownership for one country. It didn't name the country. You got to be sure they were talking about the U.S.
The National Rifle Association's fearmongering over the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty has reached a zenith, with its media representatives claiming that passing the treaty would result in "192 other countries to tell[ing] us what our gun control laws ought to be," while not passing the treaty would result in "even more of a threat when it comes to our Second Amendment."
Negotiations are currently taking place on the treaty, which aims to prevent the diversion of weapons to human-rights abusers in order to reduce the estimated 500,000 deaths that occur worldwide each year as a result of armed violence.
While the NRA routinely trumpets - and fundraises off of - the baseless conspiracy that the treaty is actually an Obama administration plot to disarm Americans, the text of the treaty proposal plainly states that it seeks to regulate the international trade in arms and not nations' domestic gun policies. Far from meddling in America's domestic gun affairs as the NRA claims, the treaty actually seeks to implement on an international scale arms trade standards already in place in the United States.
The latest claims from the NRA on the treaty came during the March 19 edition of the NRA's Cam & Company show on the Sportsman Channel when NRA News investigative journalist Ginny Simone interviewed Fox News contributor and NRA advisor John Bolton. During that interview, Bolton and Simone suggested that while it would be a disaster for the Second Amendment if the treaty were enacted, it would be even worse if it wasn't.
SIMONE: But you know John, they claim this is the final conference. So here's a what if. What if it doesn't get by this conference? And what if it doesn't get by the General Assembly and the U.N. decides, or the countries, the member states at the U.N., decide to go outside? Is that even more of a threat when it comes to our Second Amendment?
BOLTON: Well I think it is. And it actually allows more freedom for those who have an international control agenda to pursue.
The latest cover story from the National Rifle Association magazine America's 1st Freedom pushes a baseless conspiracy that a proposed United Nations treaty to prevent the diversion of weapons to human rights abusers will be used by "the minions of tyrannical and thieving governments" to achieve "total disarmament of freedom-loving people all over the world."
In reality, the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) seeks to address the fact that as many as 500,000 people are killed in armed violence each year worldwide by implementing -- on an international scale -- arms trade standards that are already used in the United States.
The piece, titled "Siege," was authored by gun advocate David Kopel and shares pages in the February 2013 edition of America's 1st Freedom with an unhinged article by NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre that calls upon Americans to buy firearms to ensure their "survival."
Despite Kopel's claim that U.N. officials will deviously interpret the ATT to disarm civilian populations and ultimately "destroy much of what remains of lawful gun ownership," the treaty explicitly disallows such interference by the U.N. in the sovereign affairs of nations. The latest draft of the ATT expressly prohibits the imposition of domestic firearms regulations upon parties to the treaty by "[r]eaffirming the sovereign right and responsibility of any State to regulate and control transfers of conventional arms that take place exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional systems."
National Rifle Association president David Keene made a February 16 appearance on conspiracy theorist Gary Franchi's television show as part of his media tour to oppose strengthening gun laws. Franchi is involved in the 9/11 Truth movement and believes the government is secretly building FEMA concentration camps that will be used to round up American citizens.
Franchi interviewed Keene about his belief that President Obama may use the Newtown school massacre to aid in the passage of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty.
Franchi is a well-known and avid conspiracy theorist. During the 2012 election cycle, Franchi was the head of Revolution PAC, a pro-Ron Paul group. He made headlines when NBC News reported on his extensive history of promoting outlandish conspiracy theories.
As explained by NBC, Franchi was the founder of the Lone Lantern Society, a group that supports "'the birth of freedom and the death of the New World Order,' a secretive elite that is supposedly trying to set up a world government." The Lone Lantern held numerous demonstrations calling for a new investigation of 9-11.
In a 2008 interview with former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Franchi asked if Ridge endorsed the idea of a "new investigation for 9-11" based on the idea that there may have been a "controlled demolition of the World Trade Center." (During the conversation, Franchi also asks Ridge about the "North American Union," the conspiracy that the governments of America, Canada, and Mexico are secretly planning to merge; a hypothetical North American currency union; and whether he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, and the Bohemian Grove.)
Franchi has also repeatedly endorsed the paranoid conspiracy that the government has been building FEMA concentration camps to imprison political opponents. He produced two separate documentaries on the subject, titled Camp FEMA: American Lockdown and Enemy of the State: Camp FEMA Part 2.
According to a 2010 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Franchi was a "regular speaker at Patriot conferences, offering a familiar diet of fears of globalist plotters," warning against a cabal of bankers and elite organizations that secretly control governments.
A November 19 article in The Hill repeated the false claim that the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty -- a proposal to crack down on the supply of weapons to human rights abusers -- poses a threat to private gun ownership in the United States.
In a piece that relied entirely on a House Resolution filed in opposition to the ATT, Hill reporter Pete Kasperowicz also credulously repeated suggestions that the treaty could impact assistance to Israel and Taiwan. In fact, both of these claims are contradicted by the text of the proposed treaty itself and by basic United Nations procedure.
Throughout the entire article, Kasperowicz does not cite any authorities to provide deeper context for the ATT, relying instead on the text of the House Resolution filed by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), which is quoted at length. From The Hill:
The resolution, whose main sponsor is Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), argues that the ATT does not recognize the right of American citizens to keep and bear arms, and thus threatens to undermine the Second Amendment of the Constitution.
The ATT's draft preamble clearly "reaffirm[s] the sovereign right and responsibility of any State to regulate and control transfers of conventional arms that take place exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional systems." Furthermore, the Department of State has also declared that the United States will oppose any final treaty that contains "restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution."
The right-leaning Heritage Foundation has thrown cold water on the revival a conspiracy theory pushed on Fox News by contributor Dick Morris and the National Rifle Association that the United Nation's Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is actually a sinister Obama administration plot to eliminate the right of private individuals to own a firearm.
During a Heritage Blogger Briefing, senior research fellow Ted Bromund stated, "I don't think that the ATT is a gun confiscation measure for a variety of reasons. First, because I don't regard that as within the bounds of possibility in the United States and secondly, because that is not what the text says."
Bromund's assessment is correct. The stated goal of the treaty is to regulate the international trade of firearms in order to prevent the diversion of arms to human rights abusers, and the most recent version of the treaty's text expressly prohibits the regulation of firearm ownership within sovereign nations.
The preamble of the July 26 treaty draft clearly "reaffirm[s] the sovereign right and responsibility of any State to regulate and control transfers of conventional arms that take place exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system." Furthermore, the Department of State has stated that it will oppose any treaty that contains "restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution."
Despite convincing evidence that the treaty seeks only to regulate international trade -- and that any treaty limiting rights granted by the United States Constitution would be considered invalid -- the conspiracy theory persists. Morris, who has pushed theory on Fox News, and NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, both dedicated space in their latest books to advance the claim.
The Associated Press and CNN recently debunked an op-ed featured at The Daily Caller that suggested a recent ammunition purchase by the Social Security Administration evidenced an Obama plot to kill American citizens en masse. The bizarre theory is hardly the first conspiratorial idea to be promoted on the opinion page of The Daily Caller.
For months the National Rifle Association and Fox News have been pushing the fringe conspiracy theory that a proposed United Nations Arms Trade Treaty puts Second Amendment rights at risk. Now Mitt Romney is bringing that claim to the presidential campaign, parroting it on the stump.
As ThinkProgress reported, during a town hall event in Ohio yesterday, Romney said:
ROMNEY: Turning to the United Nations to tell us how to raise our kids, or whether we can have the Second Amendment rights that our Constitution gave us, I mean, that is the wrong way to go, right? Do not cede sovereignty. I'm happy to talk there. I'm not willing to give American sovereignty in any way, shape or form to the United Nations or any other body. We are a free nation. We fought for freedom and independence. We are going to keep freedom and independence.
But contrary to the conspiracy spun by the NRA and Fox and now repeated by Romney, the ATT only seeks to regulate the international import and export of conventional and small arms, and is not aimed at domestic gun regulation governed by U.S. sovereignty. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of State has stated that it will not enter into any treaty that contains "restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution. There will be no dilution or diminishing of sovereign control over issues involving the private acquisition, ownership, or possession of firearms, which must remain matters of domestic law."
The idea that the United Nations can determine "whether we can have the Second Amendment rights that our Constitution gave us" germinated at the National Rifle Association in the mid-1990s when CEO Wayne LaPierre began to speciously warn of "global gun grabbers."
But despite an utter lack of explanation by its pushers about how the U.N. could use a treaty to trump the United States Constitution, the conspiracy has survived over the years and has reached its zenith as ATT negotiations are finalized.
In the first week after negotiations began on July 2, Fox News featured seven appearances by opponents of the treaty compared to zero appearances by proponents. Instead of offering a cogent critique of the ATT, each guest has instead delved into conspiracy theory. Indeed, there are stark similarities between Romney's Wednesday warning and the commentary of Fox News contributor Dick Morris who claimed on July 5 that the ATT "will take the gun control issue away from the Congress and give it to the United Nations as part of an international treaty."
Romney's ATT comments were not the first time that Fox News served as the conduit between factually vacant right wing theories and the Republican presidential campaign. On Monday, Fox News deceptively edited and then hysterically promoted comments made by President Obama about small business owners. The false narrative found its way into Romney's campaign by Tuesday afternoon.
THE UNITED NATIONS -- It was during one of several extended delays on day five of the Arms Trade Treaty talks that the chief of the British delegation, a jovial veteran diplomat named Jo Adamson, turned to me and wanted to know if I'd ever watched The Benny Hill Show.
"You know the musical theme when Benny gets chased around by the police and they speed up the film?" she asked. "I want to make a video of that song playing over Tuesday's scene of musical chairs."
The idea was a happy diplomatic warrior's response to the comedic low-point of the negotiations' disastrous first week, in which 193 national delegations, eager to begin a long-planned attempt at regulating the global conventional arms trade, were forced to choreograph a globe-spanning seating shift to accommodate two Palestinian observers, debate over whose status had made a train wreck of the agenda and preempted the speeches of several foreign ministers in town for the opening session. Adamson wasn't the only UN diplomat with experience taking such chaos in stride. Anyone who has been around Turtle Bay and Geneva long enough knows the ATT won't be the last UN effort to strengthen global security to be threatened by soul sucking stretches of procedural purgatory.
The fact that the ATT conference's first week lent itself so easily to Benny Hill spoofs is a good place to begin considering the massive gulf separating the actual treaty being negotiated by consensus at the UN this month, and the Iran-directed Second Amendment-eating Golem of conservative imagination. The hysterical screeching of so much right-wing opposition to the ATT is the product of many things, but direct experience with the inner workings of the UN system does not appear to be among them.
"Everyone who has spent any time here knows we're lucky if we can get a time frame for debate worked out," said Robert Zuber of Global Action to Prevent War, who has 20 years experience with the UN and supports the passage of a treaty. "This idea that a UN treaty concerning international arms flows could somehow override the Constitution or the Supreme Court, this idea that it will lead to UN police marching down the streets taking people's guns away -- everyone here knows it's beyond ludicrous."
That the ATT is no opening salvo in a global gun-grab -- a charge made in various forms recently by National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre, The Washington Times, Dick Morris, and a number of others appearing on Fox News -- does not mean the talks are without stakes. National delegations and NGOs are gathered in New York through July 27 to address a lack of common international standards guiding the import, export, and transfer of conventional arms and munitions. As Amnesty International activists have dramatized by handing out bananas in Times and Trafalgar Squares, more rules govern the inter-state trade of fruits and vegetables than tanks and machine guns. Just over 50 nations regulate international arms dealers inside their territory according to the Arms Control Association; only half of those have any sort of penalties for breaking national laws. ATT proponents maintain that a treaty is the first step in shrinking the booming international black and grey market arms trade that fuels civil conflicts, arms warlords and criminal syndicates, and facilitates the breaking of arms embargos. According to an Oxfam report, countries operating under arms embargoes have succeeded in importing more than $2.2 billion worth of arms and ammunition since 2000.
The Obama administration is a relatively conservative actor on the ATT spectrum, and its reversal of the previous government's rejection of the ATT was predicated on the final treaty language being approved by consensus. U.S. presence at the conference is supported by major human rights and development NGOs, leading U.S. defense contractors, active and retired senior military staff, and a number of civic and religious groups such as the National Council of Churches.
Among the array of U.S. civil society and industry groups involved in the ATT process, the National Rifle Association has distinguished itself by issuing a decade-long stream of misinformation that has clouded Americans' understanding of the issues. It is a pattern of willful obfuscation that has defined the gun group's posture as an international actor since before plans for the talks were announced under the Bush Administration. Indeed, the rebirth of the NRA as a profitable organization following its brush with bankruptcy in the mid-90s tracks closely with the history of UN activity around the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.
The right-wing media spent Wednesday stoking fears about the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) following reports that Iran was selected to serve on the 15-nation "Bureau/General Committee" of states during the treaty negotiations. Curiously, the same news organizations that engaged in Iran fearmongering have also uncritically promoted the National Rifle Association's opposition to the treaty. In fact, the positions of Iran and the National Rifle Association on the Arms Trade Treaty are remarkably similar: Both entities oppose a treaty that regulates the international import and export of small arms.
According to the United Nations, "Bureau" states will "assist the President in the general conduct of the business of the Conference and, subject to the decisions of the Conference, shall ensure the coordination of its work." Considering that Iran's and other "Bureau" members' conduct will be "subject to the decisions of the Conference," it hardly appears that Iran would be able to single-handily hijack negotiations.
Whatever role Iran plays in the negotiations, the ATT will not lead to domestic regulation of firearms in the United States -- as the NRA vacuously warns -- because the United States will not agree to a finalized treaty that places "restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution."
But the opportunity to include Iran in fearmongering surrounding the treaty was too much for the right-wing media to pass up.
The National Rifle Association, an organization with a well-documented history of baseless fearmongering, may have outdone itself with the release of a new fundraising video series that features hysterical depictions of current events. Whether it is the threat of Mexican drug cartel violence in the United States, the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty negotiations, or even civil unrest that occurred in England in 2011, the NRA wants you to be scared and send cash fast. After all, warns Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, "everything we love about America, all the freedoms our forefathers fought for, all of it is under attack by Barack Obama."
Fox News has featured seven appearances by opponents of a proposed United Nations Arms Trade Treaty since a conference discussing it began on July 2, and none by the treaty's supporters. Treaty backers say it is essential for curtailing the illegal arms trade that keeps guns flowing to human rights abusers.
Even Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly isn't buying National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre's outrageous claims that a yet to be finalized United Nations treaty to regulate the import and export of small arms worldwide will strip Americans of their Second Amendment rights and cause American citizens "to be added to that pile of dead people left defenseless by the [United Nations'] policies."
The NRA has repeatedly offered such false and conspiratorial claims in response to the treaty, claims which in the past have been echoed on Fox. But during today's interview, Kelly repeatedly pushed back on LaPierre's talking points.
After LaPierre made the false claim that the proposed treaty "says to people in the United States turn over your personal protection and your firearms to the government," Kelly attempted to steer him back to reality by suggesting the treaty is about "global arms sales" not "domestic sales." On multiple occasions she urged him to justify his baseless claims.
Marking the start of July's month-long United Nations conference to negotiate a small arms treaty, National Rifle Association top lobbyist Chris Cox authored an op-ed for The Daily Caller making the hysterical -- and baseless -- claim that the treaty could "seriously restrict your freedom to own, purchase and carry a firearm." In fact the proposed treaty seeks to regulate the international trade of firearms - curtailing the illicit arms trade that keeps weapons flowing to human rights abusers -- and will not change ownership rules domestically.
Cox also made the reality-defying argument, citing conditions in the Sudan, that a treaty to restrict illegal small arms proliferation would harm citizens in countries ruled by human rights abusers. To the contrary, the United Nations has noted that "[m]ore human rights abuses are committed with small arms than with any other weapon."
But according to Cox's theory "the world's socialist, tyrannical and dictatorial regimes" will use the treaty to "implement international gun registration requirements, bans on commonly owned firearms, tracking and registration of ammunition purchases, and create a new U.N. gun control bureaucracy" thus fulfilling "President Barack Obama's vision for America."
This laughable conspiracy has no place in reality. Top officials from the United Nations, the United States, and other high profile supporters have repeatedly and clearly said that the treaty does not aim to restrict anyone's "freedom to own" a gun. Indeed, the U.N. General Assembly's resolution on the treaty makes clear that countries will "exclusively" maintain the right within their borders to "regulate internal transfers of arms and national ownership, including through national constitutional protections on private ownerships."
The chair of the Preparatory Committee for the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, Ambassador Roberto García Moritán of Argentina, has stated that the definitive goal of the small arms treaty "is to try to have common standards to be applied by all countries when they export or import weapons."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also said that treaty is "opportunity to promote the same high standards for the entire international community that the United States and other responsible arms exporters already have in place to ensure that weaponry is transferred for legitimate purposes."
A senior policy advisor to the humanitarian organization Oxfam America has also pushed back against claims that the treaty has the nefarious purpose of interfering with domestic law:
"No government is discussing a treaty that would ever impact the right to bear arms, nor require regulation of domestic sales of arms," said Scott Stedjan, a senior policy adviser at the relief group Oxfam America. "This is totally about international transfer of arms so that they don't go to human rights abusers."
U.S. gun owners have nothing to fear from a treaty that essentially seeks to apply the standard for importing and exporting firearms already in place in the United States on a worldwide scale.
And there is no reason to believe that domestic manufacturers alone would be unable to ensure that the United States continues to have the most well-armed private citizenry in the world. According to the most recent figures available over 5.5 million firearms were manufactured in the United States in 2009 (The U.N. conservatively estimates that 7.5 to 8 million small arms are manufactured worldwide each year). Less than 200,000 of the firearms produced in the United States left the country as exports.