Right-wing media dishonestly reacted to Secretary of State John Kerry's signature to the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) by promoting the National Rifle Association's conspiracy theory that the treaty -- which aims to stem the flow of weapons to human rights abusers -- would threaten gun rights and require the United States to create a civilian gun registry.
In fact, the treaty only regulates the international trade of arms and explicitly affirms the right of a nation to regulate domestic firearm ownership “pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system.” As the American Bar Association noted in an analysis that found the treaty to be consistent with the Second Amendment, “the treaty would not require new domestic regulations of firearms.”
Still, Fox News continued its checkered coverage of the ATT, promoting baseless conspiracy theories about the treaty.
On September 25, Fox host Heather Nauert reported on Fox & Friends that “gun supporters are opposing part of [the ATT] because it requires the United States government to adopt a new civilian gun tracking system, and that could sidestep the Second Amendment”:
Fox regular guest and radio host Lars Larson also spread false information about the ATT, including claims that the United States would have to abdicate its sovereignty to the U.N. On the September 25 edition of America Live, Larson claimed that if the ATT were to take effect “we would be giving up some of the sovereignty of the United States,” and that “this treaty has an expectation that end users of imported pistols -- I'll give you an example, I own a Sig Sauer pistol, it comes from Germany -- imported to the U.S., this treaty would require that the U.S. maintain a registry of the end users. I'm the end user”:
On the September 26 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano correctly explained how the treaty “could not affect your right to keep and bear arms” because that right is guaranteed in the Second Amendment and treaties are inferior to the U.S. Constitution. However, he contradicted himself moments later to suggest that the ATT could be a “step towards” a “world government”:
Ignoring that the United States already uses control lists to regulate the export of many firearms legal for civilian purchase, Glenn Beck claimed on the September 25 edition of The Glenn Beck Program that the ATT's call for the use of control lists “paves the way for a national gun registry and the tracking of all firearms”:
The claims made on Fox News and Beck's radio show echo the NRA's statement on Kerry's signature. The gun rights organization has long promoted conspiracy theories based on contrived interpretations of the treaty, often for the purpose of fundraising.
In a September 25 release, NRA top lobbyist Chris Cox claimed that the ATT “threatens individual firearm ownership with an invasive registration scheme” based on the NRA's false claim that the treaty would create an illegal “de-facto registry of law-abiding firearms owners” and that “the ATT could be construed to require such a registry to be made available to foreign governments.” In particular, the NRA referenced language in the treaty that encourages participants to record the “end users” of arms shipments.
In fact, the “end user” language does not -- and cannot -- require nations to create a gun registry or otherwise dictate how a nation regulates firearms domestically. Indeed, the ATT's preamble is explicit in "[r]eaffirming the sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system."
As Oxfam International explains, “end user” tracking is not a requirement of the ATT, but rather one of several suggestions made in the treaty for how a nation might responsibly regulate its trade in arms to ensure weapons do not go to human rights abusers:
According to the ATT, each State Party “shall maintain national records, pursuant to its national laws and regulations, of its issuance of export authorizations or its actual exports of the conventional arms.” There is no single format that the records must adhere to, but the Treaty encourages countries to include in those records the quantity, value, model/type, authorized transfers, conventional arms actually transferred, details of exporting state(s), importing state(s), transit and trans-shipment state(s), and end users.
Beck's claims also originated with the NRA, which previously claimed that the ATT's requirement that participating countries “establish and maintain a national control system” would create a national gun registry.
However, the text of the treaty plainly describes the “national control system” as a mechanism that regulates the export of weapons, not domestic purchases of firearms. Fearmongering about the implementation of “control lists” and “control systems” ignores that such measures have been in place in the United States for decades, leading the Department of State to declare that the United States already “has in place an extensive and rigorous system of controls that most agree is the 'gold standard' of export controls for arms transfers.”
Beyond exercising broad authority over the export of conventional weapons through The Arms Export Control Act, the United States already uses control lists -- including the Wassenaar Arrangement Dual-Use List and the U.S. Munitions List -- that cover many firearms available for civilian purchase without necessitating a civilian gun registry as the NRA and others have suggested.