ThinkProgress.org has their knickers in a twist over a couple of members of the House (Ben Quayle (R-AZ) and Denny Rehberg (R-MT)) who have introduced a bill (H.R. 5846) intended to prevent the U.N.’s Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) from infringing on our Second Amendment rights. “For at least the last two years, far right groups have opposed an imaginary treaty which, in the words of the John Birch Society, would ‘cede control of private Americans’ small arms ownership and use to the United Nations.’ This treaty does not exist. Snopes described reports of such a treaty as “scarelore.” ThinkProgress debunked Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) attempt to fundraise off this imaginary treaty more than a year ago. PolitiFact rejected claims that any UN treaty will limit Second Amendment rights as recently as last week.” All that is true in a false sort of way . . .
The ATT does not yet exist. It’s being negotiated in the desultory sort of fashion one might expect from the U.N.. In 2008 a report on the feasibility, scope and draft parameters for a comprehensive, legally binding instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms was presented. It was developed by “a Group of Governmental Experts” including such stalwarts of human rights and individual sovereignty as Algeria, China, Colombia, Cuba, the Russian Federation and Indonesia.
Parenthetically, there might not be such concern about the treaty if it wasn’t being handled through the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Just sayin’.
Anyway . . . is TP.org correct? Is the JBS talking through their tin-foil hat? That’s a little hard to say since, as far as I can tell (and I’ve talked to people who were observing the negotiations last summer), there is no proposed text yet. That’s supposed to come out of the meeting this summer. So while the concerns of “far right groups” may be over the top, TP.org, Snopes and PolitiFact really can’t say that.
Now I’ll agree that some of the rhetoric is outlandish. There is no way that a UN treaty can override the Second Amendment (at least not without an awful lot of bloodshed), and I don’t think we’ll be seeing any of Dan Simpson’s special squads of police cordoning off city streets. This does not mean, however, that I don’t think there are legitimate concerns to be raised about this treaty.
In April of 2009, President Obama announced his administration’s support for the Inter-American Convention Against Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, (more commonly called by its Spanish acronym, CIFTA, as you might imagine). CIFTA had been signed by Bill back in 1997 but was left to languish by the Bush administration. Obama was resurrecting it to show his support for Mexico and his administration’s opposition to the fast & furious gun-walking occurring on the southern border. Six months later, in October, Hill (excuse me, I mean Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton) came out in favor of the ATT, it was generally believed that that treaty would be modeled on CIFTA.
Who could possibly be opposed to a treaty against illicit manufacturing and trafficking, right? Well as always, the devil is in those damned little details and you really have to dig into the details of CIFTA to find its devilry. The main problem is found in the definitions of all places. Specifically:
For the purposes of this Convention, the following definitions shall apply:
1. “Illicit manufacturing”: the manufacture or assembly of firearms, ammunition, explosives, and other related materials:
b. without a license from a competent governmental authority of the State Party where the manufacture or assembly takes place;
4. “Ammunition”: the complete round or its components, including cartridge cases, primers, propellant powder, bullets, or projectiles that are used in any firearm.
6. “Other related materials”: any component, part, or replacement part of a firearm, or an accessory which can be attached to a firearm.
Then we get down to Article IV, the Legislative Measures and find:
1. States Parties that have not yet done so shall adopt the necessary legislative or other measures to establish as criminal offenses under their domestic law the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, ammunition, explosives, and other related materials.
Jeez, what kind of tin-foil hatted, black-helicopter fearing conspiracy nut could find a problem in there? So what if people need a Federal License to manufacture guns? We have the same thing now, right?
Except, we don’t because this definition of manufacture includes assembly. So if I have a rifle and I want to put a scope on it, I am assembling a firearm and a related material. Gotta have a license.
If I have an ATI VK-22 and want to replace the trigger, I need a license.
If I want to hand load my ammo, I need a license.
If I want to load my weapon, I need a stinking license? Yep; that constitutes assembly of a firearm and ammunition. Or it conceivably could to the right court.
Of course no one would try to enforce that, would they? Just like FFLs would only cost a few bucks and be available to anyone who wanted one. And no one would ever face unlicensed machine gun charges because their weapon malfunctioned, right? And no FFL would ever lose their license because someone entered ‘N’ instead of ‘No’ on a 4473, right?
So getting back to TP.org:
For the record, even if the United Nations wanted to propose a treaty restricting Americans’ Second Amendment rights, and even if President Obama was absolutely determined to support such a treaty, the treaty would be void for violating the Constitution. As Justice Hugo Black once explained, the Supreme Court has long “recognized the supremacy of the Constitution over a treaty.”
So let’s see if I have this right. TP.org says that the treaty can’t restrict our rights because the Constitution trumps any treaty, but a week ago in this piece, they wrote:
For the record, the Second Amendment does not allow Bennett to bring a gun wherever he wants. As Justice Scalia explained in District of Columbia v. Heller, nothing in that amendment prohibits laws “forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.”
So they are mocking a bill which would prevent any sort of treaty mandated restrictions on our rights, because the Second Amendment is absolute and overrides treaties. But the Second Amendment does permit reasonable restrictions of those absolute rights. And the treaty (which, BTW we haven’t seen the text of) won’t have any of those reasonable restrictions, and even if it did they would be trumped by the Second Amendment prohibition of any restrictions, reasonable or otherwise.
One of my stoner high-school classmates had a saying which covers this kind of “logic” perfectly: What is you smokin’ and why isn’t you sharin’?