- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2001

NEW YORK — Jack Anderson is convinced the United Nations wants to take his gun away.
The industrial metals salesman is one of a multitude of Americans who believe that all people, in the United States and elsewhere, have the right to self-defense. In fact, he said, more firearms, properly distributed, could halt a bloodbath before it starts.
"If there are these genocides happening, in reality the people who are native to the area would be able to defend themselves," Mr. Anderson, 57, said from his Vermont office last week, praising Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori for giving guns to civilians who live in Shining Path guerrilla territory.
There would be some dispute with Mr. Anderson's analysis within the United Nations, where representatives from 120 nations convene today to draft a plan of action to reduce the flow of arms into conflict zones.
But there is no doubt that the concerns of Mr. Anderson — and the estimated tens of thousands of increasingly vocal and politically active Americans who belong to such grass-roots organizations as the Tyranny Response Team, the Second Amendment Sisters and the Gun Owners of America — have been noted. The U.N. undersecretary-general for disarmament affairs, Jayantha Dhanapala, last week issued a fact sheet and devoted much of his news conference to easing the fears of American gun owners.
And the U.S. delegation to the conference — officially called the U.N. Conference on the Illicit Trade of Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects — have stressed that legal weapons, properly obtained, will be not be on the negotiating table.
"The U.N. conference mandate specifically excludes consideration of domestic gun-control issues," a senior U.S. official told reporters Friday. Instead, the issues that scores of countries and nearly 200 nongovernmental organizations will consider at the two-week conference are, in some ways, far thornier.
There are an estimated 550 million small arms and light weapons in circulation today, including 18 million used by government military or police forces. When used in armed conflicts, these weapons cause some 300,000 deaths annually, according to figures widely used around the United Nations.
Worldwide each year, another 200,000 murders, accidents and suicides are gun-related. Diplomats point out that small arms and light weapons have caused more deaths than chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Yet, they say, there is no international convention guiding their manufacture, sale and use.
Negotiations have stalled over issues such as how to mark and trace legally manufactured small arms that, through questionable sales, can easily become illicit arms destined for a conflict zone. There is also little agreement on how to regulate arms brokers.
There is also some agitation over which arms to include in the draft, which may cover handguns, hunting rifles and the widely available AK-47, as well as anti-tank missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. In fact, member states have not agreed where international regulation should begin.
Some nations, such as those in the European Union, believe safeguards should be imposed at the manufacturers. Others, such as Russia and China, want to confine safeguards to the point where the licit trade becomes illicit.
The United States has some issues of its own that it wants to leave out of any treaty, according to observers, including any prohibition of military-style weapons in civilian hands, and sales to non-state actors, among others.
These concerns will be monitored by a 20-member delegation that includes representatives from the Defense and Treasury departments, Congress and the private sector. Heading the delegation is Undersecretary of State John Bolton, who oversaw U.N. affairs in the Reagan administration and who, in private life, was a vocal critic of perceived U.N. encroachments on American sovereignty.
Despite this, American officials say they support the work of the conference for humanitarian and foreign-policy reasons.
"The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons has fueled many if not most of the recent civil and regional conflicts in various parts of the world, including Africa and the Balkans," said the senior U.S. official at Friday's briefing, putting the death toll in these conflicts at 4 million since 1990.
The outcome of the conference will be a nonbinding, virtually unenforceable political declaration that many participants fear will be too watered down to make much of a difference in the real world.
"I think that perhaps the document is not going to be as strong as we would have liked, but it is a step in the right direction," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said last week. "It is a recognition by the international community that we need to do something about these weapons."
The lucrative illicit arms trade has magnified and prolonged intra-state conflicts, say diplomats. "Small arms is more than a disarmament issue," Mr. Dhanapala said. "It's a security issue, humanitarian issue, human rights and a development issue."
The two-week parley is expected to draw some 180 nongovernmental organizations from all over the spectrum: women's rights groups, development experts, disarmament advocates, ammunition manufacturers, and coalitions of hunters and sport shooters. Many are organizing side events, ranging from films to testimonials to demonstrations. Several pro-gun groups are expected to rally outside the U.N. grounds on Saturday.
Governments have also formed loose coalitions that coalesce and break up on various issues. The European Union and Canada have taken the most aggressive positions on most questions, say observers and diplomats, far surpassing what the United States is willing to agree to.
Many African states — so united two weeks ago at the AIDS conference — are taking a lower profile this week. Asian nations are more mixed, with Japan and South Korea pressing for an ambitious agenda, and Indonesia and Malaysia resisting out of concerns for sovereignty, diplomats say.
China, a major weapons manufacturer that single-handedly blocked marking requirements in a legally binding treaty negotiated last winter, continues to resist strong targets.
"The fact that 90 percent [of illicit weapons] start out legal is because there are no systems in place," said one observer. "If you improve customs, put export controls, harmonize your documentation, criminalize these offenses, start defining brokering activities and make strong laws, these illicit trades will still take place, but it will be at a higher price."

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