Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Wednesday formally signed a far-reaching international treaty in New York designed to regulate the international purchase and sale of conventional firearms — despite intense resistance from the American gun lobby and warnings from at least one Republican that the pact will never get ratified in Washington.
The U.N. Arms Trade Treaty requires signatories to draw up national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms and components and to regulate arms brokers, but drafters insist it will not control the domestic firearms market in any country. It prohibits the transfer of conventional weapons if they violate international arms embargoes or if they go to regimes accused of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.
The United States was one of 154 countries who voted in April to approve the final draft of the U.N. pact, with only Syria, Iran and North Korea voting against.
In notifying lawmakers of the plan to proceed forth with signing the treaty, the Obama administration drew harsh criticism from Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, who claimed the treaty is "already dead in the water in the Senate."
"The administration is wasting precious time trying to sign away our laws to the global community and unelected U.N. bureaucrats," Mr. Inhofe said, asserting that his own push against the treaty in March revealed that the Obama administration was far short of the 67 votes needed to ratify the treaty.
"Fifty-three senators from both parties went on the record and voted against the treaty, meaning the president does not have the majority for ratification," Mr. Inhofe said in his statement.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also warned the administration against trying to implement any provisions of the treaty before the Senate can vote.
"The [treaty] raises significant legislative and constitutional questions. Any act to implement this treaty, provisionally or otherwise, before the Congress provides its advice and consent would be inconsistent with the United States Constitution, law, and practice," Mr. Corker said Tuesday.
The administration appeared uninterested in such claims Tuesday, circulating a statement attributable to a "senior State Department official" who said the U.S. had announced its intention to sign the Arms Trade Treaty "months ago."
The treaty "merely helps other countries create and enforce the kind of strict national export controls the United States has had in place for decades which haven't diminished one iota the ability of Americans to enjoy their rights under our Constitution," the unnamed official said.
But a political fight over the treaty's ratification looms, with fierce resistance anticipated from the American gun lobby — a reality the National Rifle Association made known in May, when the Obama administration first signaled its intention to sign the agreement.
At the time, the Institute for Legislative Action — the self-described "lobbying arm" of the NRA — asserted that the treaty threatens "the rights and privacy of American gun owners."
"Signatories will be encouraged to keep information on the 'end users' of arms imported into their territory and supply such information to the exporting country," the NRA-ILA posting said. "Exporting nations, nearly all of which have civilian firearm control regimes far harsher than the U.S., will be encouraged to take the firearm control laws of an importing country into account before approving a transfer of arms."
Supporters of the treaty claim it will help Western powers control the dangerous flow of weapons to despotic leaders, terrorists and criminal gangs in various corners of the world. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday told the Reuters news agency that for the nations of Africa, illegally traded weapons "are the weapons of mass destruction."
Nigeria has been repeatedly attacked during recent years by the shadowy, cross-border Islamic jihadist militant group Boko Haram, whose activities, according to Mr. Jonathan, are "sustained by unfettered access by non-state actors to illicit smart arms and light weapons," the Reuters report said.
The human rights group Amnesty International also hailed the Obama administration's plan to sign the treaty.
"All Americans should celebrate that the United States has pledged to do its part to end the unscrupulous trade in deadly weapons used by dictators, war lords and criminal gangs to commit atrocities," said Frank Jannuzi, deputy executive director of Amnesty's U.S. operations.
"This treaty is simple but profound. It says that nations must not export arms and ammunition where there is an 'overriding risk' that they will be used to commit serious human rights violations," Mr. Jannuzi said. "It will help keep arms out of the hands of the wrong people: those responsible for upwards of 1,500 deaths worldwide every day."
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