- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2001

NEW YORK — The United States laid down a stern assessment of international gun-control efforts yesterday, telling scores of governments and the United Nations that Washington will not accept any limits on civilian possession or arms transfers already allowed under U.S. law.
"The United States will not join consensus on a final document that contains measures abrogating the constitutional right to bear arms," Undersecretary of State John Bolton said.
His remarks were a vivid contrast to most of the other speeches made on the opening day of an international conference to limit the flow of illicit small arms and light weapons, and were quickly criticized by gun control advocates and even other nations.
"Like many countries," Mr. Bolton said, "the United States has a cultural tradition of hunting and sport shooting. We, therefore, do not begin with the presumption that all small arms and light weapons are the same or that they are all problematic."
He warned delegates that Washington cannot accept any program of action that includes restrictions on civilian ownership of military-style weapons, limits production or sales that fall within U.S. laws or restricts sales to opposition forces.
Instead, he advocated focusing efforts on regions of conflict and instability.
The new Small Arms Survey finds more than 500 million small arms and light weapons around the planet — enough, it says, to provide one weapon for every 11 persons. Analysts say that 90 percent of all illegal guns start out as legal ones, requiring a more comprehensive solution to a problem that claims an estimated half-million lives a year.
Mr. Bolton rejected any controls on legal weapons, emphasizing the need for strong export controls to keep powerful guns out of the wrong hands.
"We strongly support measures calling for effective export and import controls, restraint in trade to regions of conflict, observance and enforcement of embargoes, strict regulation of arms brokers, transparency in exports, and improving security of arms stockpiles and destruction of excess," Mr. Bolton said.
"These measures, taken together, form the core of a regime that, if accepted by all countries, would greatly mitigate the problems we all have gathered here to address."
Gun control is such an emotional issue in the United States that the United Nations on Thursday had to issue a special fact sheet explaining why the nonbinding conference would not seek to take the legally obtained revolvers and hunting rifles out of American holsters and gun racks.
Despite such assurances, several anti-U.N. demonstrations were scheduled yesterday.
And in West Mead, Pa., gun smith and gun dealer Darrell Sivik burned a U.N. flag to protest what he sees as "a 15-day gun-confiscation conference."
A similar flag-burning was to have taken place in Las Vegas at sunset yesterday. "Look, it's an emotional issue in our country," Mr. Bolton told reporters yesterday afternoon.
The U.S. position puts Washington on something of a collision course with some of its closest allies, who advocate stronger international controls on gun sales and more aggressive restrictions on the legal gun trade.
American concerns over small arms and light weapons is well known to U.N. officials, foreign governments and disarmament advocates. Nonetheless, several said yesterday that they were dismayed at how harsh the American statement was.
"He must accept the need for national action, for regional action," said one European diplomat, who dismissed the tone of the speech as "the Bolton factor." He said it was strange that the United States would find itself more closely allied with arms producers such as China and India than with the European Union.
"This is very strongly worded," said Loretta Bondi, advocacy director of the Fund For Peace, a U.S. group. "These red lines were enunciated as red lights."
Amnesty International yesterday condemned the United States, Russia and China — the world's biggest arms manufacturers — for watering down or eliminating language in the draft that would highlight the role of small arms in human rights abuses.
In his statement yesterday on behalf of the European Union, Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel stressed the need to rein in illicit weapons while they are still legal.
"It is our duty to consider the legal aspects directly involved in this illicit trade," said Mr. Michel. "We need to take steps to reduce the number of weapons."
The European Union and several Asian nations yesterday pressed for strong follow-up measures, a tacit acknowledgment that this particular conference isn't going to yield a strong or sustainable agreement. The United States prefers ad hoc sessions devoted to specific aspects of the problem.
About 120 nations are participating in the U.N. Conference on Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.
They are to craft a nonbinding program of action to curb the flow of illicit small arms by the conference's July 20 conclusion.
While diplomats in New York talked about reducing stockpiles, governments around the world took concrete steps in a U.N.-created "day of destruction," burning or otherwise nullifying surplus weapons in Cambodia, Mali, Brazil, the Netherlands and other nations. In Pristina, Yugoslavia, the U.N. Development Program yesterday destroyed 500 small arms.
No such events were staged at U.N. headquarters, although a 5-ton sculpture made of discarded weapons and ammunition was displayed for visitors.

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