- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

NEW YORK — Dozens of governments convened at the United Nations yesterday to begin talks on how to limit the trade in illegal small arms.

The conference comes five years after a 2001 agreement to crack down on the manufacture, distribution and sales of illegal weapons.

“Small arms are easy to buy, easy to use, easy to transport and easy to conceal,” said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his opening remarks yesterday. “Their continued proliferation exacerbates conflict, sparks refugee flows, undermines the rule of law, and spawns a culture of violence and impunity.”

Mr. Annan twice stressed that the focus of the two-week conference is on curtailing illegal weapons, “not negotiating a global gun ban or denying law-abiding citizens their right to bear arms in accordance with their national laws.”

The National Rifle Association has organized opposition to the conference, portraying it as an attack on the Second Amendment that coincides with the Fourth of July holiday.

Mr. Annan denied that yesterday. “Our energy, our emphasis and our anger is directed against illegal weapons, not legal ones. Our priorities are effective enforcement, better controls and regulation, safer stockpiling, and weapons collection and destruction,” he said.

“Our targets remain unscrupulous arms brokers, corrupt officials, drug-trafficking syndicates, criminals and others who bring death and mayhem to our communities and who ruin lives and destroy in minutes the labor of years.”

The U.S. delegation will address the conference today, and the pro-gun World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities will be among those accredited nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to take the podium on Friday.

More than 200 NGOs are participating in the two-week conference, the majority of them anti-gun in stance.

More than 50 nations have passed tighter laws against illicit arms and 65 have significantly reduced arms stockpiles since 2001, according to the U.N. Department of Disarmament Affairs.

The U.N. Small Arms Review Conference is billed as a way to assess governments’ progress and determine their priorities for the next five years.

Nearly one-quarter of the $4 billion-a-year arms trade is thought to be illegal, according to a widely quoted statistic.

Some 500,000 people die of gun-related violence every year, according to another statistic, but it is not clear how many of those deaths can be traced to legal or illegal weapons, or how many are civilian. Approximately 300,000 deaths each year stem from wars and internal conflicts.

The European Union was among those nations and regions yesterday to call for improved marking and tracing registries, both for weapons and ammunition.

Europeans, Canadians, Colombians and others also want an improved system of sales and transfer that would include “criteria to determine whether any proposed transfer of [small arms and light weapons] will aggravate a conflict, repress human rights, undermine development or constitute a risk of diversion.”

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