NEW YORK — U.N. officials have received more than 100,000 letters, many of them generated by a National Rifle Association campaign, protesting a U.N. forum on illicit small arms that starts Monday and runs through July Fourth.
“The 4th of July is America’s most revered national holiday. Yet, you have nevertheless chosen that day to meet at the U.N., on American soil, in your drive to ban civilian firearm ownership worldwide. In doing so, you have placed the U.N. squarely on the side of freedom’s enemies,” reads a form letter to Secretary-General Kofi Annan made available on an NRA Web site (www.stopungunban.org).
Another sample letter, addressed to Sri Lankan Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam, who will preside over the conference, says: “The American people will never let you take away the rights that our 4th of July holiday represents. Our freedoms are not to blame for the world’s problems, and this is a battle you can never win.”
Mr. Kariyawasam, who sought to allay American concerns at a press conference this week, said he had received more than 100,000 such letters “from the U.S. public, saying you’re having this meeting on the Fourth of July, and you will not take our guns away on this day.”
Mr. Kariyawasam insisted that the timing of the two-week Small Arms Review Conference was purely coincidental and that the conferees would not discuss the legal possession, manufacture or transfer of weapons.
The main page of the NRA Web site says the purpose of the conference is “to finalize a U.N. treaty that would strip all citizens of all nations of their right to self-protection, and strip you of your rights under the Second Amendment.”
No treaty is up for discussion.
Mr. Kariyawasam said, “Some members of the U.S. public are totally misinformed. This conference is about illegal weapons.”
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, said in an interview last night that the letter-writing campaign was important to show U.N. officials they cannot take away the individual’s right to self-protection.
“I’ve seen their statements that say it’s only illegal guns and illegal trading,” he said. “But the U.S. specifically tried to narrow this U.N. conference down to military style machine guns, and that was rejected. They are talking about every rifle, shotgun and handgun.”
The United Nations agreed in 2001 to fight the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons after a divisive battle to define the scope of their efforts. Governments pledged to collect and destroy illegal weapons and tighten legislation to squeeze out illicit importing, exporting and sales.
The effort is restricted to small arms and light weapons — basically, anything that can be fired by a person or transported on the back of a pickup truck. Such weapons represent a $4-billion-a-year business, according to U.N. statistics, of which an estimated $1 billion is illicit.
So far, 50 nations have destroyed excess weapons by burning them in “flames of peace” bonfires or crushing them under massive bulldozers.
The Bush administration has worked vigorously over the past five years to repel language endorsed by many European nations that would tighten controls on legally owned civilian firearms, and to compel manufacturers to mark each weapon and set up a registry to trace its ownership.
Most U.N. members are expected to participate in next week’s conference, whose purpose is to assess how much progress has been made since 2001 and to plan future steps.
Some nations and private groups will explore the potential of an international agreement to record and track arms sales and transfers, but Mr. Kariyawasam said such talks would be on the sidelines of the main event.
The U.S. delegation to the conference will be led by Robert Joseph, who succeeded John R. Bolton as the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.
Mr. Bolton, now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is the intended recipient of another NRA form letter.
“I urge you to use every means at your disposal to ensure the defeat of this treaty, and make sure that not one single dollar of American tax money is used by the U.N. to advance this global gun-control scheme,” it says.
The NRA, officially recognized by the United Nations as a nongovernmental organization (NGO), is one of 210 such groups expected to attend the conference. Others represent pro-gun groups from Canada, Brazil, Britain, Italy, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Several shooting and sporting advocacy groups plan to speak during a day set aside for NGOs.