DENVER | Former Rep. Tom Tancredo, best known for his tough stand in Congress against illegal immigration, has taken up a new cause since his retirement from the House last year: defending American gun owners against international treaties.
The Obama administration is moving forward on two treaties that Mr. Tancredo and other gun rights advocates see as a threat to the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. His response is a 2010 ballot initiative that would direct elected officials in his home state of Colorado to oppose any such agreements.
The initiative, filed last week with the Colorado Legislative Council, would be nonbinding, but Mr. Tancredo said merely having it on the ballot would be enough to force candidates to address the issue.
“I want to know where [candidates] stand before they’re elected,” he said in an interview. “I want to get them on the record as quickly as I can. I don’t want to find out after the fact.”
Gun rights advocates went on red alert in October after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reversed Bush administration policy by throwing her support behind the convening of a U.N. conference to discuss a treaty to regulate the international transfer of arms.
Mrs. Clinton argued that “a strong international standard” is needed to tighten worldwide security measures on arms transfers to “rogue states, terrorist groups, and groups seeking to unsettle regions.”
“As long as that conference operates under the rule of consensus decision-making needed to ensure that all countries can be held to standards that will actually improve the global situation by denying arms to those who would abuse them, the United States will actively support the negotiations,” Mrs. Clinton said in an Oct. 14 statement.
Two weeks later, the United States voted in favor of a U.N. resolution calling for a U.N. conference to produce a final accord on the proposed arms trade treaty by 2012.
While Mrs. Clinton said the treaty is aimed at rogue states and terrorists, Mr. Tancredo worries about a backdoor effort to introduce restrictions on American gun ownership.
President Obama “may try to hide it, but he’s committed to gun control in the United States, perhaps gun confiscation in the United States, and he’ll use any means in his control, including international agreements,” Mr. Tancredo said. “What’s next? The United Nations determining who can own guns in the world?”
The White House declined to comment on Mr. Tancredo’s charge about the Obama administration’s gun-control stance, and attempts to reach the State Department were unsuccessful.
But Peter Hamm, a spokesman for the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence, dismissed Mr. Tancredo’s effort as “a red herring that will probably help him raise money for his causes.”
He also said the treaty posed no threat to U.S. gun owners because it merely regulates international trade and tries to shut down black-market transfers.
The U.N. vote marked the second time that the Obama administration has signaled support for an international treaty that U.S. gun rights activists denounce.
At a spring meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Mr. Obama said he would urge the Senate to ratify the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials (CIFTA). President Clinton signed the treaty, but the Senate never approved it.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who is facing a tough re-election fight in 2010, responded with a tepid statement that did not support the treaty, and the chamber has taken no formal action since.
The National Rifle Association said of CIFTA that “anti-gun advocates will still try to use this treaty to attack gun ownership in the U.S.” and added that the group would “vigorously oppose any international effort to restrict the constitutional rights of law-abiding American gun owners.”
John R. Bolton, who served in the Bush administration as ambassador to the United Nations, told the National Rifle Association’s NRA News that “whatever the appearance on the surface, there’s no doubt that domestic firearm control is right at the top of [the Obama administration’s] agenda.”
“The administration is trying to act as though this is really just a treaty about international arms trade between nation states, but there’s no doubt - as was the case back over a decade ago - that the real agenda here is domestic firearms control,” Mr. Bolton said.
Mr. Hamm of the Brady Campaign called concerns over U.N. involvement overstated.
“The U.N. treaty on small arms isn’t really high on our list because it doesn’t have anything to do with dangerous weapons going to dangerous people in the U.S.,” Mr. Hamm said. “It has to do with stopping the massive flow of arms to people trying to seize power around the globe. …
“Leave it to extremists to believe that the U.N. is a dangerous institution with enormous political power.”