The national debate around how to best prevent gun violence took on an international dimension when, on Tuesday, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a treaty to regulate international trade in small arms. The Obama Administration has played a critical role in crafting and developing this treaty and the United States joined 154 countries that voted for it; only three countries voted against it (Syria, Iran and North Korea), and twenty others abstained.
The treaty – which includes tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber weapons, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and launchers, small arms and light weapons – would require that sellers of munitions take steps to ensure that the weapons are not likely to be used in the abuse and violation of human rights.
Much of the discussion around this treaty has focused on Bashar Asad and the Syrian government who, despite well-documented human rights abuses and killing of countless civilians, have continued to receive arms shipments from abroad. Anna McDonald, an analyst for Oxfam International, said of this treaty, “This treaty won’t solve the problems of Syria overnight, no treaty could do that, but it will help to prevent future Syria, It will help to reduce armed violence. It will help to reduce conflict.” Syria was joined by North Korea and Iran in an attempt to block the treaty from coming to a vote late last week.
In order for the treaty to take effect it needs to be ratified by at least fifty countries, and that is likely to be a difficult fight. President Obama, who has repeatedly expressed support for the treaty, will likely face intense resistance in the Senate, where it must pass with a two-thirds majority. The National Rifle Association has come out strongly against the bill saying that it could infringe on the Second Amendment rights of American citizens. There is likely to be considerable resistance from arms manufacturers as the United States is the leading exporter of arms around the world. Finally, there is little appetite for any international treaty for some in Congress, as particularly in light of last year’s disappointing vote on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Religious Action Center has been engaged in a number of actions to help prevent gun violence over the past several months (make sure to call your Senator through Faiths Calling on April 9th in advance of their vote on a domestic gun violence prevention package! ) and we will continue that work as the attention of U.S. lawmakers turns toward considering this treaty.