Fact vs Fiction: Arms Trade Treaty and Gun Ownership in the US

child soldier in liberia

Countries in several parts of the world grapple with the horrific problem of the use of child soldiers exacerbated by the unregulated flow of weapons. © AFP/Getty Images

As world leaders meet in New York this month to negotiate the first ever global arms trade treaty, the Internet has been buzzing with conspiracy theories that such a treaty would infringe on Second Amendment rights in the US.

This is a fallacy, driven at best by misinformation and at worst by a deliberate effort to undermine the treaty. Given the incredibly lucrative arms trade estimated to exceed $60 billion annually (with the US exporting 34% of all weapons) it’s not a surprise that such a misinformation campaign has taken the Internet by storm.

Here let me break down fact from fiction.

Will the ATT stop the sale of handguns in the US?

NO it will not.

The UN General Assembly resolution starting the process on the Arms Trade Treaty explicitly states that it is “the exclusive right of States to regulate internal transfers of arms and national ownership, including through constitutional protections on private ownership.”

No ATT can therefore infringe on that exclusive right. To that end, all the papers circulated by the Chair of the UN ATT (Ambassador Roberto García Moritán of Argentina) process clearly reference that right.

Further, Ambassador Moritán has stated that the definitive goal of the small arms treaty “is to try to have common standards to be applied by all countries when they export or import weapons.”

Furthermore, about the ATT, the State Department has said:

“There will be no restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution. There will be no dilution or diminishing of sovereign control over issues involving the private acquisition, ownership, or possession of firearms, which must remain matters of domestic law.”

What the ATT will do

It will stop the black market in arms on global level.

Every minute, someone dies from armed violence. Because of the out-of-control worldwide arms trade thousands more are injured, raped, forced into becoming child soldiers and worse.

While the international community regulates things like bananas and dinosaur bones, there are virtually no global rules for the trade of products designed to kill and injure.

There are several factors contributing to the crisis that is being caused by the global trade.  Key among those are:

  • Irresponsible decisions by governments – who regularly flout or ignore their obligations not to contribute to human rights violations;
  • Gaping loop holes in the current international regime regulating global arms sales, transfers and other exchanges and,
  • A lack of implementation by governments of the regulations that do exist.

These factors contribute to and facilitate the black market as well as the terrible human rights abuses linked to this trade.

An ATT would improve transparency and accountability, and would establish common standards to regulate the different kinds of transfers that make up the global arms trade.

A robust ATT will require governments to establish stronger, more rigorous systems to manage and regulate their countries’ export and import of weapons and munitions.

In short, the ATT will help keep weapons out of the hands of the worst human rights abusers and save countless lives.

AIUSA welcomes a lively and courteous discussion that follow our Community Guidelines. Comments are not pre-screened before they post but AIUSA reserves the right to remove any comments violating our guidelines.

50 thoughts on “Fact vs Fiction: Arms Trade Treaty and Gun Ownership in the US

  1. the black arms market works both ways… the "bad guys" get armed, but so do the "good guys". Let's look at Sudan for example. The Sudanese government is armed, overtly and/or covertly, by nations like China. I don't mean just the national army but militia groups such as janjaweed. Shouldn't the victims of that genocide be able to defend themselves? They have no weapons beyond what they are able to capture, and that isn't much. South Sudan is a recent creation, and the non-Muslims in Dardur still need help. The black arms market supplies them with the capability to fight back. With the ATT, the Sudanese government may still receive military aid from China because that follows the rules, but who will help those in Darfur on the receiving end of those weapons? The US does a lot of black market arms deals *for a reason*. How do you think the communists were deposed from Afghanistan? Not because we sent the mujahadeen water bottles, but because we sent them AK-47s and anti-aircraft missiles, under the table. How do you think Hosni and Ghadaffi were deposed? How are the Syrian people supposed to rid themselves of Assad? They need weapons and ammo, but the US can't be openly feeding them, so it must take place under the table.

    • And now the people that we armed in Afghanistan are killing Americans. Remember Osama bin Laden? We were great buds with him during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Also, Afghanistan had a communist government from 1978 – 1992, and the Soviet invasion was in 1978, so the only thing that war solved was getting the USSR out of Afghanistan, not communism. Hosni Mubarak stepped down from his rule after demonstrations that was mainly NON-VIOLENT, and violence on the civilian side usually only went as far as riots, and it doesn't take much to make a molotov. The Libyans were having trouble even WITH their guns till NATO lanched air strikes and enforced the no-fly zone. And China shouldn't be able to distribute weapons anymore with this treaty, since it is supposed prevent loopholes and any trade with a risk country like Sudan. And its true that the Syrians need to defend themselves, but it would help more if there was a more effective U.N. Peace Keeping Force, and also Syrians are most likely getting their weapons from neighboring Arab countries and plenty of deserters also come from the army and bring their guns with them.

      • I'm sorry John but the United Nations is never, ever going to be an effective peace keeping force. The bad guys have guns, thus the good guys need guns, and we can't always arm the good guys overtly, so the black arms market must survive. If you needed an AK47 to protect your family you may think the same.

      • Yes thanks for this comment John !

        Thinking of the world as a fight in which "good guys" should kill the "bad guys" and therefore would need weapons seems a very narrow minded analysis.

  2. Guns go where the money is. We only hear about the National rifle Association, but not about the arms manufacturers who surely sell them to all sorts of crooks, of course, only for money. I have never heard of a gun manufacturer accused of illegal sales.It is the military-industrial complex, as President Eisenhower told us, that suppliies weapons to anyone who can pay, legal or illegal, and who apparently, are never prosecuted.

    • Hear, hear! This treaty isn't about weapons! This treaty is about control for the Industrial Military Complex! The IMC will go out of its way to round up its competition and put them out of businees so that the IMC will have a monopoly on mayhem!

      This myopic treaty will only serve to disarm the good guys!

    • Amen Arnold! I will personally accuse one well known gun manufacturer of allowing the sale of a handgun to my LATE husband, who definitely had a felonious criminal record ( albeit all non-violent) longer than Shaquil Oneil's arms!! The obvious ONE time that handgun was fired made me a widow at age 38! He had never owned any gun prior to that in his life! I was able to legally obtain that awful gun from the Police Dept.'s evidence, and know that it does indeed have a serial number on it as well as the manufacturer's name, but the police claim that "ATF couldn't trace the history of that gun!" What HOGWASH!!!!!!!!! That fatal sell took place only ONE MONTH prior to the signing of the Brady Bill which had been delayed by the NRA!!!!!!!!

      • All firearms made in or imported to the U.S. have serial numbers on them.. but there is no Federal database to track weapons that have not previously been used in criminal activity.. in fact, it is not legal for the Fed to create or maintain a registry.. individual States can attempt to do so but will run into financial problems since it is very expensive and has not been proven to prevent or solve crimes.

  3. ''What the ATT will do

    It will stop the black market in arms on global level.''

    An ATT, even a strong one, would not stop the balck market in arms. There will always be a black market in arms at the global level. An ATT may reduce the number of arms (and hopefully ammunition) being traded in the black market but it will not stop it entirely.

    • Again, this treaty is arrogant and short-sighted! Arm everyone that we can defend ourselves! Maybe then criminals would think twice about exerting their craziness over others!

      "For those wo will trade your liberties for a little bit of security, you desrve neither!" – Ben Franklin

  4. Most gun crimes in Canada are with smuggled American guns. Americans are seen as crazy, brain-washed fools – terrorists, really – because of their love of guns. The whole world sees it this way, but Americans only look at the amount of lint in their own navels.

    • wrong ya see us CRAZY americans dont need a gun to be crazy. As far as brain washed well If Obama is re elected I may have to agree with that. Stupid Gullable american idiots is what we bw then unless of course its proven the elections are rigged then We the stupid people still for allowing that to happen and the only terrorists I see here are imagrints & the government

    • So the U.S. is to blame for Mexico's drug trade.. but Canada is not to blame for the gun trade from the U.S. ?? Weird, I guess any and all problems have to be blamed on the U.S.

  5. If we can reduce the number of guns and the amount of ammunition available to dangerous people, that is a very good thing. Martha ryder

    • Problem is – the only ones that'll turn in their guns are the good guys and there are plenty of evil guys who will not only hang onto their guns, but will buy more!

  6. I'm with the NRA on this one, as (1) the (US) Department of Justice doesn't recognize the validity of the 2nd Amendment, as recognized by the US Supreme Court,; (2) "foreign trade" (under US law) includes a transfer between non-citizens within the US, and (3) the regulations required to enforce the treaty would almost certainly infringe on rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. It's possible the treaty could be drafted to avoid point 2, making it _only_ apply to _really_ foreign trade, but it may not be possible to do and to meet the goals of the treaty.

  7. ITAR…. look it up.

    Also, what about Fast and Furious? that was the US Justice dept trafficking arms illegal to elements in war with the government of mexico.

    • Fast and Furious was two sided. On one side they armed Mexican cartels, on the other side they blamed American gun owners for the firearms that the government provided to the cartels. People should be infuriated over it.

  8. "When seconds count…. ……the police are only Minutes away!"
    It looks like the arguments here break down to two mindsets:
    1. The Cloistered, privileged and lucky (so far)
    2. Those who have seen life's ugly realities & also know that Governments always seek to more thoroughly dominate their Subjects.

    • Great point, "only minutes away". Two incidents like this come to mind. A coworker of mine was a victim of an armed robbery at a convenience store. In this situation he went to the gun range before his scheduled shift and on this day kept his 44 magnum below the counter in case needed. In this case, several hours later, two armed individuals entered the store. One produced a sawed off shotgun and tried to fire on him. He drew his weapon at the same time. The perpetrators did not get hs shot off, but his gun went off close to his head. He missed, but the muzzle blast just inches away disoriented him enough that he was able to leap the counter and deliver a kick square to the groin that put the bad guy down for good. It was later determined that he ruptured one of the guys testicles. The rest of the rounds were spent from his revolver blasting through shelves of merchandise and he finally connected with a hit to the thigh. His adrenaline was sky high, he admits to pissing himself. It was semi under control when about 3 minutes later he gets a call on the phone. It is the police. They are across the street and want to know what the situation is like, and if it is safe to come in there as they have heard that "it was reported that a cannon had gone off in there." Of course he gave them the all clear. Second case, up in San Jose, CA a friend of mine was in the vicinity of an officer whose police radio went off. It was a call for assistance as a gang related gun battle was underway. He continued with his current preoccupation. When questioned why he was not getting on it right away, he matter of factly said no need to run up into the middle of it. In effect let is settle and then approach it from a more manageable situation. You may question the officers motivation, but then again they are doing many things from the perspective of the resources they have available, the type of victims in this latter case that are involved, ie ones who have made themselves expendable, and the increasingly prevalent subculture of " Don't Snitch" which makes witnesses in many communities uncooperative in closing out investigations, much less coming up with convictions. So in effect, if you are one of the privileged ones, or right locale, color, you pick the criteria, do not expect saviors in shining armor to be to your rescue immediately. Treaties are never written in simple, direct, unambiguous language. Instead they rely on nuance and manipulation of interpretation to control or deny the ones who are subject to it. And that will include the subject citizenry of the United States.

  9. Looks like the NRA and arms dealer flacks were all over this one. Yeah, guys, let's just arm *everyone* because that will save lots of lives… and your concerns are all about protecting human rights and saving lives. Couldn't have anything to do with money, could it?

  10. Coments are allover the lot, but the real culprit is the NRA. Without it and its millions (humans and $) ranting behind their misunderstanding of the constitution, plus its wholehearted support of the arms industry and together with it literally blinding the rest of the country, the American people would be able to stand back and take a critical look at themselves. We are, indeed, gun crazy, myself included. Yes, I own three handguns. Why? Irrational fear that someone, and you read about them every day in the papers, will take a notion to invade my home or acost me. I'm not proud of it, but to me it's real.
    The NRA should support the ATT

  11. Let the arms treaty say that the government will not abuse, will not violate the human rights of the people, will not jail persons without just cause, will provide due process, will not execute, or otherwise disappear a person, will not deprive a person of his or her life, liberty, property or common rights and freedoms, will provide freedom and justice for all people and will at all times act in the best interest of all citizens or persons resident or visitor. Let the government be by the people, for the people and let the government be unarmed except for such necessary arms to defend the people from criminal elements and forces that wish to overpower, subjugate and abuse the people. Let the government stop abusive tactics and the people have no use for arms. Let the Arms Treaty say that no restriction shall be placed on the right and use of arms by the people to defend themselves against a despotic, tyrannical, abusive,non responsive government. Arms to the people, limit of arms to the government.

  12. I just don't understand the NRA. Just because the UN Gun Treaty committee is headed up by the nation that is one of the worse offenders of terrorism and the key US people behind it are some of nations leading gun control proponents is no reason to suspect it is a sinister plot. After all just because they have spent their lives trying to kill the basic human rights of millions of people is no reason to think that they would do anything to harm that most basic of rights.
    Maybe if Amnesty International had spent more time and effort protecting our rights we might trust them more. I am sorry but on this matter I must give to the NRA the money I used to give Amnesty.

    • Really dude? Amnesty International hasn't spent enough time and effort protecting your rights? All they do is find violations of human rights, and then publicize those violations and organize resistance. They really are protecting you, whether you realize it or not. Maybe your right to own a gun just isn't a priority when your right to simply speak your mind without being falsely arrested and imprisoned is threatened. Your right to own a gun isn't such a big deal compared to your right to not be brutalized mercilessly by a police officer who fears no consequence, your right to provide first aid to an injured combatant without being fired on, your right to a fair trial, and if you are convicted, your right to be held in conditions that don't endanger your life/health/safety, your right to participate in elections free from tampering and fraud, etc

  13. Evil is a human characteristic. Governments are formed by humans and therefore capable of evil. Ours is the only Constitution constructed to check government by protecting the rights of the individual. This treaty undermines that Constitution. Those who would put their ultimate trust in government for protection and security will always lose that security along with losing their freedom. Amnesty has chosen the side of evill on this issue.

  14. …Follow the money. It is as simple as that. The ATT will have no jurisdiction that would infringe upon the laws within the U.S. that guarantee american citizens their enumerated rights under the second amendment; those that think that it will are simply misinformed.
    Further, the debate over the issue of second-amendment rights in this context is not a question of sacrificing freedoms for a sense of security, it is that a well informed citizenry cannot be exploited. And (in this context) the NRA is far less a heroic defender of the second amendment, than it is a well funded mouth-peice for the industrial gun lobby. Follow the money, people…. The staggering amount of money that the Industrialized military complex sees itself loosing if the ATT were 'adopted' is far more the reason that the NRA is pulling out all the stops to rally its base in opposition to the ATT. In this case, the NRA flaunts that it is the bastion of our second-amendment rights while actually using fear to exploit anyone who will listen to its well funded well organize and expertly crafted misinformation as it conjures the imaginary threats to our civil liberties to further industrial gun-lobby interests.
    It is logical, reasonable and humane to adopt ATT to help to address the cycle of violence and tragedy caused by 'insurgent' arms around the world; and it will not infringe upon our rights as responsible gun owners and american citizens.

  15. Very few people ever really believe or can quite comprehend the truly uncalled for miseries of so many others unless it happens to be someone in THEIR family or circle of friends! I suppose I don't really quite wish them the all too common misfortunes just so that they might actually understand before it's too late! Peace, Pat

  16. If this wee to be ratified in the US, would that mean no more imported guns and ammo sold here?

  17. @John – no. The US is still free to make its own legislation and to import guns and ammo as the market dictates.

  18. Thanks to everyone for the comments and lively debate. Please remember: what is at stake here is not the right to gun ownership, but rather accountability and transparency in the international arms trade. Amnesty International is calling for an arms treaty that would prevent weapons from being sold to regimes and armed groups that use these weapons to commit atrocities.

    • I am an American gun owner and supporter of gun ownership, and it shames me to see the NRA and other pro-gun right's organizations and personalities claim that this proposed treaty is a "gun grab". It's pathetic and makes all gun lovers look bad.

    • But you don't seem to look at the realities to what you are proposing AmnestyIntl, how do you propose the UN prevent small arms from being sold to blood thirsty regimes, when They can't even stop the blood thirsty regime of Iran from acquiring the material to make nuclear weapons. I know you must have causes to justify your existence, but this treaty you propose is a joke. It's like some of our gun laws in certain cities, the law abiding citizens unarm themselves so they don't break a law. Meanwhile the crooks know this and arm themselves knowing it will be easy pickings against the people that gave up their guns. Because if they are not worried about the punishment for armed robbery, you think they will worry for the lessor charge of poss. of a handgun in the city limits?

      • how do you think a criminal gets hold of a gun? generally, every illegal gun was once a legal one. maybe you want a gun to protect your home from burglars. but you weren't home when the burglar broke in, and now a criminal has your gun. or maybe you reach the end of your law abiding rope and use your gun to commit a crime. or maybe you are purchasing guns legally and then selling them illegally. Whether you oppose or support gun control, you should face the reality that every legal gun has the potential to become illegal somehow. illegal guns don't just grow on trees

  19. I wish armed conflict would disappear, but this is obviously "pie in the sky." People want real justice, not kangaroo court of law type justice, and when the traditional institutions don't provide it, folks will take the law into their own hands.

    Guns are neutral, just as is a knife. In the hands of a skilled surgeon it can save a life; in the hands of a killer, it can take one.

    One thing I've noticed about the International Court of Justice is that it seems that only losers are charged with Crimes Against Humanity…

    I had a colleague who was in the Arms Business; he had lots of stories to tell…


  20. What people should be petitioning for is for the law to STRICTLY ENFORCE the so called …….10-20-LIFE LAW….. All you anti gun people should know of that law well maybe not cuz THEY DONT ENFORCE IT. Posess a gun during a felony .10 MANDATORY yrs if ya shoot it during a felony 20 MANDATORY yrs ya shoot somebody (kill or not) MANDATORY Life in prison. Dont take away the guns PUT AWAY the criminals Guns are not the problem… Criminals idiots mostly kids young adults. You can tighten the reigns & pass all the laws ya want the majority of most all the guns involved in crime are STOLEN. HELLOO thats why they are called throw aways on the streets people ya dont really believe that criminals actually have legal legitimate firearms think about it convicted FELONS DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS so what good is the crap in this petition gonna do? Its like my uncle always said….The Day Guns Are Outawd Is When Only Outlaws will Have Guns. Nobody want that day to happen

    • Val, I do not disagree with your comments per-se, but they are just another example of how misinformation has pervaded this issue. Nothing you wrote is even remotely related to the proposed Arms Trade Treaty.
      I am a responsible gun owner and I support the proposed Treaty.

    • Putting people in prison for life doesn't solve problems. You need to reform people, not leave them to rot. That's exactly how organized crime spreads… Through the prisons.

  21. As a person who supports the rights of gun owners I would still like it to be harder to obtain a gun, and certainly hard to obtain large amounts of ammunition. Also I would like to see more comprehensive laws in the area of gun exports. If we are going to do this, we should make our own laws, not allow some do nothing body like the U.N to mess in our affairs. The U.N is one of the most pathetic organizations in the world, and we would be foolish to allow them to dictate such an important aspect of American culture.

  22. Reply to Anon:
    Given that the proposed Arms Trade Treaty has nothing to do with U.S. domestic gun law that pertains to our rights as enumerated in the Second Amendment…
    Anon, where would YOU like to start with your plan " to see more comprehensive laws in the area of gun exports" ? Keeping in mind that the NRA's lobby machine has nearly unlimited resources to protect, not the rights of you and I as responsible gun owners, but the rights of the massive gun manufacturing industry and their vested interests in the steady flow of weapons to anywhere in the world that they can make a buck? Do you think that our congress will make laws to support the restriction of these arms exports that ultimately make their way into the destructive, global, black market, arena while "Citizens United" ,thanks to our short-sited friends on the right side of the Supreme Court, has opened the flood gates of corporate money flowing into the pockets of our current law-makers and candidate's elections?
    But if you have some solution to that problem it will only solve the U.S. contribution to the global, black market, mayhem. Because, Anon, the U.S. Congress has no legislative powers beyond our borders. So how do you propose that we address the massive amount of arms getting into the global black market from a host of other countries that are contributing to the violence and tragedy? Now, I'm among those that know that the U.N. is far from perfect– much like our own system of government, but it is still the best system we have for peaceful, and sometimes constructive, dialogue between nations. And, I'm not saying that you or someone else can't think of a better way to help stem the disastrous affect that the global, black market gun trade has had in so many desperate countries and regions around the world; but what's wrong with the countries that contribute to most of the insanity — agreeing to a proposed Arms Trade Treaty that is intended to reduce the catastrophic brutality of the international, black market, trade of arms?

  23. What about MACHETES Mr. ADOTEI AKWEI, why have you not called on a ban of them. Surely you must know Adotei that HALF A MILLION people were hacked to death at a rate guns would have found hard to keep up with. 500,000 Africans killed without a single shot, killed by their own countrymen.
    No, don't blame guns, the USA, has millions of guns in the homes of private citizen, yet the picture you
    show at the beginning of your article doesn't shock anyone, as it is common place to see such things in black African run regimes. No that's not racist that is truth, as you would never see such a picture in the streets of the US.. One last thing, you do know Adotei that passage of this treaty would affect every black run govt. in the world, and you could not come back later and say it's a racist bill.

  24. Also, Logan, name one thing the UN has done that has had any positive affect, just one. You can't they are a joke, how many times has genocide occured while the UN stood by and did nothing but have meetings. The whole organization is waste of money, time, and do nothing but give false hope to those who need help. If they can do nothing to help stop a genocide, you think they can keep guns out of the hands of a people whose culture says it's ok to arm 8 yr olds. Grow up guy, and stop watching cartoons.

  25. Oh yes, let's rush to ban weapons because the ban on drugs is working so well…

  26. Yeah well, funky ad….is there anyone with a gun that is not an abuser? Amnesty writes "prevent weapons to fall into dangerous hands" – possessing a weapon implicates that you are dangerous, isn't it??

  27. Let the government be by the people, for the people and let the government be unarmed except for such necessary arms to defend the people from criminal elements and forces that wish to overpower, subjugate and abuse the people.

  28. You will surely consider me an extremist and whatnot. Still, I will say my piece:

    Guns are a necessary evil. My family survived the war in Bosnia. Neither my dad, nor my mom, nor their friends would have survived without the black market. See, the international community thought it was a good idea to deny us weapons when somebody was commiting genocide against us. If my father didn't have an AK, I wouldn't be alive today. Neither would my brothers. And we aren't a special case, it is common for us refugees to have had to use weapons to survive. And because of that it is also nice to be armed for the next time something like that happens. Stuff like war is always unthinkable that it will happen until it actually happens. Yugoslavia was rich and nobody thought there'd be a war, yet it happened. Lybia? Rich country, still a war broke out.

    Also, going after the civilian and per default legal gun owner isn't really a solution. In regards to crime, you need a prison system that isn't for profit but rather focused on reforming the criminals. Look at Norway, they have done things right in that regard.

  29. At least there should be more restriction to gun owners – especially for those who want to buy a new one. Get more detailed medical report, make sure that they don't have any mental issue, or under stress/depression/family problems.