Arms treaty draws NRA, conservative ire
Secretary of State John Kerry signs the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty.
September 25th, 2013
02:56 PM ET

Arms treaty draws NRA, conservative ire

By Jamie Crawford

The United States signed on to an international arms control treaty Wednesday that seeks to reduce global atrocities, but the road to ratification in the Senate may prove to be extremely bumpy and, possibly, insurmountable.

Secretary of State John Kerry signed the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on the sidelines of this week's gathering of the U.N. General Assembly.

The treaty, which nearly 90 countries have signed, requires signatory countries to ensure arms are not sent to countries where they could be used to commit genocide, crimes against humanity or other serious human rights abuses.

"This is about keeping weapons out of the hands of terrorists and rogue actors," Kerry said as he signed. "This is about reducing the risk of international transfers of conventional arms that will be used to carry out the world's worst crimes."

But with the treaty requiring the consent of two-thirds of the Senate for its approval, the battle lines back in Washington were sharply drawn even before Kerry put pen to paper on behalf of the United States.

Several influential and powerful Republicans voiced their disapproval in letters to the Obama administration.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the treaty "raises significant legislative and constitutional questions."

Corker, in a letter addressed to President Barack Obama, warned Obama against taking any executive action to implement the treaty because, in his view, the treaty required changes to United States law through legislation passed by both houses before it could go into effect.

"Various provisions of the ATT, including but not limited to those related to the regulation of imports and trade in conventional arms, require such implementing legislation and relate to matters exclusively reserved to Congress under our Constitution," Corker wrote.

An even greater threat to the treaty's prospects in the Senate was echoed in a letter from Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, to Kerry. Quite simply, the votes for the treaty's passage are likely not there.

In an amendment to the budget resolution this March, 53 senators voted for an amendment sponsored by Inhofe preventing the United States from entering into the treaty. Eight of those votes were cast by Democrats - some of whom face a tough 2014 re-election climate in states that traditionally tilt Republican.

Inhofe, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said such treaties "threaten our country's sovereignty," and warned the treaty would "collect dust" alongside other U.N.-sponsored treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Law of the Sea Treaty, which were never voted out of the Senate.

While the United States is currently locked in a passionate debate over gun control legislation following several mass shooting in recent months, international events however seem to be the driving force behind the administration's push for the treaty.

As the bloodshed and violence in Syria's civil war show no signs of abating, the Obama administration is signing the treaty in part to apply pressure on Russia to cease its arms sales to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The treaty was adopted earlier this year by the General Assembly, but Russia, and Syria's other major supporter at the United Nations, China, has not yet signed on.

But detractors to the treaty see a threat to individual American freedoms hanging in the balance as well.

"The Obama administration is once again demonstrating its contempt for our fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms," Chris Cox, executive director of the Institute for Legislative Action at the National Rifle Association, said in a written statement.

"This treaty threatens individual firearm ownership with an invasive registration scheme," Cox said, adding the NRA would continue working to oppose Senate ratification of the treaty.

Among the concerns of the NRA are the treaty's inclusion of small arms and light weapons within its scope, which the organization says include those same types of arms owned by law-abiding American citizens. The NRA also opposes the treaty's call for the retention of data on end users of imported firearms.

As he signed the treaty, Kerry sought to dispel those concerns by saying the United States would "never think about supporting a treaty that is inconsistent with the rights of Americans."

"The treaty recognizes the freedom of both individuals and states to obtain, possess, and use arms for legitimate purposes," Kerry said. "This treaty reaffirms the sovereign right of each country to decide for itself, consistent with its own constitutional and legal requirements, how to deal with the conventional arms that are exclusively used within its borders."

CNN's Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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