The gun business is a big business in the United States, and it's even bigger elsewhere in the world. All things told it's a $70 billion industry that knows no political borders besides the ones some gun-buyers are trying to erase and the ones others are trying to defend. With war-torn countries willing to do whatever it takes to get their guns and the illicit arms trade growing by the day, the United Nations has been struggling hard to come up with some sort of international arms trade treaty for over a decade now. And by "struggling hard," I really mean failing. And, according to most of the treaty's supporters, it's all America's fault.
On Monday, representatives of the 193 member countries will gather once again for what many hope will be the final round of negotiations for a treaty that would attempt to regulate the flow of everything from handguns to tanks. Negotiations stalled eight months ago after some member countries (read: the United States) couldn't find middle ground on keeping guns out of villains' hands and protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens. But the emphasis, at least as far as its supporters and the UN secretary-general are concerned, is most definitely on the former. A draft of the proposal very clearly says the treaty intentds to "prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and their diversion to illegal and unauthorized end use."
Let's make one thing very clear, along those lines. The illegal global arms trade is a really scary thing! (Heck, if you think things like Hellfire missiles and shoulder-mounted rocket launchers and AK-47s are scary, you might think that the arms trade in general is scary, but that's another conversation for another day.) Experts say as many as 20 percent of global arms sales are illicit arms sales. These are guns that make their way into the hands of folks like Mexican drug cartels and Yemeni terrorists and Congolese war lords.
For supporters of the treaty like Amnesty International and Oxfam, there are very basic human rights at stake, when it comes to restricting access to deadly weapons. "Every day, 1,500 people die in armed conflicts around the world—one person every minute," explained Michelle Ringuette, chief of campaigns and programs for Amnesty International USA, in a press release protesting the National Rifle Association's opposition to the UN treaty. "These unregulated weapons are used to force tens of thousands of children into armed conflict and to rape women and girls in conflict zones."
But that's not how the NRA—and by proxy, the U.S. contingent—sees things. They see it as yet another big bad governmental body trying to trash their Constitutional rights. "We will not support any treaty that would be inconsistent with U.S. law and the rights of American citizens under our Constitution, including the Second Amendment," Secretary of State John Kerry said recently of the UN's Arms Trade Treaty. "International conventional arms trade is, and will continue to be, a legitimate commercial activity." Well that's only true until it's not. And it's not a solid amount of the time.
Sometimes it's embarrassing to be an American. The U.S. isn't entirely disingenusous when it comes to wanting to keep guns away from bad guys. However, history tells us that the U.S.—which is coincidentally the world's largest arms manufacturer, producing up to 40 percent of the world's guns—might be trying too hard to make sure the good guys continue to have easy access to guns. Kerry did add that he thinks the world's nations should work hard to fight "the world's worst crimes, including those involving terrorism and serious human rights violations." Just don't work too hard.