Kerry signs Arms Trade Treaty
By JENNIFER EPSTEIN |
9/25/13 11:24 AM EDT
Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday signed the Arms Trade Treaty, setting up a new battle between the Obama administration and pro-gun organizations that will play out as the Senate prepares to vote on ratification of the agreement.
Kerry signed the treaty on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, calling it a “significant step” toward making the making the world a safer place.
The agreement is intended to limit the flow of small arms and other weapons to conflict zones and human rights abusers — including Russia’s sale of weapons to Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria — and has long been opposed by the National Rifle Association.
Fifty-three voted against the treaty in a nonbinding amendment on a budget bill earlier this year, but the administration has chosen to push ahead with the symbolic move of signing the treaty and pushing for support in the Senate, where a two-thirds majority is needed to ratify the agreement.
“The treaty builds on decades of cooperative efforts to stem the international, illegal, and illicit trade in conventional weapons that benefits terrorists and rogue agents,” a senior State Department official said. “The treaty will help reduce the risk that international transfers of conventional arms will be used to carry out the world’s worst crimes.”
But the path to ratification won’t be smooth — the NRA and others argue that the treaty violates Second Amendment rights, in part because it would track civilian gun purchases.
In a letter to President Barack Obama sent Tuesday night, hours after Senate leaders were notified of Kerry’s plans to sign the treaty on Wednesday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed concerns about the treaty. “The ATT raises significant legislative and constitutional questions. Any act to implement this treaty, provisionally or otherwise, before the Congress provides its advice and consent would be inconsistent with the United States Constitution, law, and practice,” he wrote.
The administration should not act until Senate has evaluated the treaty, Corker added, because the body “has not yet provided its advice and consent, and may not provide such consent.”
The State Department contends that the treaty “recognizes and protects the freedom of both individuals and states to obtain, possess, and use arms for legitimate purposes,” the senior official said. “It merely helps other countries create and enforce the kind of strict national export controls the United States has had in place for decades which haven’t diminished one iota the ability of Americans to enjoy their rights under our Constitution.”
The United States was the 91st state to sign the treaty, which has thus far been ratified by four states. It will take effect once 50 have ratified it.