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Arms treaty incites concerns in gun owners

| Monday, July 23, 2012, 12:09 a.m.

An international arms trade treaty being hammered out at the United Nations is giving some gun owners the jitters, even though some legal experts say those fears are unfounded.

Weekend negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty could produce a draft agreement by Monday. The talks are scheduled to conclude on Friday after four weeks.

According to draft documents, the goal of the treaty is to improve the regulation of international trade in conventional weapons through a set of new standards.

But some gun owners — as well as the National Rifle Association, the nation's largest gun lobby — are concerned that they would be forced to register their weapons with a new U.N. bureaucracy.

“It would be devastating,” said Kim Stolfer, 57, of South Fayette, chairman and co-founder of Firearm Owners Against Crime, a statewide grass-roots political action committee.

Internet bloggers such as musicians Charlie Daniels and Ted Nugent have decried what's been dubbed the United Nations' “gun grab.”

U.S. gun owners should not worry that they'll have to register their guns with the United Nations, a U.N. official said.

“It's not even decided what the scope of the treaty is. It may or may not include small arms,” said Ewen Buchanan, information officer for the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs, which is providing staff and other support for the conference.

The concerns raised by gun owners appear to be much ado about nothing, said Jules Lobel, a constitutional law professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

“This treaty is designed to regulate arms exports,” he said. “The Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to purchase a gun domestically.”

Case law makes it “pretty clear” that a treaty cannot violate the Constitution, Lobel said.

U.N. documents state the treaty will not interfere with domestic arms trade or civilian possession of firearms, not will it create an international gun register.

It's been difficult going for the 300 or so delegates representing the 193 member countries of the U.N. General Assembly, observers said. The talks are a week behind schedule.

“There are six or seven critical issues to be resolved,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington.

Delegates are wrangling over what the treaty would cover, what countries would be required to do when reporting imports or exports of arms and how to implement the rules, Kimball said.

At one point during the talks, a suggestion was made to include police cars in the treaty because they transport armed officers and “non-explosive weapons,” said Ted Bromund, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.

“What are non-explosive weapons?” he said. “Pointed sticks and rocks?”

The Obama administration supported the four-week conference, a reversal of U.S. policy. The Bush administration preferred national controls over small arms.

The treaty and its potential ramifications have been hot topics of discussion at local sportsmen's clubs, officials said.

“Possessing a firearm is the sign of a free people,” said Mark Cleaver, 56, of North Versailles, president of the 1,900-member Pitcairn-Monroeville Sportsmen's Club. “These United Nations treaties all set up the U.N. as the ultimate arbitrator over our laws.”

NRA Chief Wayne LaPierre believes the treaty will require more gun registrations, owner licensing and vast new record-keeping and tracking requirements.

“American gun owners will never surrender our Second Amendment freedom. Period,” LaPierre said in an address to the conference. “No foreign influence has jurisdiction over the freedoms our Founding Fathers guaranteed to us.”

Despite gun owners' concerns — the NRA has received thousands of calls from members on the issue — the treaty will likely be DOA in Washington, a leading constitutional law expert said.

“It's an election year,” said Sanford V. Levinson, constitutional law professor at the University of Texas in Austin. “The political constraints are far more important than the constitutional questions.”

The treaty, Levinson said, would be unenforceable.

If a treaty results from the conference, it would go to the Senate for ratification; 58 senators have said they'll oppose it.

About 130 House members wrote a letter in June to President Obama in opposition to the treaty, saying the agreement should not cover small arms, light weapons or ammunition and “should expressly recognize the individual right of personal self-defense, as well as the legitimacy” of hunting, sports shooting and other legal activities.

Two local lawmakers, Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, and Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, signed the letter.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or

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