This article was first published at www.forbes.com.
by Ted R. Bromund
USA – -(Ammoland.com)- For the past two weeks, I’ve been attending the Third U.N. Conference to Review Progress Made in the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects — mercifully abbreviated as RevCon 3 for the PoA.
In theory, the purpose of the PoA — which is a political instrument, not a treaty — is to encourage cooperation on the illicit international trade in small arms. If the PoA stuck to this, it might be modestly useful. It can only be modestly useful because far too many nations at the U.N. don’t right now have the ability, or the desire, to do the basic things they have repeatedly committed to doing.
Unfortunately, the PoA doesn’t stick to the illicit international trade in small arms. And in the process of not allowing it to stick to its job, its supporters say a lot of stupid things. And yes, they do like to talk about gun control. Here are the ten dumbest things I’ve heard about guns at the United Nations over the past two weeks.
- Mexico’s proposal to include IEDs. Make no mistake, IEDs are a problem. But they’re not one the PoA can usefully address. Many types of IED are already illegal. Many of them are not trafficked internationally. And above all, they’re used almost exclusively by terrorists. Putting IEDs into the PoA amounts to implying that Al Qaeda should sign up to it.
- Europe’s invention of new kinds of guns. You’d think there would be just two kinds of guns: ones that can fire, and ones that can’t. If you want to make a gun that can fire into one that can’t, use a torch to cut the frame (or receiver) in half. Not so, according to Europe, which for some reason doesn’t like to cut guns in half. As a result, it doesn’t have a reliable way to deactivate guns, and so now recognizes five different kinds of guns: manufactured, downgraded, converted, deactivated, and reactivated firearms. And of course, it wants new rules for all of these, with numbers put in all the parts of every firearm. In theory, this will prevent terrorist attacks like the one in Paris in 2015, which used weapons that were supposedly deactivated. In practice, it will just create confusion. The simplest thing to do is to define and number a gun by its frame (or receiver), state that the way to deactivate a gun is to cut it in half, and move on.
- The worship of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Goals, known as the SDGs, are a tedious laundry list of 169 separate targets, most of which are in reality merely pious aspirations or politicized goals. One of these targets is “by 2030 [to] significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows.” The PoA isn’t likely to make a major contribution to this target, but the fact that the target mentions illicit arms flows has become an excuse on the part of the Europeans and the Africans to lard the PoA with loads of references to the SDGs. The point of this is to turn the PoA into a human rights and development agreement, and, by the by, to transform it into politicized mush with no relevance to actually reducing the illicit arms trade.
- Mexico’s proposal to regulate “the end user.” For years, Mexico has argued that the PoA shouldn’t simply concern itself with the international illicit arms trade, but should reach inside national borders and regulate “end users.” In the U.S., that means individual purchasers of firearms, which is precisely why Mexico wants what it wants: it’s trying to use the PoA to mandate gun control in the U.S. Mexico’s proposal is part of the PoA’s curious tendency to forget that it’s supposed to be focusing solely on the international trade, and to wade off into regulating the “end user.” The highlight of this tendency is the proposal, made in 2016 by the U.N. Secretary-General and included in a PoA draft this year, to use RFID chips to “track and document which individual has used a specific weapon, when and for how long.”
- The demand to include ammunition. A lot of countries want the PoA to include ammunition. Right now, it doesn’t, and there’s a good reason for this: guns are durable, relatively easy to mark and trace, and don’t work without ammunition, whereas ammunition is consumable and is produced in enormous quantities that are impossibly burdensome to trace. The number of delegations here that can’t grasp this simple point is incredible. For the sake of the political thrill of including ammunition, they want to add an unworkable commitment to the PoA when most of the nations in the room aren’t fulfilling the much simpler ones they’ve failed to uphold for the past 17 years.
- Worrying about 3-D printing and modular or polymer firearms. Apart from including ammunition, this is the big demand of a lot of nations here. They argue that 3-D printed firearms and modular or plastic firearms are scary new problems, and so the PoA needs to be updated to mention them. As the U.S. has pointed out, there is no recorded instance of a crime being committed anywhere in the world with a 3-D printed gun, and in any case, it doesn’t matter how a firearm is made or what it’s made of. As long as there’s a proper legal definition of what a firearm is, it doesn’t matter if it’s made from metal or plastic, or if — as with modular firearms — parts of it can be replaced. But too many countries here can’t bring themselves to simply define a firearm by its frame (or receiver), and fall prey to the sentiment that not including new things (such as 3-D printing) every time the PoA meets means it’s failing. In reality, the best way to ensure the PoA keeps on failing is to bloat it up like a beached whale.
- Proclaiming the existence of unspecified synergies. One of the favorite talking points here is that the PoA has what are called “synergies” with a wide range of other international instruments, including the U.N. Firearms Protocol, the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, the so-called International Small Arms Control Standards, and above all the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The point of referring to these “synergies” is, first, to cram a lot of things into the PoA that the U.S. doesn’t like and then, second, to cram so many references to the ATT into the PoA that the PoA becomes the agreed way to implement the legally binding ATT. In other words, it’s an effort to put all the U.N.’s small arms instruments into a pot, give them a big stir, and make them all legally binding and inseparable from each other.
- Misusing ATF statistics. One of the favorite talking points of the activists — embodied by the Center for American Progress — is that an enormous percentage of crime guns recovered and traced in Mexico (70 percent) and Canada (98.5 percent) are traced back to the U.S. On its face, this is ridiculous: the idea that 985 out of every 1000 crime guns in Canada come from the U.S. is too high to be plausible. The activists get these numbers because, though they correctly cite the relevant ATF reports, they use them to imply something that’s untrue. The figure of 98.5 percent, for example, refers only to guns sent to the U.S. for tracing. In other words, the Canadian police are 98.5 percent accurate in sending probable U.S.-origin guns to the U.S. to be traced, whereas their Mexican colleagues are only 70 percent accurate. These numbers say nothing about the overall share of U.S. guns in Canadian or Mexican crime.
- Whining about gender. Gender has absolutely no relevance whatsoever to the control of the illicit international trade in small arms . Nor do women have any special expertise in this area simply because they are women. Nor is it true that women are uniquely burdened by the results of this illicit trade — on the contrary, most of the victims are men. (Jamaica’s figures, for example, show that in 2017 male victims outnumbered female ones by over 6 to 1.) But yet the PoA has become a vehicle for talking about gender. There has been a lengthy debate over whether the PoA should promote the “full” or the “equal” (the latter mandating one woman for every man, regardless of their expertise) involvement of women. The highlight of the gender panic was probably a speech by a left-wing NGO on Tuesday which argued that “militarised masculinity is . . . the main impediment to disarmament, peace, and gender equality.” In other words, in order to address the illicit international trade in small arms, we need to rewrite all history, society, and culture from the perspective of the progressive left. A word of advice to people who think like this: the more you say stuff like this, the more anyone who doesn’t agree with you is likely to write off all the U.N. programs you say you support as a Trojan Horse for your own radicalism.
- Promoting gun control. Well, you knew it would come to this. In theory, the PoA is tightly limited to the international illicit trade. But the people who back it make no secret of their support for gun control. On Thursday, 17 nations, including Mexico, proposed including civilian possession in the PoA. Last Friday, we had a visit from Wear Orange, of Everytown for Gun Safety, financed by Michael Bloomberg. They clearly see the PoA as relevant to domestic gun control. The best illustration of why came on Wednesday, when in a side event on domestic gun control laws an Australian representative stated that “every gun shop that disappeared was a point from which guns could no longer be diverted.” In other words, according to the gun controllers, the way to control the illicit arms trade is to make sure there are no legal places to buy guns, which will ensure that no legal guns exist to become illegal. The Australian representative went on to point out that the most important source of crime guns in Australia is thefts from legal gun owners. That sums up their point of view nicely: legal gun owners should be deprived of their right to buy a gun so that, when a thief invades their house, they will not have a gun that can be stolen. Also, they will be defenseless. The problem, by this way of thinking, is not the thief: it is the law-abiding gun owner, who should be punished accordingly.
All of this isn’t just dumb. It’s pathetic. Illicit trafficking in small arms is an actual problem — not as big a problem as many problems out there, but a problem nonetheless. And there are sensible things that could be done about it, things that wouldn’t cure the problem, but which would make it better. If the PoA would just focus on these things, it might actually make a modest, but positive, contribution.
The illicit international trade in small arms basically comes down to two issues. First, there’s border control: if you don’t control your borders, it’s inevitable that a lot of guns are going to cross it. But here’s what CAP has to say about the Trump administration’s border policies in the gun control context:
The Trump administration’s protectionist, isolationist, nativist, and racist immigration policy is founded on the scurrilous notion that the United States needs to close the borders . . .
Well, if the borders are not going to be closed to illegal immigration going north, they are going to be open to illegal firearms moving south. It really is as simple as that. But try to find a progressive gun controller who admits it. Indeed, when I asked Amb. Juan Sandoval, Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico, whether he supported tight borders, he simply repeated that he was unhappy about Mexico’s murder rate. I’d be unhappy about it too, but blaming it all on the U.S. without expressing any willingness to control your own borders is totally unhelpful. In fact, it’s unfriendly.
Of course, no matter how good your border controls are, some arms are going to flow across your border illicitly. The second issue, therefore, is the need to mark firearms (both domestically-produced and imports), to maintain records of those markings, and to trace crime and other illicit weapons. This is a commitment that all nations participating in the PoA have already accepted.
But most of them don’t do it.
About Ted R. Bromund
Ted R. Bromund, PhD, is Senior Research Fellow in Anglo–American Relations in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation.