The United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty has been around for close to two decades now, and while the U.S. Senate has never ratified the treaty itself, Barack Obama signed on to the treaty when he was president. Donald Trump, however, “unsigned” the treaty back in 2019, and that’s where matters have stood ever since. Not long ago, however, a Biden administration official made some public remarks that suggest the White House is back on board the treaty, and now 36 Republican senators are asking for some “clarity” from Biden about his position on the international gun control treaty.
We write to you today seeking clarification on your Administration’s position on the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Recent remarks by Deputy Director for Conventional Arms Threat Reduction, William Malzahn, seem to indicate your intention to rejoin this misguided and overbearing international treaty.
At the Seventh Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty, Deputy Director Malzahn stated “The United States has long supported strong and effective national controls on the international transfer of conventional arms, and the Arms Trade Treaty is an important tool for promoting those controls internationally.” We find this statement to be most concerning and contrary to the current and historical position of the United States.
When President Obama signed the ATT in 2013 he was met with strong bipartisan opposition and failed to garner the approval of the Senate, to which the Constitution vests the sole power to approve international treaties. As-in 2013, we remain concerned by the many troubling aspects of the ATT and its impact on American sovereignty and constitutional protections. The vague language of the ATT makes American commitments uncertain, the most concerning of which is the lack of protections for lawful gun ownership which threatens the rights afforded to Americans under the Second Amendment. Further, with an amendment process that only requires a ¾ vote for approval, more intrusive provisions could be applied in the future; legally obligating the United States to comply with international commitments without consent from the Senate.
Under any circumstance, it is inconceivable that the United States would consider subjecting our constitutional right to bear arms to international oversight and interference. For these reasons, we request clarification on your intentions regarding this international accord. Moreover, we urge you to reject the ATT; however, should you have plans otherwise, please know we will unequivocally oppose its ratification in the Senate.
Thank you for your attention to our concerns and we look forward to hearing your response.
The good news is that these 36 senators are enough to scuttle the treaty’s chances of ratification if Biden did submit the treaty to Senate approval. A two-thirds vote of the Senate is required to approve treaties, and unlike the Senate’s filibuster rule, that can’t be changed without amending the Constitution itself. And honestly, if Biden was dumb enough to try to ratify the ATT, I think it’s fair to say it wouldn’t even get 50 votes at the moment. Joe Manchin and Angus King wouldn’t vote to confirm a gun control activist as the head of the ATF, so I don’t see them going along with a treaty that gives more power to the United Nations at the expense of our Second Amendment rights.
On the other hand, I fully expect that Joe Biden will re-sign the Arms Trade Treaty, probably at a time that his handlers believe is most politically opportune. The fact is that without ratification by the Senate, the president’s signature is more symbolic than anything else. That’s why Donald Trump didn’t “un-sign” the treaty until 2019, when he made the announcement that the UN would “soon receive formal notice that America is rejecting this treaty” at the NRA’s Annual Meeting. He didn’t really need to un-sign it earlier, because Barack Obama’s signature to the treaty was and is meaningless until 2/3rds of the Senate agrees to ratify it.
Having said that, the executive branch can still impose a lot of restrictions on the import and export of small arms and ammunition without the Arms Trade Treaty coming into play. Take Joe Biden’s ban on new permits for the importation of Russian-made ammunition, which could wreak havoc on the supply of centerfire rifle ammunition in a couple of years as existing permits to import the ammunition expire. I expect the Biden administration to also file a brief in support of the Mexican government’s lawsuit against major U.S. gun makers, which it will use as a vehicle to attack the constitutionality of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
These Republican senators are right be concerned about Joe Biden’s views on gun control, but the danger doesn’t stop with the Arms Trade Treaty. In fact, thanks to the fact that these senators are on the record as opposed to the treaty, the ATT is one of the least of my worries when it comes to Joe Biden and the attempted destruction of right to keep and bear arms.