Published July 18, 2012
Sometime later this week, the UN will finally unveil its Arms Trade Treaty. The exact date the treaty will be released is a secret.
Russia, China, France -- with its new Socialist government -- Britain and the Obama administration are writing the treaty behind closed doors. Yet even if the final treaty is being kept under wraps, we still have a pretty good idea of some of the requirements that will be in it.
The group writing the treaty is not promising. Russia and Britain ban handguns and many other types of weapons. The possession of guns for self-defense is completely prohibited in China. The Obama administration is undoubtedly the most hostile administration to gun ownership in US history, with Obama having personally supported bans of handguns and semi-automatic weapons before becoming president. And remember the recent scandal where the Obama administration was caught allowing guns go to Mexican drug gangs, hoping it would help push for gun control laws.
The treaty seems unlikely to ever receive the two-thirds majority necessary to be ratified by the US Senate, but that doesn't mean it still won't have consequences for Americans. In other countries with parliamentary systems, even if the relatively conservative parties oppose approval, ratification is just a matter of time until a left-wing government takes power. Reduced private gun ownership around the world will surely lead to more pressure for gun control in our own country.
The treaty officially aims to prevent rebels and terrorist groups from getting hold of guns. The treaty claims that at least 250,000 people die each year from armed conflicts and that the vast majority of deaths arise from so-called "small arms" -- machine guns, rifles, and handguns.
Regulations of private ownership will supposedly prevent rebels and terrorist groups from getting ahold of guns. But governments, not private individuals, are the sources for these weapons. For example, the FARC fighting in Colombia get their guns from the Venezuelan government.
The most likely regulations to be pushed by the UN treaty are those that have been the favorites of American gun control advocates for years -- registration and licensing, micro-stamping ammunition, and restrictions on the private transfers of guns. Unfortunately, these measures have a long history of failure and primarily just inconvenience and disarm law-abiding gun owners.
Gun registration and licensing are pushed as a way to trace those who supply these illicit weapons. Yet, to see the problem with these regulations, one only needs to look at how ineffective they have been in solving crime. Canada just recently ended its long gun registry as it was a colossal waste of money.
Beginning in 1998, Canadians spent a whopping $2.7 billion on creating and running a registry for long guns -- in the US, the same amount per gun owner would come to $67 billion. For all that money, the registry was never credited with solving a single murder. Instead, it became an enormous waste of police officers' time, diverting their efforts from traditional policing activities.
Gun control advocates have long claimed registration is a safety issue. Their reasoning is straightforward: If a gun is left at a crime scene, and it was registered to the person who committed the crime, the registry will link it back to the criminal.
Unfortunately, it rarely works out this way. Criminals are seldom stupid enough to leave behind crime guns that are registered to themselves.
From 2003 to 2009, there were 4,257 homicides in Canada, 1,314 of which were committed with firearms. Data provided last fall by the Library of Parliament reveal that murder weapons were recovered in less than a third of the homicides with firearms. About three-quarters of the identified weapons were unregistered. Of the weapons that were registered, about half were registered to someone other than the person accused of the homicide.
In only 62 cases -- that is, nine per year, or about 1 percent of all homicides in Canada -- was the gun registered to the accused. Even in these cases, the registry did not appear to have played an important role in finding the killer. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Chiefs of Police have not yet provided a single example in which tracing was of more than peripheral importance in solving a case.
Note that the Canadian data provided above cover all guns, including handguns. It isn't just the long-gun registry -- there is also no evidence that Canada's handgun registry, started in 1934, has ever been important in solving a single homicide.
Micro-stamping involves putting unique codes on a bullet. The most commonly discussed method is to have a special etching that is on the tip of a firing pin, the piece of metal that strikes a bullet and sets off the explosion, that will leave a mark on the bullet casing. The notion then is that if the casing is left a crime scene, the bullet can be traced back to the owner of the gun. The problem is that firing pins can easily be replaced or altered.
As to restrictions on the private transfers of guns, the most common type of regulation involves background checks. Yet, whether one is talking about the Brady Act or the so-called gun show loophole, economists and criminologists who have looked at this simply don’t find evidence that such regulations reduce crime and may even increase it. Indeed, as the surges in murder rates after gun bans in the US and around the world show, such regulations don’t stop criminals from getting guns. A huge percentage of violent crime in the US is drug gang related, and just as those gangs can bring in the illegal drugs, they can bring in the weapons that they use to protect that valuable property.
The treaty will give Americans yet another insight into the types of gun control laws that President Obama really supports. The good news is that the US Senate will almost certainly prevent him from getting the treaty adopted here. Most rest of the world won’t be so lucky.