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Gun registry 'scheme' among concerns over UN arms treaty

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, shakes hands with Under Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Miguel Serpa Soares after signing the Arms Trade Treaty.AP

Secretary of State John Kerry signed an international treaty on arms regulation Wednesday, angering conservative lawmakers and rattling the National Rifle Association despite claims that the treaty won't infringe on gun rights. 

So what's all the fuss about? 

The treaty, which took seven years to negotiate, would regulate the $70 billion global trade in conventional arms. The U.S. is the largest arms exporter in the world, and Kerry's signature was seen as a significant step in pushing it forward. 

Supporters say the treaty sends a bold global message advocating the first-ever moral standards on the cross-border trade linked to human rights violations around the world. But to some on U.S. soil, the treaty treads into dangerous territory and could step on the constitutional rights of Americans. 

They point in part to language, at the very beginning of the document, that includes "small arms and light weapons" and worry this could cover firearms owned by Americans. 

According to the treaty, the international sale of weapons would be linked to the human rights records of buyers; it requires the countries that sign on to establish regulations for selling weapons. This has raised concern that the treaty could be used as an excuse to push new gun laws. 

But the treaty also advocates keeping data of arms purchases, which the NRA and other groups say could be used as an international log to keep tabs on gun owners. 

The record-keeping section in the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) encourages members to "maintain records of conventional arms covered under Article 2," which include battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, warships and small arms and light weapons. 

Further, those records should be kept for a minimum of 10 years, the treaty states -- which NRA leader Wayne LaPierre has referred to as "nothing more than gun registration by a different name." 

Because the treaty's language is so broad, LaPierre has said that "manufacturers of civilian shotguns would have to comply with the same regulatory process as a manufacturer of military attack helicopters." 

Chris Cox, the executive director for the group's Institute for Legislative Action, says the treaty "threatens individual firearm ownership with an invasive registration scheme." 

The treaty also calls for potential arms deals to be evaluated on whether the buyer would be able to carry out crimes against humanity or other war crimes, including genocide. It also prohibits the export of conventional arms if they can be used in attacks on civilians or civilian buildings such as schools and hospitals. 

What it doesn't do is regulate the domestic sale of weapons in any country. And Kerry said Wednesday: "This treaty will not diminish anyone's freedom. In fact, the treaty recognizes the freedom of both individuals and states to obtain, possess, and use arms for legitimate purposes." 

Even though the ATT was created to monitor the global arms trade and essentially shame countries into revealing alliances by making them document who they sold weapons to, there is no clear-cut punishment for those who don't. 

There are many parts of the treaty that are also open to interpretation. For example, the international pact contains no language on how to handle countries who loan or gift weapons to others. 

Part of the concern with the treaty, among critics, is its vagueness. 

In April, the U.N. General Assembly voted to approve the ATT 154-3. Those voting in favor included the U.S., Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, Netherlands and the United Kingdom. 

Twenty-three countries abstained from voting, including China and Russia. Several others said the human rights criteria in the treaty was too vague.
Iran, North Korea and Syria voted against the treaty. 

Fifty countries need to ratify the treaty for it to enter into force. So far, only six have and the likelihood of it being approved by the U.S. Senate is slim. It takes two-thirds of the 100 lawmakers in the Senate to win ratification. 

The domestic battle heating up over the treaty is what is likely to give the Obama administration the most trouble. 

In a letter to President Obama, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said the treaty raised significant legislative questions and warned the Obama administration against taking any action to implement the treaty without the Senate's advice or consent. 

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was among 35 senators who earlier this year co-sponsored a resolution expressing concerns about the dangers of the treaty and how it might infringe the constitutional rights of Americans. 

"I'd like to see the U.N. try to send inspectors to the Texas State Rifle Association's annual gathering," he said in a statement after Kerry signed the treaty. "Law-abiding Texans who are in the market for an imported shotgun, pistol, or rifle out to be very concerned by the administration's move today."

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