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At NGO Day at the U.N. Programme of Action, Forthright Talk from Canada

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Today’s meeting of the U.N.’s Programme of Action on Small Arms (PoA) focused on statements by non-governmental organizations. As far as the conservative organizations go, the direct impact of these is minimal: most everyone else in the room is on the other team.

But these statements do serve the vital purpose of reminding even the most committed U.N. gun-controllers that the world outside the U.N. is a lot bigger than the world in it, and that they can’t expect to have things all their own way.

I had the privilege of addressing the PoA, as did a number of other industrial, civil-liberties, and foreign organizations, including Thomas Saldias’s Latin American Coalition for Legal Firearms, which I wrote about yesterday, and the excellent National Firearms Association (NFA) of Canada.

Here’s my statement, which draws heavily on a paper I published last week:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to offer written remarks to be placed in the record of this meeting. My name is Dr. Ted R. Bromund. I am a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, a leading conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., with hundreds of thousands of individual members.

The Programme of Action is a classic U.N. institution. It has achieved little, yet it survives, and, indeed, seeks to expand into areas beyond its scope. Its meetings feature the same empty pledges that have done much to discredit the United Nations as a whole.

U.N. member states have committed to report every two years on their implementation of the Programme. Today, only 88 of the U.N.’s 193 member states meet that minimal requirement. The Programme claims to coordinate foreign aid between donor and recipient nations. But after the 2012 Review Conference, only 26 nations requested a total of only $21.18 million in assistance.

Too many states see the Programme merely as a way to obtain more foreign aid or to cover for their own arms trafficking, or — worst of all — as a means to promote the disarmament of their own populations. In states that are appallingly misgoverned, the disarmament of civilians can be the prelude to genocide, because an unarmed population is a population that cannot resist.

The main obstacle in the world today to peace, human rights, and economic development is not the legal civilian ownership of firearms. It is not even the illicit traffic in firearms. It is the failure of too many U.N. member states to live up to the standards set out in the Preamble of the U.N. Charter.

The Programme has also been discredited by efforts to expand its remit. By bringing the Arms Trade Treaty, the International Small Arms Control Standards (ISACS), and other unrelated conventions and activities into the PoA’s orbit, these instruments would together become the mutually supporting centerpiece of a program of civilian disarmament. These efforts have no legal or moral basis, and they will not succeed.

The Programme of Action has had over a decade to justify its existence. It has failed to do so. It has become a self-perpetuating institution that refuses to recognize that much of the illicit trade in firearms is a natural response to the existence of the world’s misgoverned nations.

I therefore call on the democracies at this meeting to reject the naive and dangerous beliefs on which the Programme is founded, to bring it to an end, and to dedicate themselves to more useful work.”

And here’s the statement by the NFA’s Sheldon Clare:

“Mr. President, I am Sheldon Clare, President of Canada’s National Firearms Association. The NFA is the largest advocacy organization representing the rights of firearms owners and users in Canada. Because UN attempts to regulate small arms and light weapons are misdirected, Canadians are concerned that the UN and . . . ISACS will have an unjustifiably harmful effect upon the ability of free people to have access to firearms and ammunition for perfectly legitimate purposes, including self-defence. It is not civilian access to small arms that is to blame for most deaths; instead it is the use of and trade in weapons by governments in state-terrorism operations against their own people.

Canada’s National Firearms Association recommends that controls on small arms and light weapons be limited solely to major crew-served weapon systems possessed or sold by nation states — not individually operated firearms owned by civilians. The sovereign rights and property of Canadians, and of our firearms businesses engaged in the lawful trade in firearms and ammunition, including surplus firearms and ammunition, must not be subject to UN edict or control. We also reject UN efforts on ammunition — including marking beyond caliber, date, and manufacturer would be excessive; it is unreasonable, unnecessary, and fiscally irresponsible for the UN to meddle with ammunition.

Small arms in civilian hands allow people to defend themselves from aggression. This natural right to self defence is especially important in the event of unrest, or in cases of state-mandated crimes against humanity, such as what occurred in Somalia, Srebrenica and Rwanda. Perhaps governments should deal with unrest by addressing the economic situations, political differences, and human rights issues that contribute to people agitating for change rather than engaging in one size fits all solutions affecting the rights of free people to own and use firearms.

For these reasons, the NFA strongly recommends that Canada should withdraw from the PoA . . . and explicitly state that ISACS is of no legal standing. The UN should consider employing significant sanctions against those countries that murder and otherwise oppress their own citizens and even consider expelling them from this august body. Thank you for your consideration Mr. President.”

 - Theodore Bromund is the Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations at the Heritage Foundation.

Originally appeared in NRO's "The Corner"

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