Today marks the second week of the 2012 Review Conference for the U.N.’s “Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects,” commonly known as the PoA.
Unlike the U.N.’s Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which collapsed for the time being in July, the PoA is not an effort to negotiate a legally binding treaty. But also unlike the ATT, it clearly and explicitly promotes gun control by developing supposedly binding norms.
The PoA has come nowhere close to achieving the ambitions of its backers. On this, there is unanimous agreement. In 2008, the U.N. Secretary General stated that the PoA’s results were not “substantive.” Recently, New Zealand’s permanent representative to the U.N., Jim McLay, noted that “it is almost impossible to acquire an accurate picture of Programme of Action implementation and effectiveness” and that “the results of those more limited assessments that have been undertaken have not been encouraging.” Sarah Parker of the Small Arms Survey refers to the PoA’s “lack of specificity.” The International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), the leading small-arms-control NGO, regrets that the PoA has been “irregularly and inconsistently applied.”
The normal approach is to try to walk before you run. At the U.N., though, the response to the PoA’s inability to walk is to recommend running. IANSA wants the PoA to expand to cover ammunition. Parker wants a PoA that would provide a broader framework for the ATT. And McLay believes it should consider further “normative development”—i.e., in future years it should discuss “the issues of civilian possession.” Indeed, on Tuesday at the review conference, IANSA acknowledged that the PoA has served as the basis for “gun control” in many nations and encouraged others to follow along.
As Thomas Mason, executive for the Americas on the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities, put it in his statement to the Review Conference, “of all the small arms in the world 60% are legally owned by civilians. The UN and this process have never reconciled themselves to this fact.”
Until the PoA corrects what Mason describes as “this fundamental error” and acknowledges the legitimacy of civilian firearms ownership, it does not deserve the legitimacy deriving from U.S. participation. A PoA focused on technical cooperation in support of measures that are compatible with national sovereignty and in the U.S. interest—such as border controls—might be worthy of U.S. backing, but that is not what the PoA does.
Instead, the U.N. promotes its new International Small Arms Control Standards, which it states are applicable in areas that “have undergone legislative reform restricting the access of civilians to small arms.”
So let’s sum up: The PoA has achieved little of use, has a constantly expanding agenda, promotes restricting civilian firearms ownership, and seeks to advance this agenda by the slow elaboration of international norms. It is high time for the U.S. to quit this farce.