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Gun-Ban Shenanigans at the UN

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LAST JULY 9, the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects convened in New York. To celebrate the event, the UN and several member governments held public bonfires of guns. The mere sight of gun bonfires was supposed to somehow convince people that the United Nations would protect them. Like almost everything else about the conference, the bonfires were largely a farce and a media stunt.

The UN insisted that American gun owners had nothing to fear from the UN’s efforts to restrict weapons ownership. However, on the following day, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan published an op ed in the International Herald Tribune that complained,

The world is flooded with small arms and light weapons numbering at least 500 million…. Most of these are controlled by legal authorities, but when they fall into the hands of terrorists, criminals and irregular forces, small arms bring devastation.

Annan declared that small arms “exacerbate conflict, spark refugee flows, undermine the rule of law, and spawn a culture of violence and impunity. In short, small arms are a threat to peace and development, to democracy and human rights.”

Annan specifically mentioned revolvers “as one of the guns that must be restricted,” and he clearly implied that guns possessed by “legal authorities” “are not the problem.” He called for people to demand a worldwide campaign against small arms modeled after the UN campaign to ban land mines.

Inside UN headquarters, the conference site was full of official publications and posters that would chill any friend of gun rights. Just in time for the conference, the UN Department for Disarmament Affairs published a glossy book entitled A Destruction Handbook: Small Arms, Light Weapons, Ammunition, and Explosives — a how-to manual for burning or otherwise disposing of weapons governments have commandeered.

A UNICEF brochure struck a Clintonesque chord with its cover slogan: “No Guns, Please — We Are Children.” A United Nations Development Program (UNDP) booth had a stash of free posters for attendees that featured a giant fireball consuming a pyre of rifles in a UN-orchestrated burning earlier last year in the Congo. The poster had in bright yellow print “Promoting Development” and in smaller white print “Destroying Illicit Small Arms.”

According to many UN member governments, any privately owned weapon is illicit, which creates the potential for endless bonfires in the future. A UNDP fact sheet on Small Arms and Light Weapons declared,

Firearms kill over 500,000 people a year…. Small arms increase the burden on health systems…. Small arms exacerbate tensions, prolong and intensify conflicts, halt — and even reverse — development.

Other UN publications blamed guns for the deaths of four million children in the last decade. Such statements are clearly intended to make private ownership of guns seem like an atrocity.

Many governments have used their weapons against their own people. According to the UN’s arithmetic, the more people killed by governments, the greater the pretext for governments to disarm the survivors. A number of model placards were hung near the conference area proclaiming, “This is a Gun-Free Zone” — with a red circle and a slash through a black pistol. But there were far more UN police officers than there were gun-ban signs. The standard sidearm for UN cops is a Smith and Wesson semi-automatic with a 12-round clip. At last report, the UN has no plans for internal disarmament.

A gun-control conference

The conference opened with a week of statements from member governments, most of which contained the usual dreary platitudes and pious bosh. Far more interesting were the comments by the so-called Non-Governmental Organizations. Some NGO presentations contained stunning revelations. Dr. Vyacheslav Sharov, representing the Russian Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, revealed that “violent injury and premature death are undeniably health challenges for the victims [of gunshot wounds]….”

Few of the delegates doubted that guns deprave humanity. Lawrence Correa of Franciscans International told the delegates,

The widespread availability of small arms and light weapons distorts the ethical standards of communities and the social fabric of society. It changes the social order, undermines value systems, and destroys a sense of family and community.

Correa made no effort to explain why the social fabric has not collapsed in places like North Dakota, Wyoming, and West Virginia — states with extremely high rates of gun ownership as well as very low crime rates. He concluded,

We urge the surrendering, seizing, and destruction of illicit and excessive small arms and light weapons…. We call on all governments to exercise good governance and to have the political will to implement and enforce the Plan of Action envisioned by this conference. We urge all NGOs to monitor this process and assure governments of our collaboration in this regard.

The prospect of NGOs as collaborators waiting for a pretext or a reward to turn informant or to otherwise betray gun owners to the nearest government agent should make gun owners wary.

Many speakers, including Annan, referred to guns as a “scourge.” Many activists called for disarmament, though it was clear there was no possibility of governments’ disarming. Others called for the need to end the proliferation of small arms, as if a .38 Special is a nuclear bomb.

The event dripped with the sanctimoniousness of would-be gun grabbers convinced that they were doing God’s work and that anyone who resisted them must be a tool of the devil. Some of the NGO activists may have been the same people who 15 years ago tried to persuade the U.S. government to end the Cold War by unilaterally disarming and blindly trusting the Soviets.

Now the activists are calling for governments to forcibly disarm private citizens after which all governments will presumably become angelic. The anti-gun tone of the convention was reflected in a July 17 rally held in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza across the street from UN headquarters. The protest was entitled “Guns Know No Borders,” implying that any gun can become a murderous tool at any time. The organizers rolled out long red sheets upon which they placed 700 pairs of used shoes — an exhibit intended to convey to onlookers the immense toll that guns have inflicted upon humanity. (I did not find any shoes that I liked in the size 10 1/2.)

What about resistance to government tyranny?

Sally Joss of the International Action Network on Small Arms addressed the crowd and kept reminding them of “that knock on the door” when someone comes to inform you that a loved one has been shot. Joss portrayed the “knock on the door” as about the worst thing that could happen to anyone. Yet the phrase “knock on the door” has a different meaning to old people living in Germany or Russia because it evokes a recollection of armed government agents arriving in the darkest hours to seize people to carry off to the Gulag or to concentration camps. For IANSA, the only thing people have to fear is private guns because they feel that government guns are always friendly.

The convention illustrated how the gun-control movement is taking international a tactic that has served it well in the United States. In recent years, anti-gun activists have leaped to publicize any shooting and any gun-related crime in the United States in order to persuade people that any crime involving a gun proves that no gun owner can be trusted — on the basis of the collective guilt of all gun owners.

The UN conference sought to do the same thing on a worldwide basis. It was irrelevant that many of the atrocities involving firearms cited by UN organizations or NGOs actually involved armed government agents. As long as a gun was involved, the killing reinforced the moral imperative to forcibly disarm every private citizen in the world. It was especially ironic to see continual invocations of the slaughter from civil wars and genocides in Africa to justify restricting civilian gun ownership in relatively peaceful Western countries.

The fig leaf behind which the UN convention hid was the distinction between licit and illicit weapons. UN officials continually sought to assure Americans that they had nothing to fear because the convention focused only on illicit weapons.

However, the phrase “in all its aspects” was included in the convention title to allow activists and anti-gun governments to call for restrictions on all gun commerce, not just currently illicit commerce. And as residents of New Jersey, California, and other states know, it only takes one meeting of the legislature to convert a licit firearm into a prohibited weapon.

On Saturday, July 21, the UN conference concluded by reaching a unanimous consensus on an agenda to begin addressing the “problem” of small arms. Kofi Annan issued a statement hailing the conference’s results, noting “in particular the great potential benefits for all States from improved controls over both the uncontrolled private ownership of military-standard weapons and, even more critical, the transfer of such arms to non-State groups.”

The “revolvers” which Annan denounced the previous week suddenly became “military-standard weapons.” Annan’s comment that the agreement provides “great potential benefits for all States” is a reminder that the UN has far more affection for governments than for downtrodden subjects.

Gun owners will need to keep a wary eye on the United Nations for years to come. The UN Small Arms agreement was reached 140 years to the day after the Battle of First Manassas. That battle, which was a major victory for the Confederacy, induced complacency and overconfidence throughout the South that helped pave the way for an eventual Northern victory.

In the same way, gun owners must recognize that the conference in New York is only the first battle with well-funded, often fanatical global anti-gun activists. And there is little likelihood that the United Nations will suddenly become either honest or trustworthy.

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    James Bovard serves as policy advisor to The Future of Freedom Foundation. He has written for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New Republic, Reader's Digest, Playboy, American Spectator, Investors Business Daily, and many other publications. He is the author of a new e-book memoir, Public Policy Hooligan. His other books include: Attention Deficit Democracy (2006); The Bush Betrayal (2004); Terrorism and Tyranny (2003); Feeling Your Pain (2000); Freedom in Chains (1999); Shakedown (1995); Lost Rights (1994); The Fair Trade Fraud (1991); and The Farm Fiasco (1989). He was the 1995 co-recipient of the Thomas Szasz Award for Civil Liberties work, awarded by the Center for Independent Thought, and the recipient of the 1996 Freedom Fund Award from the Firearms Civil Rights Defense Fund of the National Rifle Association. His book Lost Rights received the Mencken Award as Book of the Year from the Free Press Association. His Terrorism and Tyranny won Laissez Faire Book's Lysander Spooner award for the Best Book on Liberty in 2003. Read his blog. Send him email.