Firearms Lawyer Simon Munslow answers your legal questions.

The Loose Cannon: UN Firearms Treaty 2013


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In 1996, when I first heard that some people in Gympie Qld were claiming that the UN was driving gun control laws, my initial reaction was to speculate that there must have been a particularly good marijuana crop in southern Queensland in that year, and that this was driving their paranoia.  Sadly, after a few minutes research, I was convinced that they were right.

I also believe that the Commonwealth bureaucracy were waiting for an event like Port Arthur, to provide them with a change agent, and that UN treaty involvement, provided the reason why the Howard Government, chose to become involved in what would otherwise have been a state issue,  and one that had in the past, wrecked many political careers.

There is no reason to be paranoid about the United Nations. It is not a secretive organization. It conducts its activities openly, and a considerable amount of information about its activities can be obtained simply by ‘Googling’ the United Nations website and searching it.  This is not to say that I like what I read, or that the activities should not be opposed and stopped.

Australia has long been a driving force of the UN arms control agenda, and successive Australian governments, have used it to bolster Australia’s position globally, and more recently to obtain a position on the UN Security Council.  Cynically, gun control is a relatively cheap and easy issue for a small and globally insignificant country like Australia, that lacks the capital to otherwise purchase a significant role in UN affairs, to ratchet up its influence.

On 3 June this year, the Arms Trade Treaty, was ratified (adopted) by Australia.  It is an agreement between all nations who have adopted it to track firearms with view to preventing them from falling into illicit hands.  Presence of the word ‘disarmament’ in the title of the relevant committees, and use of the euphemism ‘stockpile reduction’ suggests that to be a long term goal.

You would assume that a United Nations Treaty would only regulate military arms and ammunition, because preventing wars is why the UN exists, Right?

WRONG!

Like the Federal Government, which continuously strives to intervene in state matters, the United Nations has moved well beyond its original role, and so can claim, via agreements related to the rights of children and women, that they can involve themselves in the regulation of sporting arms that could be used to oppress women and children.

The Commission on the Status of Women has for example adopted in its 57th session in March 2013 a set of agreed conclusions on the theme of the ‘Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls’ and Conclusion 25 state ‘The Commission recognizes that the illicit use of and the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons aggravates violence, inter alia, against women and girls’.

UNODA, the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs, through implementation of its gender action plan continues further disarmament objectives through gender sensitive programs.

Nobody would question the desirability of a world where people are not subject to war or lawlessness, or violence, however, their approach, which seeks to track small arms with view to reducing ‘stockpile diversion’ to illicit users, and to ultimately reduce stockpiles, seems to me to be based upon the flawed logic of ‘more guns = more violence’, and denies a woman the right to defend herself with the one tool that, with minimum training, enables her to overcome the physical strength advantage possessed by men.

The Treaty also fails to acknowledge one of the biggest failings of the UN, and of International Law, that is that the biggest dealers in arms are the super powers who sit on the Security Council, the UN cannot hope to stop organizations like the CIA from arming whoever they like.  Remember Air America or the Contra scandal?, Britain arming and training Pol Pot, and Britain and America arming and training Bin Laden and the Taliban in its fight against Russia?.

At the other extreme, many sporting guns are not particularly suitable for criminal activity, and more suitable arms can easily be smuggled into Australia and be purchased locally.  I have heard in conversations with clients, of people who have lost their licence, acquiring a gun on the black market so that they can hunt with friends or control pests on their farms.

These people do not pose a risk to anyone, and absurdly, in their case, the system has created a new market for these illicit firearms.

The most problematic situation where lawfully held firearms become illicitly held, occurs when states break down and lawlessness arises. Classic examples of this are Somalia, and the logic of the treaty fails to recognize that a firearm can be both an instrument of oppression and a means of opposing oppression.

Following WW2 large amounts of military equipment, including firearms, were abandoned in France, and much was no doubt collected civilians (hence the French ban on military calibres).  Did lawlessness arise? No, because the state remained robust (propped up as it was by the United States and Great Britain).  Are these weapons used in crime today? Not often.

In any situation where the state breaks down, there will inevitably be a considerable leakage of military armaments into the civilian population, and in that situation their presence is likely to be abused.  As these arms would have been legitimately obtained by the state for the purposes of its own protection, this treaty shall do nothing to protect people.

Of course, there is another side to tracking small arms and that agenda is encapsulated in the word Disarmament to be found on many UN documents or agendas.  Again there is no reason for paranoia here, the UN agenda is clear, and so it can be opposed.

The UN claim that they are not imposing their rules on countries, the preamble clearly reaffirms ‘the sovereign right of every State, to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal and constitutional system’ that is to say, countries get to draw their own laws, and regulate the agreement as best they can. 

Thus, contrary to too much scaremongering, the Treaty does not subvert the second amendment of the US Constitution.  Indeed, it is my view that if it sought to, it would be struck down, as it would be beyond the power of the Executive to bind the US people in this manner.  Nor does the treaty seek to force upon governments legislative formula that may not work in a particular country.

The treaty does mandate record keeping aimed at keeping track of small arms so that illicit sources can be identified. 

The preamble or introduction goes on to say that it is ‘’mindful of the legitimate trade and lawful ownership, and use of certain conventional arms for recreation, cultural, historical, and sporting activities, where such trade, ownership and use are permitted or protected by law.’’

The preamble or introduction is mindful of this, but mindfulness falls some way short of reaffirming.

Following the preamble, or introduction, each theme or part of the Treaty is organized into a separate block of paragraphs and this is called an ‘Article’.

Article 5 imposes an obligation on ‘Each State Party shall take measures necessary to implement the provisions of this treaty and shall designate national authorities in order to have an effective and transparent national control system regulating the transfer of conventional arms’ (Art 5 5) in other words firearms registration.

Article 8 imposes an obligation on ‘Each State Party shall take measures that will allow it to regular, where necessary, imports under its jurisdiction of conventional arms covered under Article 2 (1). Such measures may include import systems’.

It is strange, that notwithstanding Australia’s adoption of this agreement, Australia does so little to control the illegal import of firearms.  Customs only opens one out of every 100 containers clearing our Ports, creating the absurd situation where, legally imported firearms are logged in accordance with the Treaty, when illegally imported firearms, which are imported for criminal purposes, enter the country with minimal interruption.

It is suggested that Australia have Registration only in respect to privately owned handguns and Military Style Semi-Automatics and that other registration, be abandoned as unworkable.  If the UN is not happy with this Australia should exercise its rights under Article 24 to withdraw from the treaty.

This would end a system of hypocrisy where politicians of Australia, have put into place a paper regime that appears compliant with the UN agreement, but which does little more than persecute sportsmen, while our borders remain porous to illegal arms, drugs and smugglers seeking to import illegal migrants- I mean refugees.

A worry is that UN agreements are dynamic, and can evolve over time.  This one can be amended six years after it came into force (Article 20).   One can expect that bureaucrats in the Attorney General’s Department are beavering away on the next phase of the Arms Treaty, and the only thing that one can count on to stop them shall be political action, that leads to the government directing Department Heads, to find them better things to do with their time.

As Australia is a major player in the gun control debate within the UN, we are ideally placed to derail this process.  All it would takes is for shooters to mobilize, and adopt the strategy proposed by me in my petition, of voting against the sitting member, and in particular targeting MP’s in marginal seats, is a strategy that has the capability of achieving this end.

See:

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/firearms-knife-and-game-laws/signatures.html

 

(Please read, consider, and sign if you have not already done so).

I note that to their credit the only Political Party that currently has a policy position in respect to UN involvement in this area is the Shooters & Fishers Party.

Simon Munslow

 

Disclaimer:

This article does not constitute legal advice, nor does the reading of it, give rise to any solicitor-client relationship.  If confronted with a legal difficulty involving firearms I suggest you contact someone experienced in the area. 

If you have any comments, or suggestions for future articles please advise.

My contact details are Ph 02 6299 9690 or solicitor@bigpond.com


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