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ELECTION 2010: Your Rights vs. The World

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

With Mexico's president calling for new U.S. gun laws, and international treaties waiting in the wings, this year`s elections may be a turning point for our Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

Mexico's president, Felipe Calderón, addresses a joint session of Congress.

Wrongly claiming that Mexico's murder rate has increased since the U.S. "assault weapon" ban expired in 2004, as well as complaining about the number of firearm dealers in the southwestern United States, Calderón urged Congress to reinstate the ban.

It's hard to keep a secret in Washington, D.C.--especially on Capitol Hill. So, within a matter of hours after Mexico`s president, Felipe Calderón, visited Washington in May, word began to spread that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., was planning to push for Senate ratification of the dormant, but smoldering and very dangerous, Organization of American States (OAS) small arms treaty, known by its Spanish acronym CIFTA.

Separately, we heard that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.--who last year said she would "pick the time" to renew her push for reinstatement of the federal "assault weapon" ban--was thinking the "time" had come.

What sparked all of this was Calderón`s address to a joint session of Congress after meeting with President Barack Obama, and the way anti-gun lawmakers reacted to the speech. Wrongly claiming that Mexico`s murder rate has increased since the U.S. "assault weapon" ban expired in 2004, as well as complaining about the number of firearm dealers in the southwestern United States, Calderón urged Congress to reinstate the ban.

A foreign head of state lecturing Congress about American laws is out of bounds, and many members of Congress met Calderón`s statement with the silence it deserved. Besides pushing the limits of protocol, Calderón didn`t have the facts on his side.

The Mexican drug cartels that are responsible for much of Mexico`s violent crime problem have military-grade weapons and explosives they cannot get in the United States. That fact was dramatically demonstrated in April, when cartel thugs launched a series of coordinated attacks on Mexican Army posts using armored vehicles, machine guns and grenades. Making the same point, the Houston Chronicle reported that Mexico`s Zetas drug cartel, which is "known to have stolen bulk quantities of gunpowder and dynamite," and the ranks of which include "Mexican military defectors who were trained in special forces tactics, including demolition," had plotted to blow up the Falcon Dam, located on the Texas-Mexico border, and "unleash billions of gallons of water" into a heavily populated area.

In addition, despite highly concentrated areas subject to drug violence, Mexico`s overall murder rate--like the murder rate in the United States--is lower today than it was when the ban was in effect. Making a similar point, the murder rate in Juarez, Mexico, where "assault weapons" are banned, is nearly 70 times higher than the rate just across the border in El Paso, Texas, where, despite Calderón`s disapproval, firearm dealers are common and no gun ban is in effect.

Finally, Calderón didn`t explain how the expired "assault weapon" ban could possibly have made a difference. For 10 years, this law prohibited placing external attachments such as adjustable-length stocks, flash suppressors and bayonet mounts on semi-automatic firearms such as the AR-15-type rifles. It also prohibited the manufacture, for private individuals, of magazines that held more than 10 rounds, regardless of the firearm for which the magazines were designed.

Naturally, Calderón didn`t mention that violent crime has declined significantly in the U.S. since the ban expired, or tell Congress how a ban on flash suppressors and bayonet mounts relates to drug thugs in Mexico or anywhere else. A study mandated by Congress found that "the banned weapons and magazines had never been used in more than a modest fraction of all gun murders" before or during the ban. Congress refused to renew the ban and the nation`s murder rate, which began declining before the ban was imposed, continued to decline after it expired. Even the anti-gun Violence Policy Center described the ban as a "charade."

Facts like these are easily ignored when they clash with ideology, of course, so anti-gun members of Congress gave Calderón`s plea for gun prohibition a standing ovation. For anyone who thought our opponents had given up on gun control due to the nation`s preoccupation with other issues, the insulting spectacle put that thought to rest. Along with the rumblings from Sens. Kerry and Feinstein, it should also remind all NRA members why we must go to the polls and vote in November.

The OAS treaty is another matter. Even when the subject turns to international efforts to destroy our right to arms, CIFTA is often overshadowed by discussions of the United Nations Programme of Action on Small Arms, UN Firearms Protocol and Arms Trade Treaty. However, while the others are still in the development stage, CIFTA inspired all of them. It was signed by President Clinton in 1997 and submitted to the Senate for ratification--so it could be pulled off the shelf and voted on at will, whenever our opponents think the time is right.

If ratified, CIFTA would create new U.S. obligations toward countries that include Hugo Chávez`s dictatorship in Venezuela and would force new restrictions on U.S. gun owners. Among many other things, it would require Congress to prohibit you from making modifications or repairs to a personally owned firearm--even something as minor and commonplace as attaching a scope, bipod or sling to a rifle--without a manufacturer`s license. Handloading your own ammunition would also be treated as "manufacturing."

Treaties do not supersede the U.S. Constitution, but Second Amend-ment protections against the treaty`s requirements would be interpreted by federal courts. Those courts would often look to the State Department for guidance on how the treaty should be interpreted.

That would have frightening implications, given that CIFTA is endorsed by the senior legal adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Clinton administration official and law professor Harold Hongju Koh. Koh has a long record as an activist who sees U.S. sovereignty as an obstacle to a gun-free utopian world.

Koh, who once called the United States, North Korea and Saddam Hussein`s Iraq an "axis of disobedience" against world opinion, is offended that America disobeys world opinion by respecting the right of free people to keep and bear arms to protect their lives and liberty. In a 2003 Fordham Law Review article entitled, "A World Drowning in Guns," Koh proposed to right our supposed wrongs against the world.

He proposed to do this by first supporting scholarship to attack the Second Amendment itself. Koh called former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton`s strong declaration of the right to arms "needlessly provocative" and backed a view of the Constitution that was--thank goodness--rejected by the Supreme Court in the 2008 case of Heller v. District of Columbia.

The undermining of the Second Amendment would be followed by "internalization of the emerging global norms" developed by governments and activist groups that are not answerable to the American people at the polls. Eventually, those "global norms" would lead to controls such as "'perishable ammunition` … that would degrade and become unusable over time."

Under Koh`s plan, "global norms" would be largely determined by foreign governments and "non-governmental organizations" (NGOs). Most NGOs involved in this issue are social activist groups funded by foreign governments and wealthy foundations that don`t have America`s or American gun owners` interests at heart.

The International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA)--the inter-national umbrella group for the world`s anti-gun NGOs--is a prime example. IANSA is heavily funded by the United Nations, several foreign countries, Hungarian leftist billionaire George Soros` Open Society Institute, the left-leaning John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and other foundations and individuals of like mind. IANSA`s membership includes virtually all anti-gun groups worldwide, including most of those that are active in the United States, such as the Brady Campaign, the Million Mom March, the Legal Community Against Violence and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Not coincidentally, in February 2008, IANSA`s leader, Australian gun ban activist Rebecca Peters, made a major presentation to the Organization of American States in Mexico City.

In short, Koh believes that foreign governments and activist groups that are in most cases non-American, in some cases anti-American and in all cases opposed to our right to arms, should devise gun controls they consider acceptable, get countries to incorporate those controls into treaties and other transnational agreements, and finally use those agreements to get the controls incorporated into domestic law.

Most NRA members, gun owners and other Americans I`ve met since President Obama took office have lots of reasons to vote this November. This international threat is yet another. Between the already-signed OAS treaty and the UN Arms Trade Treaty being negotiated between now and 2012, the upcoming congressional elections will be critical to the future of our right to arms.

Will Sens. Kerry and Feinstein, and other adversaries in Congress, have enough votes to move their agenda forward next year? If we all work together and make sure that as many gun owners as possible go to the polls in November in support of pro-gun candidates, the answer to that will be a resounding "no."


The NRA Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF) is NRA's political action committee. The NRA-PVF ranks political candidates — irrespective of party affiliation — based on voting records, public statements and their responses to an NRA-PVF questionnaire.