Nothing spooks antigovernment conspiracy theorists like the United Nations and its international treaties – particularly when it comes to perceived threats to their right to bear arms.
So naturally, far-right paranoiacs really have their panties in a twist over the proposed Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which would establish standards for the international trade of weapons.
Since UN talks about the ATT began on July 2, FrontPage Magazine, Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government, WorldNetDaily, and myriad other far-right “news” outlets have issued panicked articles denouncing the treaty as plot to gut the Second Amendment, destroy America, and pave the way for the establishment of a one-world government.
Particularly freaked out is the John Birch Society (JBS), a famously paranoid organization best known for accusing President Dwight D. Eisenhower of being a secret communist and for opining that fluoridated water is a communist plot to poison America.
In a recent article for the JBS mouthpiece The New American, Joe Wolverton II described the ATT as a “globalist agenda” bent on “the incremental dismantling of the U.S. Constitution and the sovereignty it protects.”
Wolverton – who in June described the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act as the “bleak dawn of a brave new world in which the federal government cannot be checked in its march toward totalitarianism” – noted (accurately) that the ATT’s stated purpose is to limit the international sale of weapons to nations where there is “a substantial risk of a serious violation” of human rights.
But, he wrote, “While the end of reducing the abuse of human rights is laudable, the means to achieve that cannot lawfully include the requirement that the Congress of the United States ask for permission from the UN overlords before it passes a law, including one authorizing the sale of arms to another country. That is a direct assault on American legislative sovereignty, and an indirect attack on the sovereignty of the American people who elect the members of Congress who vote on such measures.”
A number of members of Congress, mostly Republicans, appear to have bought into the paranoia. In a June 29 letter, more than 100 members called on President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “establish firm red lines for the ATT and state unequivocally that it will oppose the ATT if it infringes on our rights or threatens our ability to defend our interests.”
“The U.S. must not accept an ATT that infringes on our constitutional rights, particularly the fundamental, individual right to keep and to bear arms that is protected by the Second Amendment, as well as the right of personal self-defense on which the Second Amendment is based,” the letter says.
Is there a chance the ATT – or any UN treaty – could infringe on Americans’ constitutional rights?
Not even a little, says Michael Doyle, an expert on international treaties who teaches at Columbia Law School.
First of all, Doyle told Hatewatch, “no treaty can undermine, revise, alter, or be in conflict with the U.S. Constitution.”
Why not? Because “the Constitution is superior to all treaties, so there’s no way a treaty could change the Constitution.”
Doyle explained that the purpose of the ATT – which is still in draft form and may not be finalized before UN talks wind down at the end of this month – is to regulate international arms trade and prevent weapons from falling into the hands of potential human rights abusers. If the U.S. becomes a signatory – which would require approval by two-thirds of the Senate – it’s possible that individuals would find it slightly more difficult to purchase weapons from overseas, but the treaty would have zero effect on the domestic arms trade.
The ATT “might hypothetically restrict [Americans’] ability to buy an AK-47 from Russia,” Doyle said. “They might have to get a domestic license to buy a foreign AK-47 from Russia or someplace, if this treaty were approved by the United States.”
Hatewatch asked if there were any circumstances under which the UN could take away Americans’ guns.
The answer, he said after thinking a moment, is yes.
“If the U.S. population engages in a genocide and the U.S. government needs to call in foreign assistance through the UN, then indeed the perpetrators, presumably through the process of U.S. law, might have their guns taken away,” he said. “And it wouldn’t affect the law-abiding citizens.”
Of course, under UN rules, “If there were a genocide occurring in the United States, in order for there to be UN involvement in the United States, the U.S. would have to agree.”
Apparently, that’s exactly the kind of vision that keeps New World Order conspiracy theorists up at night.
“[G]lobalist gun controllers don’t have in mind (at least at first) to march blue-helmeted UN soldiers into the homes of Americans with orders to seize their guns and ammunition,” the JBS’ Wolverton wrote earlier this month. “Rather, through the passage of binding international treaties and UN resolutions, they will force the national governments of the world to do the dirty work for them.”
This theory was immediately taken up by far-right media personality Glenn Beck, a fringe figure who in 2007 declared that JBS’ distorted take on reality “make[s] … sense to me” and who has since hosted numerous pro-JBS figures on his various talk shows.
Quoting heavily from Wolverton’s article, Beck warned on his website that “people need to prepare for possible problems in the future, as the country cannot continue to head down the road it has over the past few years. There are people out there, some close to the current administration, who despise the free market and do not see America as a beacon of hope but as a symbol of oppression. These people do not believe America needs sovereignty, but the nation would be better off handing authority over to a global organization like the UN.”
Like many anti-ATT conspiracy theorists, Beck and Wolverton appear to be taking their talking points directly from the National Rifle Association, which has for several years led a propaganda campaign to scare Americans into thinking that the ATT is a threat to their Second Amendment rights.
Earlier this week, the progressive blog Media Matters released a report on the NRA’s involvement in anti-UN propaganda in which Alexander Zaitchik – formerly a writer for Hatewatch – explained that the gun-rights lobby started using the UN as a tool to drum up support in 1996.
In 1997, according to Zaitchik, NRA members received a fundraising letter claiming, “We are just two steps away from an international treaty that could cost you and your family your rights and your guns. … A multi-national cadre of gun-ban extremists is lobbying the United Nations, demanding … a virtual worldwide ban on firearms ownership. … What would happen if the UN demands gun confiscation on American soil?”
It’s no coincidence that the NRA started its aggressive anti-UN campaign around the same time that Wayne LaPierre assumed leadership of the organization.
Long ago, the NRA was a mainstream, if generally conservative, lobby. But LaPierre changed all that. In 1995, he wrote a fundraising letter describing federal agents as “jack-booted government thugs.” He added: “[I]n Clinton’s administration, if you have a badge, you have the government’s go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens.” Former President George H.W. Bush quit the NRA as a result.
In 2000, LaPierre accused President Bill Clinton of tolerating murders in order to build the case for gun control, saying the president had “blood on his hands.” Six years later, he released a book titled The Global War on Your Guns: Inside the UN Plan to Destroy the Bill of Rights.
This year, an NRA campaign suggesting that Obama is planning to crack down on gun ownership if re-elected has coincided with skyrocketing sales of guns and ammunition.
And earlier this month, addressing a UN conference that invited civil societies to discuss the ATT, LaPierre denounced “anti-freedom policies that disregard American citizens’ right to self-defense” and insinuated that supporters of the treaty were “enablers of future tyrants whose regimes will destroy millions and millions of defenseless lives.”
“Without apology, the NRA wants no part of any treaty that infringes on the precious right of lawful Americans to keep and bear arms,” LaPierre said. “America will always stand as a symbol of freedom and the overwhelming force of a free, armed citizenry to protect and preserve it. On behalf of all NRA members and American gun owners, we are here to announce that we will not tolerate any attack – from any entity or organization whatsoever – on our Constitution or our fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms.”
Fortunately. the NRA won’t have to tolerate any such attack – well, probably not.
“Here’s a message to them,” said Columbia’s Doyle, in a patient effort to comfort activists who fear a global gun grab. “Don’t engage in genocide or somebody might take their guns away.”