THE TWO-WEEK conference on international gun control – titled the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons – is in its second week at the United Nations (UN) in New York City. In many ways, the scenario is deviating from what the planners had hoped. This conference was to herald a new gun-free era, a replay of the banning of landmines. Yet many countries, including the United States, are not cooperating.
The opening remarks by John R. Bolton, the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security were the first big bombshell. Secretary Bolton made it clear that the United Nations should not trample on America’s Constitution, stating, "The United States would not join consensus on a final document that contains measures abrogating the constitutional right to bear arms." Bolton’s comments were far different than the kind of speeches prevalent during the Clinton administration, when "feel good" proposals were never opposed openly.
Although this UN conference is the culmination of over six years of work by the Japanese government, Japan appears to be no longer in charge. Almost a decade ago, Japan decided that if it wanted to garner a seat on the UN Security Council, it would need a higher profile in the UN; thus began their global gun control effort.
After all, the most anti-gun administration was in the United States, and Japan counted on support from European nations as well as Third World countries. In the United Nations, where money is always scarce, Japan would become instrumental by leading the effort with personnel and financial assistance.
In 1995 at a UN meeting in Cairo they made their first attempt: trying to rush through a protocol on small arms. Unfortunately for them the National Rifle Association (NRA) had an observer at the meeting, which slowed down their plans, but led to six years of planning and preparation for this year’s conference.
As the lengthy UN process of meetings and discussion got underway, it became evident to the NRA that it needed to keep abreast of the proceedings -- it became the first pro-gun non-governmental organization (NGO) at the UN. Concurrently an effort was started to communicate with and organize sport-shooting organizations around the globe. The result was the formation of The World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting.
Yet those efforts paled in comparison with the lobbying efforts lined up against law-abiding gun owners. All those "peace" groups that had been working diligently on the "land mine" issue at the UN were now turning their attention to what they called the "small arms" problem. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, British American Security Information Council (BASIC), and many, many national and international groups became involved.
By 1998, a small American organization calling itself the US Small Arms Working Group was holding regularly scheduled meetings and huddling regularly with personnel from the UN Small Arms Panel, the group set up by the UN to coordinate the work towards developing a protocol. Members of this group included BASIC, Human Rights Watch Arms Division, Federation of American Scientists, Center for Defense Information, and Africa Research Project — not the usual anti-gun groups.
In September 1998, Associated Press reported, "actor and producer Michael Douglas hopes to become the celebrity face of a new campaign to control the spread of light weapons… And on Friday Douglas joined in, making his first speech in his new role as a United Nations Messenger of Peace on the dangers of the global proliferation of small arms."
At the same time, the New York Times reported that during a pro-disarmament speech by the Japanese premier at the UN, Japan announced a donation of "1 million dollars to the U.N. to support security measures for U.N. personnel."
After three years of intense lobbying on this issue, Japan appeared to be in the driver’s seat. By the end of 1998 the UN was working diligently on Japan’s protocol. The General Assembly had passed three draft resolutions on the issue of small arms; the European Union was developing its own resolutions on the illicit trade in small arms; and a worldwide conference in 2001 was in the planning stages.
With Bill Clinton in the White House, the gun banners seemed to be in control. Hundreds of NGOs were working diligently to influence the delegations from nations across the globe to ban small arms. Yet, the conference was three years off and many in the world had not awakened to the true ramifications of the UN’s efforts.
Next week the conclusion of the UN effort to ban guns…