As a Brit, America’s affinity for guns has at times shocked, appalled, and intrigued me. Trying to argue for gun control in the US seems to be akin to trying to argue for tea control in the UK. It’s almost part of the national  psyche. At least, it’s important enough to a large number of people that it would be political suicide. But unlike tea, there is a right to arms, or at least, a right to “bear arms”, in the US. While this is something patently bizarre to me, this doesn’t change the nature of the 2nd amendment’s existence.

Which brings me to the National Rifle Association. The NRA, to the casual observer from across the pond, seems to be staunchly anti-anti-gun. By that I mean that if there’s something that looks to be restricting guns going from one place to another, from one person to another, they aren’t having it and are going to fiercely oppose it. I’m sure many would reject this, and argue the NRA advocate measured gun control and gun safety education. But their opposition to the International Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), being negotiated at the UN in July, lends me to believe they haven’t thought through their position very well. And their position on the ATT is important as they have a lot of influence over every-day Americans and politicians.

Although I understand the NRA does not base its existence purely on the Second Amendment, without the Second Amendment the NRA would have a hard time doing what it does. The Second amendment, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”, from many people’s understanding, exists to allow the people to defend themselves and others from the overarching powers of the state. By allowing the forming of “A well regulated Militia”, the state will fear to encroach on the rights of its people (though of course there are alternative interpretations). And I get that. Even from my staunchly anti-gun perspective. States are often quite clearly violent actors, and rather than defending their citizens’ security, are often the most prominent threats.

Which is why the NRA should support the Arms Trade Treaty.

Now, I understand that the ATT is being initiated and discussed by the very governments many supporters of the NRA and many others distrust. A number of people have said they can’t trust what will be negotiated: why would governments want to restrict guns if not to prevent citizens having them to defend themselves? In my opinion governments are going forward with this conference because of substantial pressure from civil society groups such as Control Arms. Just like the NRA is able to influence government, so can other groups. Another reason is because it is the right thing to do, seeing as around 2000 people a day are killed by armed violence worldwide. While the NRA may fear the trampling of the 2nd amendment, most of us supporting an ATT fear that the treaty just won’t do enough.

The NRA may refuse to see it, but the ATT is about establishing common rules for international transfers of arms, largely to governments. What the ATT is not doing is regulating domestic transfers to citizens. As such, governments have financial (and foreign policy) disincentives to the negotiation of an effective ATT. The US, followed by Russia, Germany, France, the UK and China, are the largest arms exporting countries in the world. It is only because of the hard work and persistence of campaign groups and certain states (especially Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Kenya and the UK) that the ATT is being taken forward, and these arms-trading states are being pushed to agree and compromise. So not only does the conference have no intention to regulate domestic arms transfers, there are many states that don’t want any regulation of international transfers either. Even so, many of the major arms exporting states are at least lukewarm rather than cold to a treaty. Those that oppose or have fundamental problems with a treaty are less financially interested, and interested for other reasons. These states include Bahrain, Belarus, China, Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Zimbabwe. These are the states the NRA is helping when it lobbies against an ATT. These are the kinds of states that I imagine the NRA would not want to see the US turn into; largely totalitarian, largely undemocratic, and often a threat to their own citizens, as exhibited most recently in the countries of the “Arab Spring“, including Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

The NRA may suspect that the ATT goes further and does more than it purports to do. But the fact is, there currently exists no definitive draft ATT, let alone a definitive final product . Recommendations have been made, objections stated, compromises suggested. But until July, and maybe not even then, no document will exist. Thus, opposing the substantive existence of an Arms Trade Treaty is still to oppose what it stands for, rather than what it may contain.

Although he is by no means universally respected, when Newt Gingrich advocated for an extension of the Second Amendment worldwide at the NRA annual conference in April, he advocated for every person in the world to have the right to defend themselves, ostensibly from their governments. I’m sure most people in the countries of the Arab Spring and beyond want to defend their families from danger as best they can, just as NRA members and Second Amendment advocates affirm. One solution may be to arm them, something the ATT doesn’t effect. Another solution may be to substantially disarm their governments.

N.B. This post is aimed at those supportive of the NRA or of the Second Amendment. I fully understand the existence of divergent opinions on the nature of the NRA and its intentions, but addressing them, or the validity of the aims of the NRA, is not what this post is about.