Mr. Kopel is research director at the Independence Institute.
National Review Online, August 3, 2001 9:10 a.m.
Editor's note: This is the third installment in an NRO series on the United Nations Conference on Small Arms (the previous installment: #2). More by Kopel on U.N. gun control.
ejected by the electorate last November, American gun prohibition found the United Nations Conference on Small Arms to be the friendliest of venues.
Appalled by the Bush administration's insistence that the U.N. conference not become a springboard for the destruction of Second Amendment rights, a coalition of antigun groups organized a demonstration outside the U.N. during the conference. In conjunction the demonstration, the groups released a joint letter stating that the conference proved the necessity of additional antigun laws in the U.S. The groups included the Children's Defense Fund (an anti-welfare reform group), the Brady Campaign (formerly known as Handgun Control, Inc., formerly known as the National Council to Control Handguns), Physicians for Social Responsibility, "Million" Mom March chapters, and various other local groups. The letter read: "The Cold War is over, but the international community is suffering from a new source of terror: the glut of small arms and 'civilian' weapons that are seeping from many industrialized nations, through channels both legal and illegal, to virtually all four corners of the globe."
Note that the very idea of "civilians" owning weapons had to be put in quotation marks.
The "Million" Mom March, hadn't been doing very well before the UN met. The group had trouble getting attendance into three digits at its last Washington rally, turned out to be a political liability for Al Gore and many other candidates, had to lay off 30 of its 35 staff, was kicked out of its free office space in San Francisco General Hospital when it was discovered that the space was obtained by fraud, and finally ended up being absorbed into the Brady Campaign, unable to exist as a viable separate organization. But at the U.N., the group's leader, pretending that she represented and strong, independent grassroots organization, won a standing ovation from the delegates.
And if the group could claim that 850,000 people showed up at its Washington rally in May 2000 (when the true size, based on D.C. transit figures and crowd photos, was 100,000 or less) why not increase the mathematical fiction? So the "Million" Mom March now claims to be an organization representing a "Billion" mothers worldwide. As if a billion women have even heard of this failed US group.
But the U.N. made its support for the "Billion" prohibitionist movement clear. The press conference announcing the new group was run by U.N. Under-Secretary-General Jayantha Dhanapala, head of the U.N. Department of Disarmament. Dhanapala called the group "vital" to global disarmament, and urged the billion/million members to act "through their legislatures and governments to ensure that the program of action is in fact implemented."
The anti-Bush demonstration featured five huge ugly puppets representing the United Kingdom, US, Russia, China, and France, created by the U.S. gun-prohibition group Silent March. (Apparently the fact that the U.K. and France were working hard for Silent March's agenda wasn't enough to get in the way of some mean-spirited street theater.) The U.S. puppet, resembling President Bush, wore a gaudy Uncle Sam hat and a necklace of bullets, and was smoking a cigar that on closer inspection was also a bullet. The puppet sported an "NRA" sticker, and the sign worn by the person holding this puppet read: "US: Puppet of Gun Lobby?"
Silent March revealed a lot about its overall political orientation when it decided that dressing somebody up like Uncle Sam was an insult.
The conference provided an opportunity for several international groups have come out of the closet on their antigun stance. For years Amnesty International has organized and coordinated international antigun work, but has insisted that it is doing nothing to promote gun control. But at the Conference, Amnesty International USA Executive Director William F. Schulz said, "Gun trafficking is a critical human rights issue around the world, but the problem begins at home." He blamed "Loose gun regulation — in [countries such as] the USA, Russia or Liberia."
"Should human rights abusers be given arms?" asked Amnesty International, although the group had nothing to say about arms for people resisting human-rights abuses.
The International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) is the global consortium of antigun non-government organizations (NGOs). The IANSA site happens to be hosted on the website of Oxfam, a world hunger group with wide-ranging hard left agenda. Save the Children and World Vision also complained about the U.S. position at the conference — revealing the strong leftist tilt that careful observers have seen in these organizations in recent years — but which has, discretely, not been publicized to the organizations' American donor base.
July 16 of the conference featured two hours of speeches by anti-gun groups, plus a half-hour for pro-rights organizations. The gun prohibition forces claimed to be motivated by saving innocent lives, but their rhetoric showed much more interest in stopping guns than in saving lives. In case of a conflict, they clearly preferred the former to the latter.
Neil Arya of Physicians for Global Survival in Canada asserted that physicians don't care where a shooting was the result of a suicide, accident or homicide, or whether the shooter was a gangster, a soldier, or a law-abiding gun owner. In other words, his group sees no distinction between a gangster murdering a robbery victim, a victim saving her life by shooting the gangster, a Nazi soldier shooting a Jew, and an American soldier shooting a Nazi soldier.
A press release from Silent March complained that the U.S. had "rejected a call for states to stop arming guerrillas in other countries." The press release came after Undersecretary Bolton had explained that the U.S. objected to the provision because it would prevent aid to groups which were resisting genocide. Silent March promotes itself as a humanitarian group concerned about gun death, but this concern apparently vanishes when the victims are being murdered by governments.
This is the moral upside-down world of the United Nations culture, in which victims who resist genocide, and governments which help the victims resist, are condemned as immoral.
The gun prohibition groups also talked a lot about the need to keep guns out of the hands of "children." These demands who not limited to keep guns out of the hands of child soldiers. Rather, the groups were following Hillary Clinton's position that children and guns shouldn't even be in the same sentence. U.S. gun-prohibition groups have been long at work to frighten parents into not allowing children to participate in the shooting sports, and to enact gun licensing laws that prohibit young people from hunting or target shooting, even under immediate parental supervision. (For example, in New Jersey, it's a felony to take your ten-year-old to a target range and let the child use a Red Ryder BB gun while you supervise.)
Stymied in free elections in the United States, the gun-prohibition lobbies in 1998 turned to the courts, filing meritless suits against gun manufacturers, with the hope of imposing de facto prohibition through bankruptcy. As the lawsuit strategy falls apart, gun-prohibition groups now seek their victory through international law. The further that the locus of decision moves from democratic, American control, the better the chances for success of the prohibition movement.