Gunning Against Guns

Transparency at the United Nations.

By David Kopel. Mr. Kopel is research director at the Independence Institute.

National Review Online. August 1, 2001 8:30 a.m. More by Kopel on United Nations gun control.

Editor's note: This is the second installment in an NRO series on the U.N Small Arms Conference. For Part I, see Score One for Bush.

At the Small Arms Conference, one of the buzzwords of gun-prohibition advocates was the need for "transparency" in small arms. This was shorthand for saying that there should be no privacy regarding gun ownership. Every government ought to have a list of every gun owner and every gun in the country. Registration has been used to facilitate gun confiscation in the United Kingdom, Australia, Jamaica, California, New York City, Nazi-occupied Europe, Soviet-occupied Europe, the Philippines, Bermuda, and many other places. Registration as an important preliminary step to total handgun prohibition.

Pete Shields, the founder of America's largest gun-prohibition movement (originally called the National Council to Control Handguns; later, Handgun Control, Inc.; currently, the Brady Campaign) explained his three-step program for handgun prohibition in the July 26, 1976 New Yorker:

"The first problem," Shields explained, "is to slow down the increasing number of handguns being produced and sold in this country." Solving this "problem" was high on the U.N. agenda, with many concerns expressed about "excessive" accumulations of small arms.

"The second problem," said Shields, "is to get handguns registered." This was Secretary General Kofi Annan's prime hope for the conference, to create a worldwide system of gun registration.

"Our ultimate goal," Shields continued, "is to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition--except for the military, policemen, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors — totally illegal."

As the U.N. pushed for global gun registration, the Washington Post and many other newspapers fumed that there was nothing on the U.N. agenda which would infringe anyone's Second Amendment rights. To the Washington Post editorial page, this statement was plainly correct, since the Post believes that individual Americans have no Second Amendment rights.

Other newspapers, appeared to recognize an individual Second Amendment right, but insisted that nobody's hunting guns were in danger. If a U.N. treaty were to require governments to register the ownership of every book (or every political book) in a country, would these same newspapers insist that there was no danger to freedom of the press?

A United Nations press release touted mandatory gun registration for every (non-government) firearm anywhere in the world, but said that a U.N.-controlled registry was "premature" — not that a U.N. registry was a bad idea, just "premature" in light of current political realities.

The Canadian government, having sunk almost three-quarters of a billion (Canadian) dollars into domestic gun registry — at the expense of police on the streets and the health-care system — pushed hard for international registration mandates. Apparently the Canadian government's failed registration scheme would look less foolish if other governments followed suit.

"Transparency for thee, but not for me" could be the U.N. motto. While pushing to abolish privacy for gun owners, the U.N. barred the press from the debate and deliberation on the official program of action. Americans would be appalled if Congress threw the press out of the Capitol while debating a gun law. But that is precisely what the U.N. did.

"Transparency" for small arms also requires, in the U.N.'s view, abolition of Internet privacy. The U.N. complains that part of the small arms trade conducted by e-commerce "is frequently encoded or encrypted, thus placing an extra burden on the law enforcement institutions to detect it."

To the extent that gun "transparency" can actual help track down how criminals and terrorists get their guns, the world's responsible firearms manufacturers already provide it. Since the Gun Control Act of 1968, all guns manufactured in or imported into the United States must have serial numbers, and markings indicated the identity of the manufacturer and place of manufacture. In conjunction with the U.N. Conference, the world's firearms manufacturers, working through their World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities, signed an agreement with the Eminent Persons Group (a collection of 23 anti-gun politicians) to provide similar markings on all their firearms.

Such identification has never been objectionable to the manufacturers. At a previous international conference, the only reason that a binding agreement on markings was not achieved was that China objected.

At the U.N. Small Arms Conference, the U.S. again supported firearms identification — provided that the language clearly did not open the door for registration of gun owners. That's good enough for legitimate investigations — but not good enough for prohibition groups who wanted to use the trade in illicit arms as a pretext for destroying the privacy of every (non-government) gun owner in the world.   

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