The NRA, the Vatican and the Arms Trade Treaty

St. George slays the dragon of war. Sculpture at United Nations in New York.I'm not sure how I wound up on the list, but I received a robo-call first thing this morning from the National Rifle Association. The NRA executive urged that I oppose the Arms Trade Treaty the United Nations is working toward to regulate international trafficking in conventional arms.I thank the NRA for focusing my attention on the issue. It seems to have passed me by that in 2006, the Bush administration made the United States the only dissenter in a 153-1 General Assembly vote to explore a treaty. The Obama administration reversed that position in 2009.The NRA's phone call ended with a question that I was supposed to answer by pushing "1" or "2" on my phone: "Do you think it's OK for the UN to be on American soil attacking our gun rights?"I didn't answer; the question is based on a false premise. The treaty would be aimed at setting standards for the poorly regulated market in importing and exporting conventional arms, not at weapons laws within any country. As a group of UN experts put it in a 2008 report: "Exclusively internal transfers or national ownership provisions, including national constitutional protections on private ownership within the State's territory, should not fall under an arms trade treaty."From the standpoint of Catholic teaching, weapons control is a moral issue. That is how the Vatican framed it in a statement at a meeting on the arms treaty in New York in July:

The Holy See recognizes the great importance of the current ATT process as it addresses in particular the grave human cost resulting from the illicit trade in arms. Non-regulated and non-transparent arms trading and the absence of effective monitoring systems for arms trading at the international level cause serious humanitarian consequences, slow down integral human development, undermine the rule of law, increase conflicts and instability around the globe, endanger peace-building processes in various countries and spawn a culture of violence and impunity. Here we should always bear in mind the grave repercussions of illicit trade in arms on peace, development, human rights and the humanitarian situation, especially the deep impact it leaves on women and children. These issues can be effectively solved only through the common sharing of responsibilities by all members of the international community.

Conventional arms and weapons, small or light, should not be regarded as any other kind of merchandise that is put on sale in global, regional or national markets. Their production, trade and possession have ethical and social implications. They need to be regulated in accordance with specific principles of the moral and legal order.

Given the NRA's influence, it's hard to see how an arms trade treaty could get the two-thirds vote needed to pass it in the Senate. Would our bishops make much of a stir over the moral issues involved?

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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