Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, put forth another absurd argument that the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) will lead to national gun registration in The Hill newspaper last week. Cox argued that “Article 12 of the treaty ‘encourages’ countries to compile ‘records’ of all ‘end users; of firearms imported into their county — and to supply this sensitive personal information to the government of the exporting country.” He says, “This is gun registration on an international level, plain and simple.”
Italian shotguns and existing records
Cox wrongly argues that “if you bought a shotgun made by an Italian manufacturer, the U.S. government would keep a record of your purchase and provide your information to the Italian government.” This argument makes for a good sound bite and is effective in scaring members of Congress and the NRA. But the fallacy of his argument becomes very clear when assessing Article 8 of the Arms Trade Treaty on imports and Article 12 on record keeping, as well as existing US law.
Article 12 of the Arms Trade Treaty requires all exporters of conventional weapons to keep records on their exports. It encourages, though does not require, each State Party to maintain records of conventional arms that are transferred to its territory as the final destination. Finally Article 12 also encourages, though does not require, the records to include: the quantity, value, model/type, authorized international transfers of conventional arms, conventional arms actually transferred, details of exporting State(s), importing State(s), transit and trans-shipment State(s), and end users, as appropriate. (My emphasis added.)
The first question is which, if any, new records must be kept if the US signs the ATT. The truth is that the US already maintains records on both the import and export of conventional weapons, including firearms. (Again, bear with me through the legalese, which is offered for Cox’s sake.)
Individual gun owners, unless he or she is a licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, or licensed dealer, are already barred by US law from importing firearms (See 18 U.S.C § 922; and 27 C.F.R. § 447.41.). Those applying for a permit to import firearms must file with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), listing details on the importer, the exporter, the item, and the purpose of the import, including final recipient if different than the importer. Similar import records are kept by the Customs Department when inspecting shipments entering the country.
The records currently kept by the US government do not extend to commercial sales of firearms. Pursuant to the Firearms Owners Protection Act, unless the specific firearms are suspected of being involved in a specific crime, no records of firearms transactions may be recorded once the weapons enter the domestic market. The point is the Arms Trade Treaty does not require records to be kept beyond the import records already maintained by the ATF. The details already required in a permit application are extensive and there is no requirement in the treaty to expand the records to include firearm transactions once the arms enter the stream of commerce.
“Give me all your records!”
The second question raised by Mr. Cox is whether the US is required to hand over records to potential exporters. Article 8 of the Arms Trade Treaty states that “each importing State Party shall take measures to ensure that appropriate and relevant information is provided, upon request, pursuant to its national laws, to the exporting State Part.y” (My emphasis added.)
The treaty includes this section because many countries, including the United States, often require that countries provide details on potential recipients of US arms transfers prior to transfer. The US maintains records on the armed forces receiving exported weapons and checks on whether the arms transferred are being used pursuant to the agreement. This process is called end use monitoring, and is currently routinely carried out by both the State Department through its Blue Lantern Program and the Pentagon through its Golden Sentry Program.
According to existing US law and upon request of a foreign government, ATF will certify the importation and provide evidence that shows the US importer has complied with import regulations from the ATF and customs regulations from the Department of Homeland Security. (See 27 C.F.R. § 447.51.)
Sorry Cox, unless your NRA members are the importer him or herself, none of these regulations include individual gun purchases.