U.S. rejects any U.N. plan to curb small arms trafficking that interferes with gun ownership
UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Staking out a tough position at a U.N. conference on small arms, the United States said Monday it would oppose any plan that interferes with the legal weapons trade or the right of citizens to own guns.
The Bush administration believes the best way to curb trade in small arms and light weapons is to get every nation to adopt tough U.S.-style regulations on exports, weapons transfers and brokers, Undersecretary of State John Bolton told delegates to the conference.
”The United States will not join consensus on a final document that contains measures contrary to our constitutional right to keep and bear arms,” Bolton said.
Finding a way to halt the illegal trade in small arms and light weapons – responsible for millions of deaths worldwide – will be tough for nations with vastly divergent stances. Some want to ensure profits are not touched, others oppose interference in their right to self-defense.
Still, 189 nations sat down together Monday, along with advocates on both sides of the gun control debate, to discuss ways to halt the lucrative business U.N. officials say fuels wars and crime and is implicated in 1,000 deaths a day.
Two hours after the conference opened, the United States rejected several elements of the draft program of action, asked that others be modified, and had its own ideas of what constitutes small arms.
”If the conference can concentrate on the central issue of the flow of illicit weapons into areas of conflict, then I think there’s broad room for agreement,” Bolton said at a news conference. ”But if it drifts off into areas that are more properly the subject of national-level decision-making then I think there will be difficulties.”
Some delegates expressed dismay with the U.S. position.
”I was amazed by the U.S. representative’s remarks. It sounded like he wanted the conference to collapse,” said Rubem Cesar Fernandes, of the International Network on Small Arms, a non-profit arms control group.
Belgium’s Foreign Minister Louis Michel, speaking on behalf of the 15-nation European Union, also called for further regulation of the legal small arms trade to prevent spillover into the illegal trade.
The action plan must go beyond ”a simple listing of the problems of stockpiles and the proliferation of small arms,” he said.
China’s U.N. Ambassador Wang Yingfan said the draft program of action was ”well balanced and reflects the major positions and concerns of all sides. We hope that it will be adopted by consensus without major changes.”
The more controversial topics at the gathering include controls on the manufacturing, transfer and possession of small arms, standardized export criteria and marking and tracing practices.
Norway called for a legally binding document and Iran said it wanted a halt in weapons supplies to non-states. The United States opposes both.
”There are many delegations that have their views … but I think there is enough good will so that in these coming two weeks, we can sit together and try to find consensus and solutions,” said Camilo Reyes, Colombia’s U.N. ambassador and the conference president.
More than 500 million small arms and light weapons are available – one for every 12 people on the planet.
Rachel Stohl of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information authored a study on the impact of small arms on children and found a ”definite link between these weapons and the use of child soldiers.”
”Armed groups give them to kids and anyone strong enough to hold them becomes a soldier,” Stohl told The Associated Press.
At about $1 billion annually, illegal small-arms trafficking is the second-largest illicit business after drugs, according to U.N. figures.
”The problem is not so much the dollar value as the vast supply, which makes small arms very inexpensive to purchase,” said U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette. ”In some places an AK-47 assault rifle can be bought for as little as $15, or even a bag of grain.”
Those weapons often find their way into countries awash in violence.
There are 10 million light weapons in Afghanistan, the United Nations estimates. In West Africa, 7 million small arms are circulating in countries such as Sierra Leone and Angola, devastated by years of civil war. Two million more are available in war-torn Central Africa.
The United States rejected many hot-button issues, including a proposal that calls for small arms to be supplied to governments only.
”The United States believes that the responsible use of firearms is a legitimate aspect of national life,” Bolton said, adding that Washington would not accept any ”measures that would constrain legal trade and legal manufacture of small arms and light weapons.”
The conference should be concerned with strictly military arms ”that are contributing to continued violence and suffering in regions of conflict around the world,” Bolton said.
”We separate these military arms from firearms such as hunting rifles and pistols which are commonly used and owned by citizens in many countries.”
The United Nations defines small arms as revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles, submachine guns, assault rifles and light machine-guns. Light weapons include heavy machine-guns, mortars, hand grenades, grenade launchers, portable anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns and portable missile launchers.
A startling 5-ton sculpture unveiled Monday is made of weapons including submachine guns confiscated from Nicaraguan children, a 7-inch-long rubber bullet from Northern Ireland, AK-47s used in South Africa and pistols fired by street gangs in Los Angeles.
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