U.N. coming for your guns
Private groups, governments team up
to restrict use, ownership of firearms
By Stephan Archer and Sarah Foster
© 1999 WorldNetDaily.com
American gun owners and advocacy groups like
the National Rifle Association are suddenly
finding that when it comes to firearms legislation,
they had better pay attention to what's happening
not only in Congress and their state legislatures,
but at the United Nations, where the Second
Amendment is being quietly dismantled behind
Since the end of the Cold War, the disarmament
community has brought small arms and light
weapons within its sphere of interest, placing
them and their "proliferation" on a par with such
long-standing concerns as nuclear missiles and
bio-chemical weapons. Though the terms tend to
be used interchangeably, the United Nations
defines small arms as weapons designed for
personal use, while light weapons are those
designed for several persons operating as a crew.
Together, they account for virtually every kind of
firearm from revolvers, pistols, rifles, carbines and
light machine guns all the way to heavy machine
guns, grenade launchers, portable anti-aircraft
and anti-tank guns, mortars up to 100 mm caliber,
and land mines.
On Sept. 24, United Nations Secretary General
Kofi Annan, of Ghana, called on members of the
Security Council to "tackle one of the key
challenges in preventing conflict in the next
century" -- the proliferation and "easy availability"
of small arms and light weapons, which Annan
identified as the "primary tools of violence" in
conflicts throughout the world.
It was the first time the council had met to discuss
the subject, and Annan praised the United
Nations as a whole for playing "a leading role in
putting the issue of small arms firmly on the
"Even in societies not beset by civil war, the easy
availability of small arms has in many cases
contributed to violence and political instability," he
said. "Controlling that easy availability is a
prerequisite for a successful peace-building
Talk is one thing, but the Security Council then
unanimously adopted the "Report of the Group of
Governmental Experts on Small Arms," which had
been released Aug. 19 to the General Assembly.
The 26-member group's various recommendations,
two dozen in all, add up to a comprehensive
program for worldwide gun control, and call for a
total ban on private ownership of "assault rifles."
A few of the recommendations:
All small arms
are not under
which are not
required for the
be collected and
expeditiously as possible.
All States should determine in their national
laws and regulations which arms are
permitted for civilian possession and the
conditions under which they can be used.
All States should ensure that they have in
place adequate laws, regulations and
administrative procedures to exercise
effective control over the legal possession of
small arms and light weapons and over their
transfer in order ... to prevent illicit
States are encouraged to integrate measures
to control ammunition ... into prevention
and reduction measures relating to small
arms and light weapons.
States should work towards ... appropriate
national legislation, regulations and
licensing requirements that define conditions
under which firearms can be acquired, used
and traded by private persons. In particular,
they should consider the prohibition of
unrestricted trade and private ownership of
small arms and light weapons specifically
designed for military purposes, such as
automatic guns (e.g., assault rifles and
The report notes with approval countries like
China that have acted to "strengthen legal or
regulatory controls." China reported that some
300,000 "illicit" guns were seized and destroyed
last year by officials acting in response to "new
and more stringent national regulations that have
come into force ... on the control on guns within
the country and on arms exports." France, too, in
1998 "acted to reinforce governmental control over
military and civilian arms and ammunition, and
introduced more rigorous measures regulating the
holding of arms by civilians." And the United
States gave assurances that the federal
government has taken "a number of relevant
national measures." All United States citizens,
wherever located, and any person subject to
United States law, must now register in order to
engage in arms brokering activities. ..." That is,
prior written approval from the State Department
Contacted for comment, a State Department
official who requested anonymity denied that the
report spelled out gun control programs being
imposed on this country via the United Nations,
despite the fact that a State Department senior
foreign affairs specialist, Herbert Calhoun, had
served as a member of the group and Secretary of
State Madeleine Albright -- representing the
United States on the Security Council -- had
endorsed the report.
"The United Nations will not dictate domestic gun
control for any nation," the official told
WorldNetDaily. "They can make
recommendations and nations can act on those
recommendations as they see fit, but we will never
have the United Nations telling countries what
they should do."
Questioned about specific recommendations, he
replied, "Those are just recommendations -- and
surprisingly, a number of countries, including the
U.S., take them up on those recommendations. In
fact, we support all 24 of those recommendations."
World 'awash' with small arms
The current surge of activity at the United Nations
against small arms was signaled in January 1995
by then-Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali
in his "Supplement to an Agenda for Peace," a
position paper on the occasion of the 50th
anniversary of the United Nations.
The world, he said, was "awash" with small arms
that were responsible for "most of the deaths in
current conflicts." Traffic in these weapons is "very
difficult to monitor, let alone intercept."
Boutros-Ghali urged that since progress had been
made in the area of weapons of mass destruction
and major weapons systems, "parallel progress in
conventional arms, particularly in respect to light
weapons," was needed.
In response to Boutros-Ghali's call, in 1997
Secretary General Kofi Annan upgraded the
United Nations' disarmament office to
departmental status as the Department of
Disarmament Affairs, citing his intention to place
greater emphasis on small arms and light
weapons. The Department for Disarmament
affairs is headed by Under-Secretary General for
Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri
The new department continues to work on the
traditional issues of nuclear missile systems, test
ban treaties and the like -- but there's now a
special website for small arms issues.
This activity at the international level quickly drew
the attention of the National Rifle Association,
which has posted a warning in a fact sheet on its
"While the actions of the U.N. do not have direct
impact on U.S. law unless passed as a treaty by
the U.N. General Assembly and ratified by the
U.S. Senate, ... the U.N. can do a great deal to
interfere with gun owners' rights by lending an
appearance of legitimacy to oppressive anti-gun
measures. It is clear that one of the goals of this
effort is to demonize civilian ownership of guns
and make strict regulation of firearms appear as
the only acceptable alternative."
An 'unholy alliance'
Attorney Thomas Mason, who represents the
National Rifle Association at meetings of the
United Nations, told WorldNetDaily how this
effort to radically reduce private gun ownership is
being furthered not only by U.N. bureaucrats and
delegates, but with the help of non-governmental
organizations -- "NGOs" as they're called -- that
have been granted special consultative status to
observe the proceedings and, when invited,
present information and exert considerable
influence on delegates and staff.
"A dynamic for worldwide gun control efforts has
developed in the international arena over the past
five years -- an unholy alliance between NGOs,
small to medium-size governments and the United
Nations," said Mason. "People have no idea that
the United Nations is a totally closed process.
There is no public records law or open meetings
law. As a member of the public you do not have
an automatic right to attend committee meetings.
To get in the door you have to be an accredited
There are over 1,000 non-governmental accredited
organizations dealing with the numerous issues
with which the United Nations concerns itself:
education, health, land use and the environment,
and guns. The National Rifle Association received
accreditation in 1995, and is one of only two
pro-gun NGOs to have been certified. The other is
the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia.
"We sought NGO status to monitor the activities of
the U.N. in terms of issues that are important to
our membership, more so than to become an active
lobbying force there," explained Patrick O'Malley,
deputy director of the NRA's Institute for
Legislative Action. "That's primarily the role we
continue to act in today -- that of observer,
monitoring any number of initiatives that they're
working on in places as far flung as Geneva,
"But make no mistake," he added, "We are
working actively to ensure that the discussions on
specific gun control-connected issues do not in any
way pose a threat to our domestic sovereignty or
the public policy process that we have here in the
United States -- that's the goal of many of the
[anti-gun] groups -- to seek a global harmonization
-- as they call it -- of domestic gun control laws.
"And when they speak of 'harmonization,' they
don't talk about other countries coming to our
level where we [in the United States] have a basic
right to own a firearm; they're talking about taking
the United States to the standard of many other
countries where firearms ownership is essentially
"There are some highly extremist proposals out
there," O'Malley continued, "proposals that range
from the bizarre to the ridiculous. Proposals have
been put forward that every single round of
ammunition manufactured be trackable by satellite
so that we can establish a protocol for monitoring
what they call 'flows' of small arms and
ammunition into areas of conflict."
First landmines, next small arms
This diverse mix of non-governmental
organizations -- most with anti-gun agendas --
national governments, and U.N. leaders has been
holding workshops and conferences throughout
the world on firearms-related issues.
"Workshops in the international arena are
essentially meetings to deliberate issues," said
Mason. "When a government or NGO sponsors a
workshop, it's much more serious than the
ordinary person might think. That's where the
thinking and talking is done and decisions are
One such meeting will be held today at the United
Nations headquarters in New York City to discuss
the draft of a field guide on light weapons
designed for use by humanitarian and relief
personnel working in arms control programs in
hot spots around the world.
The two-hour technical workshop is sponsored by
the Program on Development and Security --
called SAND -- of the Monterey Institute of
International Studies, a private graduate school in
Monterey, California, and the Bonn International
Center for Conversion in Germany. The two "think
tanks" are well connected to the United Nations
through their work on the international weapons
trade and its perceived impact on communities
and peace-keeping efforts around the world. Dr.
Edward J. Laurance, executive director of the
SAND program at the Monterey institute and
co-author of the field manual, also serves as a
consultant to the United Nations Panel of
Governmental Experts on Small Arms and the
U.N. Register on Conventional Weapons.
Although it's not unusual for independent groups
to give presentations at the United Nations,
today's meeting will be chaired by Jayantha
Dhanapala, under-secretary general for
disarmament affairs. The session and its choice of
host are a testimony to the growing influence of
NGOs at the United Nations, and highlight the
increased attention paid by that body to the
"proliferation" of personal firearms throughout the
world and their possession by "civilians." The
significance of Dhanapala's role heading up the
event is well-appreciated by Laurance.
"All NGOs and governments are invited to look at
the first draft of our field manual," he told
WorldNetDaily. "We're unveiling it at the
workshop and getting feedback. But the important
thing for us is that the workshop is hosted by the
under-secretary general for disarmament."
Laurance sees an even greater role for
organizations like SAND and the Bonn
International Center in the U.N. decision-making
process as that body opens its doors to "civil
"Civil society -- that's sort of a buzz word --
meaning NGOs, academic experts, the public at
large," he explained. "The U.N. increasingly asks
people like me and others as consultants.
Increasingly, conferences are held cooperatively
with the NGO community, and NGOs are being
used to provide information and ideas."
Laurance called attention to the success of NGOs
in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
After six years of campaigning, 129 governments
in 1997 signed a treaty banning the production
and use of land mines. The United States is not
one of them.
If such a campaign worked with landmines, what
about personal firearms?
"If you followed the Land Mine Treaty, that's a
perfect example of where NGOs were used," he
explained. "There was a group of so-called
like-minded states that really wanted the treaty
and a bunch of others that were on the fence. So
the NGOs were used to get the countries that were
on the fence to jump in and sign the treaty."
Laurance credits the environmental movement for
developing the process domestically and at the
"The environmental groups showed the way," he
said. "They had the information and they made it
available. We've made that point with the small
arms and light weapons issue: that civil society has
information, particularly at the local level. It's civil
society that's being hurt by these weapons. Civil
society can tell governments what weapons are
doing the damage and why, and where they come
"Many governments understand this," he
continued. "The United States is a special case
because of the whole gun control issue, and the
United States has a very special challenge: They
have to constantly worry that what they do in this
area internationally doesn't have any domestic
Besides his work in academia and with the United
Nations, Laurance and the SAND program are
active participants in a newly-formed,
globe-spanning coalition of national and
international peace, disarmament, humanitarian
and anti-gun groups called the International
Action Network on Small Arms -- which he
helped found. It is the kind of far-flung association
that would have been all but impossible to
organize and direct in the days before the Internet
'Flame for peace' gun bonfire
"Perhaps the way forward for the peace
movement will be the high-tech route, using
modern technology to lead campaigns of the 21st
century," according to Tamar Gabelnick of the
Federation of American Scientists, and a founder
of IANSA. In an article describing the new group,
Gabelnick wrote, "IANSA will act as a coordinator
and facilitator for groups worldwide working to
prevent the proliferation and misuse of small arms
and light weapons. A small secretariat will be
complemented in its role as an information
warehouse and facilitator of 'mini-campaigns" by
heavy reliance on the web and e-mail. This format
will help to harmonize the activities of a diverse
group of organizations while allowing the
flexibility necessary to address the components of
this multi-faceted issue."
Recalling Mason's remarks about the "unholy
alliance," funding for the new group has come
largely from five agencies of small to medium-size
governments: The Belgian Ministry for
Development Cooperation; the Swedish Ministry
of Foreign Affairs; the Netherlands Ministry of
Foreign Affairs; the United Kingdom Department
for International Development; and the Finnish
Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
After several organizing meetings beginning in
December 1997, IANSA was formally launched
May 11 of this year at The Hague during the
Appeal for Peace Conference, which reportedly
drew an estimated 7,000 delegates from around
the world to celebrate the centennial of The Hague
Peace Conferences of 1899. To celebrate the
formation of the new coalition, organizers
destroyed a collection of firearms donated by
governments in a "Flame for Peace" bonfire in the
Four months after its debut, U.N. Secretary
General Kofi Annan spoke glowingly of the new
organization for its role in directing public
attention to the issue of firearms.
"The momentum for combating small arms
proliferation has also come from civil society,
which has been increasingly active on this issue,"
Annan said in his Sept. 24 address to the Security
Council. "The establishment early this year of the
International Action Network on Small Arms has
helped to sharpen public focus on small arms,
which has helped us gain the public support
necessary for success."
"IANSA is a coalition of non-governmental
organizations that was established to organize
international efforts for controlling the global trade
in firearms -- that's its main purpose," said Michael
Klare, one of its founders. Klare teaches Peace and
Conflict Studies at Hampshire College in
Massachusetts and is co-director of the Project on
Light Weapons of the American Academy of Arts
"It's not designed to become a large organization
on its own," he continued. "People feel very
strongly about not creating a new bureaucracy.
We don't have officers at this point because the
understanding is that the members of IANSA are
organizations themselves and only those
organizations can set their own policy."
E.J. Hogendoorn of Human Rights Watch and, like
Klare, one of IANSA's founders, views it more as a
"It's a very encompassing campaign by different
groups that bring different agendas to the
campaign, but all of them center around the
misuse of light weapons and small arms," said
Hogendoorn. "So, for example, Human Rights
Watch -- we're not a gun control organization per
se, and traditionally most of our work has been on
human rights concerns. But we do care about
people selling weapons to human rights abusers."
Like Human Rights Watch, most members of
IANSA are not gun control organizations per se,
nor are they involved in domestic gun-related
issues -- but the measures developed to control gun
trafficking at the international level will
necessarily require backup by domestic measures.
Membership in IANSA is open to
non-governmental organizations, community
groups and professional associations that support
at least some of the group's policy ojectives and
"do not oppose or advocate opposition to those
objectives which they do not explicitly support."
Organizers have developed a list of gun control
measures IANSA supports, including:
Reducing the availability of weapons to
civilians in all societies.
Providing resources to develop the capacity
in national and local governments to achieve
effective controls over small arms possession
Promoting safe storage practices for small
arms on the part of citizens and states.
Systematic collection and destruction of
weapons that are illegally held by civilians.
Collection and verifiable destruction of
surplus weapons as part of U.N.
Promoting programs to encourage citizens to
surrender illegal, unsafe or unwanted
Banning the advertisement and promotion
of small arms to civilians.
International gun control treaty coming?
At least 200 organizations have signed on with
IANSA as supporters or active participants,
including Human Rights Watch, the Federation of
American Scientists, Pax Christi, World Council of
Churches, Amnesty International, Gun Free South
Africa, Viva Rio, the leading anti-gun group in Rio
de Janiero, the Arias Foundation in Costa Rio, and
the British American Security Information Council
-- or Basic, which has offices in London and
The lobbying efforts of IANSA and "like-minded"
governments has begun paying off. A conference
is in the works to be held in 2001 that will cover all
aspects of small arms -- and some kind of a
firearms protocol or treaty will probably be on the
According to the National Rifle Association's Tom
Mason: "Proposals are being floated of an
international treaty banning civilian possession of
military-style firearms -- though it's impossible to
distinguish military from civilian; other proposals
are calling for the destruction of all surplus
military firearms, calling for the registration and
regulation internationally of all manufacturing
and shipping of firearms -- there's a whole series of
very radical proposals.
"They will have their first meeting to prepare for
the conference on February 28," Mason said.
"We will be there," he promised.
Stephan Archer and Sarah Foster are staff
reporters for WorldNetDaily.