WASHINGTON – An international framework for controlling the global arms trade appears to be headed for a brick wall on Capitol Hill, and Idaho’s junior senator is among the chief bricklayers.
“Save your ink. It’s not going anywhere,” U.S. Sen. Jim Risch said this week.
The United Nations arms trade treaty, approved by an overwhelming majority of countries Tuesday, seeks to regulate an industry that topped $85 billion in 2011, according to the Congressional Research Service. But the Senate will have the final say on whether the United States joins the pact. Risch and other senators on both sides of the aisle bristle at the agreement, which they fear could infringe upon Americans’ Second Amendment rights and expand international control over domestic affairs.
“One of the best ways (the U.N.) can expand is by passing these treaties that deal with things that should be dealt with by us,” said Risch, a Republican from Boise serving on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.
Secretary of State John Kerry has tried, so far without success, to ease Senate concerns about the treaty.
Lauding its U.N. passage Tuesday, Kerry disputed suggestions that the treaty trumps the Second Amendment. A preamble in the agreement’s language reaffirms “the sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its own territory.”
The agreement calls for nations to establish an arms sale registry, similar to a program already codified in U.S. federal law. The registry would include everything from tanks to “light weapons,” to help prevent such items being sold to rogue nations and terrorists. Opponents, including the National Rifle Association, worry that could pressure the United States to enact similar measures for civilian gun sales.
“Whenever you pass these treaties, you always get hit by the law’s unintended consequences,” Risch said.
Should President Barack Obama send the agreement to the Senate, it would need 67 votes for ratification. But just two weeks ago, in the early morning hours of debate on a budget resolution, Risch and Sen. Mike Crapo, another Idaho Republican, were among 53 senators – including eight Democrats – signaling their intent to block ratification. Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, have raised no objections.
Judd Deere, a spokesman for Crapo’s office, said the senator’s opposition was based on the treaty’s vague language and what appears to be exclusive U.N. authority over interpretation.
The Senate already has its hands full with a slate of gun control legislation when it reconvenes Monday. The White House is reviewing the U.N. treaty, and if it receives Obama’s signature it would go before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the committee, said the treaty would receive “a vigorous and fair review.” Risch, a member of the committee, said he was uncertain whether the agreement would hit the Senate floor at all.
Similar concerns about encroachment of U.S. sovereignty doomed a U.N. treaty addressing discrimination against those with disabilities in December. The Senate mustered a majority for that treaty, originally signed in 2006, but couldn’t reach the votes needed for approval. Crapo and Risch also voted against that agreement.