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Why Trump's rejection of the Arms Trade Treaty matters

At the U.N., only Iran, North Korea, and Syria opposed the Arms Trade Treaty. Donald Trump announced today that the U.S. will reject it, too.
Donald Trump speaks during the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Harrison McClary/Reuters).
Donald Trump speaks during the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn. on Apr. 10, 2015. 

Six years ago, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed the Arms Trade Treaty on a vote of 154 to 3. While there were some abstentions, the only nations opposed to the ATT were Iran, North Korea, and Syria. The United States voted with the majority, and several months later, then-Secretary of State John Kerry officially endorsed the treaty, beginning the ratification process.

That process, at least in this country, is now dead. Donald Trump made some news at the NRA convention today, announcing the end of the United States' support for the ATT. The Washington Post reported:

President Trump announced Friday that he would un-sign the global arms pact known as the Arms Trade Treaty in the latest illustration of his aversion to international pacts and world governance."We will never allow foreign bureaucrats to trample on your Second Amendment freedom," Trump said during a speech before the National Rifle Association in Indianapolis. "I'm officially announcing today that the United States will be revoking the effect of America's signature from this badly misguided treaty."

Specifically, the president added that he intends to formally ask the Senate to end the ratification process, so that he can "dispose of" the treaty (which, evidently, the Senate will have already done).

When the assembled crowd applauded this afternoon, Trump said, "I'm impressed. I didn't know too many of you would know what it is."

That's probably because he didn't know what it was. In fact, given his rhetoric today, Trump still doesn't know much about the treaty he's eager to "dispose of," or why he's aligning the United States with Iran, North Korea, and Syria.

The Arms Trade Treaty would not affect Americans' Second Amendment rights at all. If ratified, the measure would have literally no bearing on existing U.S. gun laws, and it would place no new limits on consumer access to firearms or individual ownership of guns. Period. Full stop.

Rather, the point of the treaty, since the beginning, has been to set controls on the international gun trade based on whether the weapons would be "used to break humanitarian law, foment genocide or war crimes, abet terrorism or organized crime or slaughter women and children."

As John Kerry explained after helping negotiate it, "It will help reduce the risk that international transfers of conventional arms will be used to carry out the world's worst crimes, including terrorism, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes."

And yet, as longtime readers may recall, Republicans have ignored the unambiguous text of the treaty and come up with some bizarre justifications to opposes it. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for example, insisted that abiding by the treaty would lead to an international registry of American gun owners and "full-scale gun confiscation."

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) added in 2013 that the treaty was part of an effort to "sign away our laws to the global community and unelected U.N. bureaucrats."

It's never been altogether clear whether Republicans actually believed their talking points, but either way, all of this, like Trump's rhetoric today, was and is demonstrably ridiculous.

It's also the position that has prevailed, at least in this country.