Albion Monitor /News

NRA Fighting U.N. Over Weapons Curb

by Thalif Deen

"Our position is that gun-control is an internal matter"
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- The influential National Rifle Association (NRA) is turning its guns on a U.N. initiative aimed at curbing the flow of small arms and light weapons throughout the world.

A U.N. panel of government experts, ending two weeks of deliberations behind closed doors, is now compiling a report recommending measures to restrict the flow of light weapons. But the most powerful gun lobby in the United States says that gun control is not within the proper mandate of the world body.

"Any U.N. action is bound to affect national firearms legislation in this country," says Tom Mason, the NRA representative at the United Nations.

"Our position is that gun-control is an internal matter -- and an extremely complex subject -- that should be left to governments to deal with domestically," Mason told IPS.

Small arms -- mostly AK-47 assault rifles, grenade launchers, machine guns, anti-personnel landmines, rifles and grenades -- are weapons of war around the world
The NRA preaches that "guns don't kill people, only people kill people" and, while gun control is a hotly debated U.S. political issue in the United States, the United Nations should not be involved -- for its own sake.

Mason warns that at a time when the United Nations has come under attack in the U.S. Congress, it would not be wise for the world body to take on a highly sensitive political issue.

"As the Panel well knows, the topic of U.S. participation in the United Nations has undergone considerable debate in the U.S. Congress recently," he says.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that small arms -- mostly AK-47 assault rifles, grenade launchers, machine guns, anti-personnel landmines, rifles and grenades -- are the weapons of choice in conflicts in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the former Soviet republics. Last month he announced the creation of a new U.N. Department of Disarmament whose mandate also covers small arms, along with weapons of mass destruction and conventional arms.

"We should be able to track the movement of small arms and the kind of weapons that have really caused havoc in the Great Lakes region of Africa, in Albania and other places around the world," he told reporters last month.

Mason admits that the United Nations is geared to work with member states towards disarmament in the field of strategic weapons, including nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. "But small arms are a whole new dimension. Hundreds of millions of civilians do not lawfully use and own strategic and heavy weapons, but they lawfully own and use small arms."

A reasonable examination of the question of small arms must take into consideration the significant extent of legal civilian ownership, Mason says.

The NRA, which last year was accorded the status of a non-governmental organization at the United Nations, says it has the right to express its views in its capacity as the "oldest, largest and most active" gun lobby in the United States.

Mason says the Panel is really concerned with the image of numerous young men armed with AK-47 assault rifles threatening civil order in a developing country.

"This is a political situation in which the real question concerns how the firearms were obtained and not the firearms per se," he told the U.N. Panel in mid-July. Mason says it was difficult to make a distinction between legitimate hunting weapons and those used in civil conflicts.

"Hunting is fundamental to many cultures and firearms are integral to that activity. In the U.S. alone, there are 12 million deer hunters. Non-hunting societies should not seek to impose their values on hunting societies."

"The world is awash with them and traffic in them is very difficult to monitor, let alone intercept"
Last year former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who led a campaign to curb the proliferation of small arms, complained that the world body was not doing enough to stem the flow of light weapons.

"The world is awash with them and traffic in them is very difficult to monitor, let alone intercept," he said.

Boutros-Ghali proposed that the existing U.N. arms register be expanded to include imports and exports of small arms such as handguns, rifles, machine guns, mortars, rocket launchers, and anti-personnel landmines.

The Register currently records the import and export of only seven major categories of arms: battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large calibre artillery systems, fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers.

Boutros-Ghali said progress in the area of weapons of mass destruction and major weapons systems must be followed by progress in conventional arms, especially light weapons.

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Albion Monitor August 4, 1997 (

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