Prospects for arms treaty all but dead in Senate
Senate opponents of a treaty regulating the multibillion-dollar global arms trade said Wednesday they have the votes to block ratification of the pact, which is also opposed by the outlaw regimes of North Korea, Syria and Iran.
One day after the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the treaty, Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said it was "deeply flawed" and became the 35th senator to endorse a resolution of opposition. The Constitution requires two-thirds of the Senate - 67 votes - to ratify a treaty.
"I have great concerns that this treaty can be used to violate the second amendment rights of American citizens, and do not believe we should sign any treaty that infringes on the sovereignty of our country," Lee said in a statement that reflected the strong objections of gun rights advocates.
The United States joined 153 nations in backing the treaty that proponents argue will keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists and human rights abusers. Iran, North Korea and Syria, which face international arms embargoes, voted against the pact.
The treaty prohibits countries that ratify it from exporting conventional weapons if they violate arms embargoes, or if they promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or if they could be used in attacks against civilians or schools and hospitals.
The treaty covers battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons.
Enforcement is at the discretion of the countries that ratify the treaty.
The National Rifle Association opposes the treaty and strongly backs the Senate resolution sponsored by Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas.
Opponents of the treaty contend that any restriction on international arms or gun sales will lead to greater gun control in the United States. But it is longstanding legal principle that no treaty can override the Constitution or U.S. laws.
In a statement shortly after the U.N. vote, Moran and Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said the treaty was a non-starter in the Senate if President Barack Obama submits it for ratification.
"The passage of a treaty that Iran, Syria and North Korea have made clear they have no intention of abiding by will only serve to constrain law-abiding democracies like the United States," Moran said. "The U.S. Senate is united in strong opposition to a treaty that puts us on level ground with dictatorships who abuse human rights and arms terrorists, but there is real concern that the administration feels pressured to sign a treaty that violates our constitutional rights."
Baucus, who faces re-election next year, said he won't accept a treaty that "undermines the second-amendment rights of law-abiding Montanans."
Baucus is one of two Democrats - West Virginia's Joe Manchin is the other - to join 33 Republicans in backing Moran's resolution.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., whose panel would hold hearings and the initial vote on the treaty, disputed opponents claims, arguing that the U.S. negotiated a pact that "would in no way infringe on the rights of American citizens under domestic law or the Constitution to bear arms."
He pointed out that Secretary of State John Kerry said the treaty only applies to international arms trade and does not affect an individual country's authority to enforce its laws on weapons.
Menendez added, however, that the treaty requires the Senate's ratification and if submitted, he would "ensure it receives a vigorous and fair review."