While the final funerals for the victims of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre have been held, gun violence continues apace, most notably with the Christmas Eve murder of two volunteer firefighters in rural Webster, N.Y., at the hands of an ex-convict who was armed, as was the Newtown shooter Adam Lanza, with a Bushmaster .223 caliber AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. James Holmes, the alleged perpetrator of the massacre last July in Aurora, Colo., stands accused of using, among other weapons, a Smith & Wesson AR-15 with a 100-round drum in place of standard magazine clip. Standing stalwartly against any regulation of these weapons and high-capacity magazines, the National Rifle Association continues to block any gun-control laws whatsoever, and even trumpets its efforts to block the global Arms Trade Treaty, slated for negotiations at the United Nations this March.
On Christmas Eve, the same day as the attack in Webster, the U.N. General Assembly voted to move ahead with 10 days of negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty, to commence March 18. Recall, it was last July that the Obama administration said it “needed more time” to review the proposed treaty, effectively killing any hope of getting a treaty passed and sent back to member nations for ratification. This was just one week after the Aurora massacre, and in the heat of a close presidential-election campaign. The NRA succeeded in helping to scuttle the global Arms Trade Treaty, delivering to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a letter opposing the treaty signed by 50 U.S. senators, including eight Democrats, and 130 members of the House of Representatives.
The global treaty shouldn’t be controversial. By signing on, governments agree not to export weapons to countries that are under an arms embargo, or to export weapons that would facilitate “the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes” or other violations of international humanitarian law. Exports of arms are banned if they will facilitate “gender-based violence or violence against children” or be used for “transnational organized crime.” The treaty deals with international exports of weapons and ammunition, not any nation’s internal, domestic laws that govern the sale or use of guns.
Amnesty International last week called on the NRA to “immediately drop its campaign of distortions and lies about the pending United Nations’ global Arms Trade Treaty.” Amnesty USA’s Michelle Ringuette elaborated: “Every day, 1,500 people die in armed conflicts around the world - one person every minute. These unregulated weapons are used to force tens of thousands of children into armed conflict and to rape women and girls in conflict zones. More than 26 million people around the globe are forced from their homes, and their livelihoods destroyed, by armed conflict. The NRA must immediately stand down on its campaign to block a global arms trade treaty.”
NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre rolled out his public response to the Newtown massacre one week after it happened, blaming the violence on “monsters” and everything from video games to hurricanes, but not allowing that guns and their ready availability in the U.S. might have something to do with it. At his press conference, LaPierre was twice dramatically interrupted by peace activists from the group Code Pink. The first banner, held by Tighe Barry, read, “NRA Killing Our Kids.” Barry held the banner in front of the podium, silently, as LaPierre tried to continue his speech. Barry was then pulled out. After LaPierre resumed his speech, Medea Benjamin rose, holding a banner reading, “NRA: Blood on your hands,” after which she was hauled away. Two days later, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” LaPierre denied that regulating semiautomatic weapons or high-capacity magazines would help stem the epidemic of mass shootings in this country.
The NRA exerts enormous influence over state and federal gun regulation. Andrew Feinstein, who wrote the book “The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade,” told me, “I have not seen anywhere else in the world a gun lobby that has the same level of influence on its own government as the NRA does in the United States.” He went on: “The U.S. buys and sells almost as much weaponry as the rest of the world combined. So what happens in the U.S. is going to have enormous impact on the rest of the world.”
From the hallways of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., to Afghanistan, to Somalia, the flood of U.S. weapons and ammunition fuels violence, death and injury. President Obama and Congress need to take action, now.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.