WASHINGTON -- One week after the Aurora, Colo., mass murder brought gun-control back to the forefront of political discourse, the Obama administration found itself faced with its first test on the issue -- and blinked.
An arms control treaty to regulate the $60 billion global business of illicit small arms trading that had worked its way through United Nations negotiating channels for several years came up at the final day of a U.N. global conference in New York on Friday. The U.S. joined Russia in objecting to a final version, with some diplomats and human rights advocates blaming the U.S. for the defeat.
As the Colorado slaughter put guns back on the agenda this week, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and 50 fellow senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday, saying that they would vote against ratifying the treaty if it "restricts the rights of law-abiding American gun owners."
Moran, in a press release, quoted a National Rifle Association leader, who said members would "never surrender our right to keep and bear arms to the United Nations." Treaty opponent John Bolton, ex-President George W. Bush's ambassador to the U.N., wrote that gun-control advocates "hope to use restrictions on international gun sales to control gun sales at home."
Both ignore the legal principle that says no treaty can override the Constitution or U.S. laws. The Associated Press fact-checked claims by the NRA and Bolton on Friday and concluded their assertions were false.
The NRA has been "spreading lies" about the treaty, said Amnesty International spokeswoman Suzanne Trimel in an interview. "Basically, what they're saying is that the arms trade treaty will have some impact on domestic, Second Amendment gun rights. And that is just false, completely false," she said.
Human rights activists have described the treaty as a monumental step toward preventing the illicit flow of weapons to conflict-torn regions. It "creates a global background check to prevent countries and arms exporters from selling guns and military hardware to ... human rights abusers," said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International, in a statement Friday. "It has been in the works for more than a decade -- the Obama administration should not make itself the obstacle just as it reaches the finish line," she added.
The treaty seemed to have a good shot in 2009, when the Obama administration broke from the Bush administration's opposition and showed support.
But early Friday, according to Amnesty, Thomas Countryman, the deputy secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, told the negotiators that the U.S. needed more time to review the treaty. Russia, Indonesia and India voiced similar concerns.
The U.S. Mission to the U.N. did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.
Reports late on Friday indicated that the treaty was unlikely to move for at least several months. While Friday was a setback for an agreement, there is still a possibility that a draft treaty could be brought before the U.N. General Assembly and passed with two-thirds majority vote in the 193-nation body.
1981: The Attempted Assassination Of President Ronald Reagan
on March 30, 1981, President Reagan and three others were shot and wounded in an assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr. outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Reagan's press secretary, Jim Brady, was shot in the head.
1993: The Brady Handgun Violence Act
The Brady Handgun Violence Act of 1993, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, mandated that federally licensed dealers complete comprehensive background checks on individuals before selling them a gun. The legislation was named for James Brady, who was shot during an attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
1994: The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, instituted a ban on 19 kinds of assault weapons, including Uzis and AK-47s. The crime bill also banned the possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition. (An exemption was made for weapons and magazines manufactured prior to the ban.)
2004: Law Banning Magazines Holding More Than Ten Rounds Of Ammunition Expires
In 2004, ten years after it first became law, Congress allowed a provision banning possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition to expire through a sunset provision. Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke told HuffPost that the expiration of this provision meant that Rep. Gabby Giffords's alleged shooter was able to fire off 20-plus shots without reloading (under the former law he would have had only ten).
2007: The U.S. Court of Appeals For The District Of Columbia Rules In Favor Of Dick Heller
In 2007 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled to allow Dick Heller, a licensed District police officer, to keep a handgun in his home in Washington, D.C. Following that ruling, the defendants petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
2008: The NICS Improvement Amendments Act
Following the deadly shooting at Virginia Tech University, Congress passed legislation to require states provide data on mentally unsound individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, with the aim of halting gun purchases by the mentally ill, and others prohibited from possessing firearms. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush in January of 2008.
2008: Supreme Court Strikes Down D.C. Handgun Ban As Unconstitutional
In June of 2008, the United States Supreme Court upheld the verdict of a lower court ruling the D.C. handgun ban unconstitutional in the landmark case <em>District of Columbia v. Heller</em>.
Gabrielle Giffords And Trayvon Martin Shootings
Gun control advocates had high hopes that reform efforts would have increased momentum in the wake of two tragic events that rocked the nation. In January of 2011, Jared Loughner opened fire at an event held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), killing six and injuring 13, including the congresswoman. Resulting attempts to push gun control legislation <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">proved fruitless</a>, with neither proposal even succeeding in gaining a single GOP co-sponsor. More than a year after that shooting, Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/trayvon-martin" target="_hplink">gunned down</a> by George Zimmerman in an event that some believed would bring increased scrutiny on the nation's Stand Your Ground laws. While there has been increasing discussion over the nature of those statutes, lawmakers were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">quick to concede</a> that they had little faith the event would effectively spur gun control legislation, thanks largely to the National Rifle Association's vast lobbying power. Read more <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">here</a>:
Colorado Movie Theater Shooting
In July of 2012, a heavily armed gunman <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/aurora-shooting-movie-theater-batman_n_1688547.html" target="_hplink">opened fire on theatergoers</a> attending a midnight premiere of the final film of the latest Batman trilogy, killing 12 and wounding scores more. The suspect, James Eagan Holmes, allegedly carried out the act with a number of handguns, as well as an AR-15 assault rifle with a 100-round drum magazine. Some lawmakers used the incident, which took place in a state with some of the laxest gun control laws, to bring forth legislation designed to place increased regulations on access to such weapons, but many observers, citing previous experience, were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/batman-shooting_n_1690547.html" target="_hplink">hesitant to say</a> that they would be able to overcome the power of the National Rifle Association and Washington gun lobby.