UN treaty sparks backlash over US gun rights

(By Deutsche Welle) US Secretary of State John Kerry has signed the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. But the treaty will face fierce opposition in the Senate, where concerns over Americans’ gun rights predominate.

With the stroke of a pen, the world’s largest arms exporter signed the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at the United Nations this week amid widespread international praise. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States accounts for approximately 30 percent of the world’s arms deliveries, making its participation critical to the agreement’s success.

“Today’s signing of the Arms Trade Treaty by the United States is a significant victory for human rights and development,” Oxfam America President Raymond Offenheiser said on Wednesday.

“The US is the world’s foremost arms exporter, and US signature is a powerful step demonstrating the United States’ commitment to preventing mass atrocities and protecting civilians from armed conflict,” Offenheiser added.

But Secretary of State Kerry’s signature is not the final say on whether or not Washington will actually join the agreement. The US Senate still has to ratify the ATT. Senators from both parties have voiced concern that the treaty could infringe on Americans’ second amendment right to bear arms. Many have vowed to vote against the agreement.

“This treaty is already dead in the water in the Senate, and they know it,” said Senator James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee. “The administration is wasting precious time trying to sign away our laws to the global community and unelected UN bureaucrats.”

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Connecticut governor signs new gun control law

(By Deutsche Welle) Nearly four months after the Newtown school shooting, Connecticut has passed one of the toughest gun laws in the United States. But few think the state’s law will become a model for the rest of the country.

The bill, a response to the December 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown which took the lives of 20 young children and six teachers, has passed in the state of Connecticut. Gun advocates protested heavily against the strict legislation, but Connecticut’s Democratic Governor Dannel P. Malloy went ahead and signed the law at a ceremony on Thursday (04.04.2013), several hours after it was approved by the General Assembly.

The measures extend the state’s assault weapons ban to an additional 100 firearms, ban the sale of high-capacity magazines and would impose immediate universal background checks on all firearms sales.

In addition, anyone who wants to purchase a rifle, shotgun or ammunition would have to obtain a certificate by being fingerprinted and taking a firearms course among other requirements.

“This is a message that should resound in 49 other states and in Washington, D.C.,” said Connecticut Senate President Donald E. Williams. “And the message is: We can get it done here and they should get it done in their respective states and nationally in Congress.”

Lawmakers approved the bill by a vote of 105-44 in the state House of Representatives and 26-10 in the Senate.

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NRA comes out fighting

(By Deutsche Welle) In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, the White House and the NRA are set for a bitter confrontation over gun control. Although the NRA wields considerable influence, gun control initiatives are gaining momentum.

A meeting between US Vice President Joe Biden and America’s most powerful gun lobby group ended in recrimination on Thursday, with the National Rifle Association (NRA) accusing the Obama administration of seeking to impose restrictions on lawful firearms owners.

“We were disappointed with how little this meeting had to do with keeping our children safe and how much it had to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment,” the NRA said in a release, referring to the constitutional provision that guarantees Americans the right to bear arms.

The White House has called for a gun policy review in the aftermath of the December 14th massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 young children and six adults were shot dead. Earlier in the week, Biden said that President Obama may issue an executive order to tighten gun restrictions should Congress fail to act on its own.

Although Biden hinted that the Obama administration was considering universal background checks and limitations on high-capacity magazines, new regulations would have to survive a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the opposition of the NRA. Well-funded and with some 4 million members nationwide, the NRA is widely considered to be one of the most powerful lobby groups in the United States.

“The NRA has a great aura and a great mystique,” Kristin Goss, an expert on gun policy at Duke University, told DW. “I think there is a very open question whether some of this aura is exaggerated. There’s no question that Congress fears the NRA.”

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‘NRA is saying the gun is a symbol of freedom’

(By Deutsche Welle) The NRA has evolved from a sporting association to the leading advocacy group for gun rights in the US. Scott Melzer, author of the book “Gun Crusaders: the NRA’s Culture War,” discusses the NRA’s ideology with DW.

DW: How did the National Rifle Association (NRA) reach a leadership position among organizations that represent gun owners and gun rights in the United States?

The organization has been around for 140 plus years. It has had different identities over those years. Since the 1960s and 70s when gun control really came on the radar in the United States after the political assassinations and other events, that’s when the NRA began to change its identity from just kind of a hunter and sports shooters group into this politicized gun rights group. So essentially they’ve been around forever, and they were the first organization that took a stance and they’ve just grown since.

Who are the members exactly of the NRA? Do we have any sense of the demographics of the members or what their political leanings are?

The NRA has never shared any information about their membership. From my own research, I would say that if you look at the membership, the more committed members – what I found – were also the most deeply conservative. They have a conservative political ideology that extended well beyond gun rights to many other issues, which isn’t surprising, because it’s been evident – and my research emphasizes – that the gun debate is very much intertwined with American politics. And the way the NRA argues that guns should be defended, it resonates with conservatives.

They argue that gun rights defend and protect all other individual rights and freedoms. And that fits with a conservative philosophy of government out of our lives, citizens shouldn’t be dependent on government for protection via gun control or social services, instead they should rely on themselves for protection and for their incomes and so forth.

The most committed members I found were the most conservative, but even the less committed members still lean to the right. They were politically kind of center right I would say. I didn’t encounter any liberals, when I was doing research on the NRA and interviewing NRA members. I attended some NRA annual meetings – they gather tens of thousands of people. It’s overwhelmingly white and mostly men and mostly conservative. Those demographics mirror gun owner demographics as well in the United States.

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