While the Obama administration, Congressional Democrats, and most of the media focuses the proposal to ban on private ownership of so-called assault weapons, a related, and perhaps more ominous threat to the Second Amendment looms in the background.
In March or April the United Nations is expected to approve an international treaty regulating small arms and light weapons, a category that includes any firearm a civilian could own. That treaty would require national registration of of all firearms, and impose import restrictions on guns, including firearms used for hunting. Most importantly, the purpose of that treaty, as repeatedly expressed by its architects and supporters for more than a decade, is to create what they call a “universal norm of non-possession of weapons by citizens.”
United Nations literature on firearms makes it clear that the world body believes that there is no legitimate individual right to own firearms, and that national military and police bodies, under U.N. supervision of course, should eventually have a monopoly on firearms ownership.
How serious is the threat posed by the U.N.s treaty? We’ll be privileged to discuss that question, and other important matters related to the right of armed self defense, with David Keene, the President of the National Rifle Association, the countries largest, oldest, and most influential gun rights organization.
Gary Franchi: Mr. Keene, than you so much for joining us today. You’ve described the proposed U.N. firearms treaty as an end-run around the Constitution. Could you explain what this means?
David Keene: Sure. You know, in recent years those in this country who’ve been opposed to the Second Amendment have lost in the Congress, they’ve lost in the state legislatures, they’ve lost in the courts, and most particularly in the Supreme Court. And, as a result, they’ve put a lot of attention on international agreements and treaties that might allow them to accomplish some of the policy goals restricting or banning firearms that they haven’t been able to accomplish here in the United States. The U.N. small arms trade treaty is one of those instruments. We’ve been involved in fighting that treaty for some time. I was a delegate to the last small arms trade treaty conference during the Bush administration. The current one is very close to completing a treaty, the draft of which is very problematic from the standpoint of the interests of the American people, and particularly the interests of those people that are concerned about protecting their Second Amendment rights.
Gary Franchi: How do you think the impact of the Sandy Hook tragedy is going have on this U.N. treaty?
David Keene: Well, the U.N. treaty was virtually complete earlier this year. The White House during the campaign, realizing, I think, it was going to land on the President’s desk for signing in the late summer, probably in August or early September, sent word to the U.N. that they wanted to delay consideration of the treaty indefinitely. Then the election took place, and literally two hours after the President delivered his victory speech in Chicago, the State Department sent a message to the United Nations that they wanted the treaty on his desk for signing as soon as possible. The U.N. is now planning to have a meeting in March, at which point they will transmit the treaty to the President. So, this was something that had been negotiated earlier, was in the cards, and that the President held off on calling any public attention to until after he got passed the election. But, long before the Connecticut tragedy, the President was planning to ask for, and planning to sign, this treaty. Now, I suspect that the President and his allies think that the emotional uprising that took place after Sandy Hook could make it more possible, that he could get this treaty ratified by the Senate. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I think that would certainly crank into their thinking. Not in terms of signing it, but in terms of the campaign they’re going to run to try and get it ratified.
Gary Franchi: Advocates of this treaty insist that it would deal exclusively with, what they call, the illicit international trade in firearms. Is this accurate, or is there more to the treaty?
David Keene: There’s more to the truth than that. The United States, over the years, has consistently asked two things; one, that in those provisions that could apply domestically or internationally that it be explicitly spelled out that it be international. That has not been done. Secondly, this country’s taken the position, and we certainly support it, that it should specifically relate to government trade in illicit arms, particularly military firearms, and not to civilian ownership. The treaties drafters have refused consistently to make it clear that it does not apply to domestic firearms, and that it does not apply to civilian-owned, privately-owned firearms.
Gary Franchi: I want to ask about Sandy Hook again because, obviously, it’s a big topic these days, and the N.R.A. organization came under some fire about some publicity you put out using President Obama’s children to push your agenda. But, meanwhile, President Obama is using, unfortunately, the children of Sandy Hook to push his agenda. Do you think there’s a double standard here coming from the administration?
David Keene: Of course there’s a double standard. The administration and its supporters are allowed to use any kind of rhetoric, any kind of cheap trick they can to try and drum up support for whatever it is they want to do. Anybody who comes close to criticizing them is attacked or demonized to the extent possible. Imagine if, for example, all you have to do is go back to the President’s public statement announcing his plans to introduce executive actions and go to the Congress for more gun control registration. Gun control measures, as he calls them. Look at what he said. Typically of President Obama, he postured himself as the most reasonable man in America, said that he had common sense solutions to this problem, and that the American people would have rallied already to support those solutions, except for the evil special interests that are fighting him. In this case, the evil special interests would be the National Rifle Association and Americas sportsman and gun owners. We are a special interest. Our special interest is the Constitution and the Second Amendment. We refuse to bow down simply because the administration and its allies try to demonize us.
You know, the days following Sandy Hook, Wayne LaPierre, our Executive Vice President, really the face of the N.R.A. and I, and others, have received dozens of death threats. You can go on the internet right now and find a game called “Kill David Keene.” When a Congressman on the Judiciary Committee in the House wrote to the White House suggesting that if they were condemning everybody that criticizes them, certainly this kind of thing demanded some kind of criticism. They haven’t even responded.
Gary Franchi: Now, let’s go back to the United Nations report here, or this treaty that’s about to be enacted. Back in 2000, the U.N. published a millennial report called “We The Peoples.” The section dealing with firearms stated, quote, “these weapons must be brought under the control of states, and states must be held responsible for their transfer.” This seems to mandate a system of national registration and, perhaps, confiscation. Is that something the current U.N. firearms treaty would facilitate?
David Keene: It would if the administration in power wanted to interpret it that way. Certainly, the gun control lobby would interpret it that way, as would our enemies internationally. The fact of the matter is, that it is easy to conclude from the language of the treaty, similar to the kind of language you report there, that it does in fact demand, or at least urge, that nations establish a federal gun registry which will then be shared internationally. We’re opposed to that sort of thing. Always have been and always will be. And, we think that’s one of the fatal defects of this treaty. It’s one of the reasons why, as we approached the time when a treaty might actually come to the Presidents desk and be transmitted to the Senate, that 58 Senators sent a letter to the President, and to the U.N., saying we don’t have any intention of ratifying anything of this sort.
Gary Franchi: You’re on record saying that you do expect President Obama to sign the U.N. firearms treaty when it reaches his desk. Do you think that there is any chance that the Senate would actually ratify it, obviously given the pressure of the Sandy Hook tragedy?
David Keene: I don’t think so. It’s interesting because we now have sort of a bifurcation of the arguments on behalf of this treaty. Some of the treaty supporters argue that, in light of Sandy Hook, this treaty is essential. Other of the treaty supporters argue that it only applies to international trade in arms to guerrilla groups and the like. Those two positions are, obviously, logically inconsistent. But, the fact is, when this gets to the Senate floor, if in fact it gets there. Now, remember that when Bill Clinton’s signed the Kyoto climate control treaty, he never even transmitted it to the Senate because he knew the votes weren’t there to ratify it. It’s very possible that President Obama will sign this treaty and then not sent it to the Senate. Signing it is, nevertheless, a problematic act because, like the Kyoto treaty, he can then argue that he has a moral obligation, working with those nations that have ratified it, to try to find ways to try to implement as much of it here as possible.
Gary Franchi: David, speaking in terms of purely domestic legislative matters, how do you assess the chances of a ban on so-called assault weapons passing Congress?
David Keene: It’s difficult to make a prediction that you’d want to mortgage your house and bet on, given the power of the President. If a President really wants to open up the federal treasury, if he really wants to trade taxpayers dollars and government jobs, and the like, for votes in the Congress, there’s no telling what he could get. Back in the 90’s when President Clinton supported Diane Feinstein’s original so-called assault weapons ban, we went into the House battle over that with a margin of about 15 votes in the loss. It cost the taxpayers lots of money, it got some people some new bridges and some new dams and, perhaps, gave some Congressmen, who didn’t return as a result of their vote, ambassadorships. But, he got what he wanted. So, a really hard prediction. It’s difficult to make, because it depends on how much capital a President’s willing to spend. Having said that, I think it’s unlikely that the so-called assault weapons ban is going to pass even the Senate. I don’t think the Senate wants to vote on this. Obviously, Senator Feinstein is pushing for it, but most Senators realize two things; the first is that we tried this once,it didn’t work. The second thing is that the last time it became an incredible symbol the silliness of government anti-gun regulation. It was one of the reasons that so many Democrats who voted for it, and a few Republicans as well, lost in 1994. So, I don’t think that a lot of these folks in the Senate, and in the House, really want to have to vote on that particular bill. I think they’re going to talk about it. They’re going to rant against what they call assault weapons, which are, in fact, are not assault weapons, and they’re going to move forward.
Let’s think for a minute what would happen if they did in fact pass it. The Heller decision, that’s the Supreme Court decision that guarantees the private right to keep and bear arms, suggests that, while regulation and restriction on firearms ownership, on your Second Amendment rights, can in fact be imposed for some reasons, just as restrictions on free speech can be imposed for some reasons under the First Amendment, that those kinds of restrictions have to be looked at very critically. And, that one thing that government can not do is ban, as the court put it, firearms that are widely and commonly used for legitimate purposes. The AR-15, which is sort of the symbol of the so-called assault weapon in the eyes of Senator Feinstein and others, is in the hands of far more than 4 million Americans right now. It’s a semi-automatic firearm that’s functionally the same as every other semi-automatic rifle and shotgun that’s been sold in the country for a hundred years, it’s used for hunting, it’s used for self defense, it’s the main firearm used for training, and for competition. I suspect that if they did manage to pass this ban, that it would ultimately fall in the courts. I think a lot of Senators realize that, and at the last moment they’re going to find some way to get around having to vote on it.
Gary Franchi: David, recently the Obama administration released a photograph, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, of President Obama holding a shotgun during a skeet shooting session. Do you believe that that was just a staged publicity stunt to promote his so-called advocacy for Second Amendment, and the gun was actually just hand selected? What if he was holding an AR-15 in that photograph? I mean, would the conversation change?
David Keene: I have no idea. I will say this. At least it didn’t have a tag on it like the camouflage jacket that John Kerry wore when he was running for President, and wanted everybody to think he was a hunter. I will say this as well. You know, we have 80,000 certified intructors. And, from the look of that photograph, the President could use some instruction.
Gary Franchi: During his recent Senate testimony, your colleague Wayne LaPierre reiterated a long standing criticism that there’s too little effort to enforce existing firearms laws. Some of the N.R.A.s critics on the right have scolded your organization for insisting that the federal government should be more energetically enforcing unconstitutional gun laws. How do you respond to those criticisms?
David Keene: Well, the laws that we’re talking about enforcing are not unconstitutional. Right now, it is a federal crime to commit a felony using a firearm. Back in the 90’s, when Bill Clinton was urging gun control as needed for crime prevention, Richmond, Virginia was the murder capital in the United States for a while. The N.R.A. went in there, worked with local prosecutors and the U.S. attorney and developed something called Project Exile. Project Exile promised felons, that if they were caught with a firearm, which is a crime, or if a firearm was used in the commission of a felony, that there would be an immediate federal prosecution. Firearms homicides dropped precipitously, drug dealers got rid of their guns, and innocent civilians were protected. You know, there are 90 federal jurisdictions. Chicago is number 89 in prosecution of criminals who misuse firearms. 89! Now, what does that mean? It means either all these stories we hear about firearms crimes in Chicago aren’t true, or that the authorities aren’t prosecuting under existing laws that would bring the murder rate down and protect innocent civilians. If you’re in the criminal business and you’re in Chicago, what do you know? You know, first of all, that the pool of victims that you have to victimize is unarmed because Chicago has about the strictest gun control laws in the country. You also know that if you use a firearm to go after those potential victims, that you’re not going to get any additional punishment for doing so. What’s surprising to me is, just yesterday, Chicago officials started saying, you know, a gang banger who’s committed a murder with a firearm often times gets out of jail here in Chicago in a few weeks, and is on probation awaiting trial. So, maybe we ought to do something about that, because a number of them kill other people before they ever go to trial for the first murder. It is not unconstitutional to punish criminals, and that’s what we are suggesting. Legitimate firearms ownership for self defense, for sporting purposes, for collection, or for whatever, are guaranteed under the Second Amendment. Citizens who commit crimes, who rob other citizens, who commit assaults, who commit murder using firearms, that is not a constitutionally protected activity, and it ought to be prosecuted, not only for the safety of the civil society, but because it gives a terrible name, and that’s what politicians try to use it for, it gives a terrible name to those millions and millions of Americans who have every right under the Second Amendment to own, and use, firearms for legitimate purposes.
Gary Franchi: David, you just mentioned Chicago. Given the strict gun laws there, and being one of the highest murder rates in the nation for a large city, wouldn’t the theory about gun laws and the reduction of crime rates, shouldn’t they line up? Or, is there a problem here?
David Keene: Well, there’s a real problem. Because criminals get guns no matter what. There’s 300 million firearms in this country. Criminals don’t go into stores and buy them. They don’t undergo background checks. The don’t go to gun shows to buy from dealers. They get them on the black market. They get them from each other. They steal them in burglaries. You know, recently in New York when a newspaper published the names and addresses of legitimate pistol owners who had licenses in that state, there was a rash of burglaries as burglars began targeting some of the places where those firearms were kept so they could get their hands on them. Criminals, who wouldn’t hesitate to kill someone, to rob someone, to rape someone, or to assault someone with a firearm, are not likely to say “you know, I think I ought to go fill out some government paperwork so that the gun I use to rob or murder is legitimate.” No, they get their firearms illegally, just as they commit acts illegally. All of these laws do very little to deter criminals or crime. What they do do is they put an incredible burden on perfectly honest, legitimate citizens attempting to exercise a fundamental, constitutional right. And, the more of those kinds of restrictions we have, the closer that the folks enacting those restrictions are coming to bumping up against the unconstitutionality of what they’re doing. Let me give you an example. Under the First Amendment, it is not simply a violation of your free speech to muzzle you. It is also a violation of your free speech rights to put an undue burden on your ability to communicate, your ability to speak. The same thing is true of the Second Amendment. Thus, a federal court in Maryland struck down the restrictions on that states concealed carry program because they said it was too burdensome on citizens who wanted to exercise their right under the Second Amendment to have a firearm for self defensive purposes. That’s true of a lot of these other laws. They impose an incredible burden with very little, if any, public benefit coming out of the other end, other than to make politicians feel good. That’s really not a constitutional reason for restricting ones rights.
Gary Franchi: Sheriff Mack, who’s a constitutional sheriff from Arizona, he won against the federal government. He sued Bill Clinton and he defeated the Brady Bill, that basically required him, as a local sheriff, to use their funds to enforce the Brady Bills background checks. Now he’s heading up a large number of sheriffs who have decided they’re going to oppose the federal gun control laws that are passed down from President Obama. What is your view on this growing number of county sheriffs who said that they will not enforce any new federal gun control laws.
David Keene: Well, that, of course, is between them and the federal government. We don’t get involved in that dispute. That’s a legitimate dispute, and the position they take is legally defensible. On the other hand, our job is to make sure that those laws don’t pass, so they’re not put into a position where they have to choose to either defy, or go along with laws that they don’t like. But, you know, sheriffs in particular are relatively close to their constituents. The sheriff in Milwaukee county, Wisconsin, just a week or so ago, put out a public service announcement. He said, if you want to protect yourself or your family, the best way to do it is not to call 911, but to buy and train, and learn how to use a firearm, because we’re not always there in law enforcement when we’re needed. We often get there too late, so you have to take some responsibility for your own safety, and the safety of your family. Sheriffs understand that. Big city police chiefs who work for politicians, like Mike Bloomberg, don’t get it because they’re paid not to get it.