International Legal Affairs: Volume 2, Number 1


Gun control efforts by the United Nations are well known.  The Fredrik Reuterswärd sculpture of a revolver with its barrel tied in a knot is renowned.  A gift from the government of Luxembourg to the United Nations, the sculpture is currently located within the visitor’s plaza of the United Nations building in New York City.

On July 15, 2009, the United Nations Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA) mechanism launched the drafting phase in the creation of the International Small Arms Control Standards (also known as ISACS).  Almost 50 participants – comprising CASA partners, ISACS consultants, nominees to the ISACS Expert Reference Group, project donors and special guests spent two days familiarizing themselves with the goals of the project and reviewing first draft outlines of ISACS modules.  While there has been virtually no press coverage of the project launch, the ramifications and consequences are potentially long lasting and jeopardize the world small arms trade as it is currently known.

As documented within this column in prior issues, the UN has been working on an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) for several years.  In the event that member nations agree on the terminology of the treaty, the terms would still need to be ratified and agreed upon by the U.S. Congress.  In the event that the ATT conflicts with the U.S. Constitution, there would be applicability to the United States, and firearm ownership within the United States would continue unabated.  Fortunately, any effort to get all member nations to agree upon an arms control treaty will likely take years and lengthy negotiations.  This is not the case with the recent ISACS effort.

During a recent discussion with Mark Westrom, (president of ArmaLite, Inc., and co-chair of the Defense Small Arms Advisory Committee) revealed the dangers of allowing a UN standard to be passed.  Mr. Westrom noted: “A standard is different than a treaty.  Treaties generally require unanimity in the UN.  In order to go into effect within the U.S., it requires a heavy vote in Congress.  A standard doesn’t require that.  With a standard, a few UN organizations write up the requirement, agree to the terms, and terms become a UN standard.”

Westrom continues: “A standard can then become influential in legislative battles later; there’s a lot of pressure from anti-gun Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to make the proposed UN standard governing firearms a very harsh program.  The Defense Small Arms Committee attends UN meetings to provide technical expertise and advice to organizations that are very inexperienced in technical issues on small arms.”

The procedure to draft a Standard is multifold.  First, only members are allowed to comment and suggest revisions to the proposed language of the Standard.  Each section (deemed a “module”) is focused upon a specific aspect of the Standard.  Upon review by members of the UN CASA committee, the Standard is adopted as an official UN Standard by which member nations are expected to meet.  There is no input by member nations – the Standard is written exclusively by UN bureaucrats.

Even worse, there is no requirement for a consensus or majority of UN member nations to adopt the Standard language.  While this may seem like a fundamental violation of due process, one must remember that the notion of due process is one created by the U.S. Constitution; there is no “due process” requirement when dealing with the United Nations.

Thankfully, the Standard does not hold any legal bearing within the United States.  Nevertheless, the implications are far reaching and potentially devastating, because (as the name implies) the language creates a “standard” that member nations are expected to meet.  Similar to the UN-created International Mine Actions Standard governing the use of land mines, the ISACS is a legally non-binding and informal UN document.  According to Dr. Patrick McCarthy, Project Coordinator for the International Small Arms Control Standard, the stated goal of the ISACS is to identify internationally accepted and validated standards for the control of Small Arms and Light Weapon proliferation through the establishment of rules, guidelines, policies, practices and procedures and that were agreed and adopted by the Coordinating Action on Small Arms.

As currently written, the ISACS builds the proposed UN Arms Trade Treaty language into the Standard.  Because a Standard is easier to create and does not require member nation consensus, creation of the ISACS is an effort to push the ATT through the back door and get it approved without member nation input and negotiation.  Once created, there would be little need to discuss or negotiate the terms of the proposed ATT by the member nations, since the UN Standard would be the official UN position on the small arms issue.

As currently written, the ISACS recognizes hunting and pest control as a legitimate use for small arms.  Nevertheless, the ISACS also seeks to create “sporting associations” within member nations.  While this may sound like the rod and gun club in any American city, the implications are far greater reaching.  Under the language of the ISACS, only members of a sporting association could possess firearms, and all firearms would be required to be stored at the sporting association.  Individuals would not be permitted to store firearms within their business or residence under the ISACS.

Second, the ISACS seeks to create a proficiency standard for the ownership of all firearms.  In the event that a member is not proficient with the use of a specific firearm (as demonstrated by periodic qualification requirements) that individual would not be permitted to own or possess that firearm.

Third, the ISACS acknowledges the use of firearms for legitimate self defense, but requires that individuals justify the need for a firearm prior to possessing it outside of the sporting association.  As many anti-gun control advocates know, the power to regulate equates to the power to destroy.  An excellent example of how this “right” is abused can be seen within the State of Hawaii.  Hawaii has some of the strictest firearm laws within the United States.  Hawaii also does not have a concealed carry law.  Use of a firearm for self defense is only permitted within the home, and only after the resident has retreated from the perceived threat.  Finally, if a concealed carry permit is requested, the chief of police must authorize the permit and the permit is valid for a one-year period.  In 2006, Honolulu Police Department Captain Raymond Ancheta testified to the Hawaii State legislature that from 1991-2006, (a period of 15 years) no permits to carry a concealed firearm had been granted.  It is difficult to believe that no resident felt threatened during the fifteen year period, or that no requests were made during that time.  Nevertheless, discretion to issue a carry permit lies solely with the chief of police; thus the likelihood of a carry permit being issued within the State of Hawaii is very low.  Creating a world-wide standard that places police and other bureaucrats in a position of power to determine whether individuals should be allowed to possess a firearm effectively allows individuals in power and authority to ban the personal use and possession of a firearm.

Fourth, the Standard seeks to create licensing and registration of all firearms.  Again, the power to regulate equates to the power to destroy.

Finally, the Standard seeks to prevent the “psychological suffering” of women due to the use and possession of a firearm.  This position has not been widely discussed, and the implications of this language are unclear.  Presumably, the use and possession of a firearm would be prohibited in cases of domestic violence, but restrictions could also be extended to cases of legal separation, divorce, or allegations of emotional spousal abuse.

The ISACS also raises the issue of terrorism, and terror watch lists.  While the creation of terror watch lists is a legitimate use of police powers, there have been documented examples of mistaken identities.  Applied to the world stage, the Standard would allow individual countries to establish individual definitions of the term “terrorist.”  The problem lies where countries disagree with the definition of terrorist.  The United States may deem an Islamic jihadist as a terrorist, while Iran deems the same individual as a hero.  Similarly, Vietnam considers the Vietnam Conflict as a terrorist action by the United States.  Under the terms of the ISACS, Vietnam could potentially name all U.S. military veterans of the Vietnam conflict as “terrorists.”  Once included on terror watch lists, Vietnam veterans would presumably face increased difficulty during international travel, possibly be denied entry to foreign countries, and possibly be placed on no-fly lists preventing identified terrorists from boarding passenger aircraft.  While this scenario may appear extreme, this type of politically based action would be permitted under the draft version of the ISACS.

Similar measures to eliminate the right to self-defense have recently failed.  In 2005, a referendum in Brazil sought to eliminate an individual’s right to possess a firearm.  Under the Brazilian Constitution, every Brazilian citizen has the right to self-defense.  In arguing against the referendum, pro-gun supporters argued in support of the constitutional right and questioned the morality of the Brazilian government in attempting to deny constitutionally based civil rights.  Despite support from the Brazilian government, the United Nations, and the Catholic Church, ultimately, the referendum was defeated with over 63% of the voters opposed to the referendum.  Despite the overwhelming defeat of the referendum, UN bureaucrats continue unabated towards a utopian society that does not include the right for individuals to own firearms.

As currently drafted, the ISACS seeks to reduce the number of small arms worldwide, eliminate self-protection and self-defense use of firearms, and eliminate and/or restrict an individual’s ability to possess firearms.   Mark Westrom notes that, “There are many NGOs that want to pass standards or treaties but have no concept of the implications of their proposals.  There was a government official who made a very interesting statement at the last meeting in Geneva.  He said, ‘There are different philosophies concerning small arms around the world.  In many nations, the right to small arms belongs exclusively to the government, which may allow individuals to share in it.  There are other societies in which the right to keep and bear arms rests with the individual and may be limited by government.’  The Government official used that term – “the right to keep and bear arms.”  Those two philosophies have to be fit into whatever proposed language is proposed, and it’s a very hard task.”

Similar to the ATT, there is no effective way for individuals to get involved within the process as the process is entirely self contained within the UN bureaucracy.  Nevertheless, awareness of the pending action, the ability to discuss small arms proliferation, and the ability to discuss the fundamental human right of individual self-defense may prove beneficial when faced with an ATT, ISACS, or anti-gun proponent.

For additional information on ISACS, readers may visit the UN homepage at  The ISACS regime has a specific bulletin board page dedicated to updates and other publically released information.  Membership within the Defense Small Arms Advisory Committee is limited to small arms manufacturers.  Those interested in learning more about joining the organization should contact the editorial staff at Small Arms Defense Journal.