Why Is the US Opposing Small Arms Ammunition in the #armstreaty?

March 1 2011, 12:24 PM  by Oistein Thorsen

Although the U.S. government has been pushing for a broad range of arms to be included in the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), from parts and components to combat support equipment, the Obama Administration continues to oppose the inclusion of small arms ammunition this week at the UN Preparatory Committee meeting on the ATT (PrepCom). This stance is somewhat surprising since the U.S. government already regulates the export and import of bullets or small arms ammunition, and many countries have already agreed to such regulations in the UN Firearms Protocol.

Posted by Colby Goodman and Scott Stedjan, Oxfam America.

U.S. government officials have often stated the reason they oppose such inclusion is the difficulty in tracing small arms ammunition after it has been exported. This position is based on the U.S. government’s frustration in curbing future diversions of ammunition in cases where spent shell-casings are discovered after armed attacks. Unlike diversions of firearms, for example, governments often cannot pinpoint specific individual(s) responsible for the diversion of ammunition because it doesn’t keep detailed records on internal transfers, which makes it difficult to hold the responsible parties accountable. While concerns about tracing the origin of such ammunition after it has been found is certainly challenging, this is not a solid argument against controlling ammunition at the point of export.

Oxfam and the Control Arms Coalition are pushing for ammunition t be included in the treaty in order to prevent the kind of transfers depicted in the Hollywood movie “Lord of War” 

Another reason as to why the U.S. government is opposing any mention of small ammunition in an ATT, could be U.S. domestic politics. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has been blocking efforts to pass the U.S. Senate ratification of the OAS Firearms Convention because of its inclusion of ammunition. In particular, the NRA has opposed language in the Convention that appears to require all entities manufacturing ammunition in a country, even individuals making ammunition at home for personal use, to notify their government about such manufacturing. Although the U.S. Senate has interpreted the Convention to mean entities manufacturing ammunition will only have to notify the government if they sell such ammunition, identical to current U.S. law, the NRA is still opposing the treaty on the basis of ammunition.

Given such U.S. concerns, States might consider a flexible approach to controls on small arms ammunition within an ATT. However, any approach must ensure that as a minimum the import and export of small arms ammunition is subject to risk assessments and authorizations before transfer – US law already requires the government to regulate the export and import of small arms ammunition. Such a provision, for example, would still seek to prevent private entities from exporting thousands of rounds of ammunition to ruthless fighting forces abroad against national interests. It would also aid law enforcement authorities in tracing the origin of bullets found in transit because critical information on the ammunition can still be found as part of its packaging. While tracing used bullets will still not be as easy as tracking firearms, with such controls states can at least obtain key information on trafficking patterns.

At the moment there also does not seem to be strong support for including manufacturing in an ATT as the focus has mostly been on international transfers. If States determine that they would like to include such a provision within the ATT, however, governments could support language that would require entities involved in manufacturing small arms ammunition to obtain a license only if the entities also intend to sell the manufactured ammunition. Such a provision would match current U.S. law, which according to U.S. officials, stipulates that manufactures of small arms ammunition for personal use do not have to have register or obtain a license from U.S. government authorities.

Ultimately, it is bullets that are responsible for the vast majority of arms-related deaths – that’s why we will keep making the case that a bulletproof Arms Trade Treaty necessitates the inclusion of ammunition.