Gun Control Group Criticizes US and NRA at UN Small Arms Conference

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

United Nations ( - While negotiations continue to finalize a "program of action" at the U.N. Small Arms Conference on Friday, a gun control group sharply criticized the United States delegates to the conference of pandering to the gun lobby in the U.S. while attempting to stop the proliferation of guns around the world.

Rebecca Peters, a senior fellow at the Open Society Institute, a legal and social reform group which favors stricter gun control laws, told a United Nations news conference, "it's been a very strange two weeks."

"The U.S. has not only isolated itself from its traditional allies, but has allowed itself also with some interesting new bedfellows like Cuba and China to form an unspoken alliance with them to block the efforts to stop the proliferation of guns around the world," Peters said.

She thinks the United States missed its chance to score some "points on the world stage" during this conference which began July 9 and is scheduled to end Friday.

"In some respects, the U.S. does have some pretty good laws on (weapons) export controls and on (arms) brokering," Peters said.

"The U.S. could have made a positive contribution to this conference by providing a model and raising the standards for other countries to abide by, but instead it's allowed the bar to be lowered in those areas in a shameless attempt to pander to the domestic gun lobby," she added.

"The U.S. has been especially intransigent on the question of regulating civilian possession of guns," Peters said. "This makes no sense at all. Guns are regulated in the U.S. It is not as though this is an infringement of U.S. law.

She said while gun regulations do exist in the U.S., the regulations are "very weak."

"The principle of regulating civilian possession is completely compatible with the existing American law," Peters said. "The U.S. delegation could have accepted it, but, so far, they have refused, purely to please the extremist gun lobby.

"It's not insignificant that the first document referred by the U.S. representative (John Bolton) on day one (of the conference) was a letter from Attorney General John Ashcroft to the NRA (National Rifle Association)," she said. "He didn't refer to the U.N. charter or the universal declaration of human rights. It was a private letter to the number one lobby group on Capitol Hill."

In addition, Peters said, "the non-inclusion of language about regulating civilian possession of guns would make no difference to the ability of U.S. gun owners to take their sons on hunting trips or to amass lethal arsenals legally in their living rooms. Those activities are completely unaffected by the proposals before this conference."

The U.S. delegation jeopardized "the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in other countries where there is no domestic regulation of guns" without providing American gun owners with "any real benefit," she said, "purely for the sake of providing its loyalty to the extremist gun lobby."

"And that is a breathtakingly selfish position," Peters said.

Earlier this week during the conference presentations, however, Thomas Mason of the NRA said the gun lobby group supported the U.N. conference aims to address the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons.

"At the same time, we have concerns about the possible effects of the outcome on the legitimate domestic rights of United States citizens to own and use legal arms," Mason said. "Indeed, we have received differing signals from a variety of delegations and representatives of governments as to the goals of the conference to that end."

He added, "We cannot ignore aspects of the draft plan (program of action) that affect civilian ownership of small arms in the United States and worldwide. We would ask the conference to acknowledge our concerns as legitimate."

The NRA headquarters refused to comment further on Peters' remarks.