Talks Continue on Final U.N. Gun Plan

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

New York ( - Negotiations continued Tuesday on finalizing a "program of action" on restricting small arms and light weapons worldwide as the United Nations conference on small arms and weapons continues in its second week. The conference ends on Friday.

The main sticking point among the conferees is how the United Nations can entice its member nations to restrict the flow of small arms and weapons. They all have different ideas on how to do achieve that goal.

United Nations spokesman Frederic Eckhard said Tuesday at a news briefing conference delegates are literally burning the midnight oil to finalize the program.

"The U.N. conference on small arms went into its first night session yesterday evening with delegates beginning a paragraph by paragraph review of the revised program of action," Eckhard said.

"The conference took up the first part of the program this morning which deals with the main theme of preventing, combating and eradicating the illicit trade of small arms and automatic weapons," he said.

Eckhard added, "It's a very tedious exercise."

After statements last week from 143 speakers from various countries at the conference, the conference chairman, Ambassador Camilo Reyes of Colombia, studied the statements and presentations over the weekend before presenting a revised version of the program of action to conferees on Monday.

The program of action is to serve as a "framework" for international cooperation on curbing illicit arms trade, according to U.N. officials. It has been the subject of diverse and sometimes heated debate.

Thomas Mason of the NRA told the conference, "I would like to reiterate our support for the conference aims to address the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. At the same time, we have concerns about the possible effects of the United States citizens' [right] to own and use legal arms.

"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," Mason said. "We cannot ignore aspects of the draft plan that affect civilian ownership of small arms in the United States and worldwide."

Ron Anger of the South Africa Gun Owners Association expressed similar concerns.

"Our continent has had a sad history of turmoil and conflict. We would strongly support measures to reduce the negative effects of small arms. However, we are particularly concerned about the call to restrict possession of sporting arms, which would serve no purpose in reducing conflict and detract from real issues, such as the transfer of military weapons," Anger told the conference.

"Wars are not fought with sporting arms, but with military weapons. The adoption of a proper definition of military small arms would strengthen agreement. In Africa, hunting plays an important role," he concluded.

However, Mary Leigh Blek of the "Million Mom March" strongly criticized what she called the "gun lobby" and its conference presentations.

"The gun lobby has been talking for 40 minutes. During that time, 40 people have died from the use of small arms and light weapons in this country. That figure, not the statement of those representatives is further proof that this country is at war," Blek said.

"While the firearms industry has been making a profit, our children have been dying. The price we are paying is too high for profits generated by an unregulated industry of death," she added.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Anna Ward of the Unitarian Universalist Association of the United States.

"I speak as a young woman of faith, recognizing that our women and youth suffer most from the use of firearms. When small arms threaten a community, the freedom of citizens to education and free association, among other things, is diminished. They become victims of fear," said Ward.

She added, "The responsibility of governments remains the same even though conditions vary from country to country. Although there is still a problem of firearms deaths in my country, it does not compare to the predicament of other countries.

"All nations must remember that in protecting the interests of their citizens, they must cooperate fully with each other," Ward concluded.

Whatever program for action is adopted from the conference it is legally non-binding and United Nations member states do not have to practice its parameters. Some pro-gun groups, especially the NRA, believe the U.N. wants to impose global gun control.