The GOP and the black helicopter crowd

If you want to understand why progress on gun violence or on other major issues facing the country has become pretty much impossible, one place to start is with the GOP’s opposition to the U.N. treaty on the global arms trade. The New York Times reports:

The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to approve a pioneering treaty aimed at regulating the enormous global trade in conventional weapons, for the first time linking sales to the human rights records of the buyers. [...]

The treaty, which took seven years to negotiate, reflects growing international sentiment that the multibillion-dollar weapons trade needs to be held to a moral standard. The hope is that even nations reluctant to ratify the treaty will feel public pressure to abide by its provisions. The treaty calls for sales to be evaluated on whether the weapons will be used to break humanitarian law, foment genocide or war crimes, abet terrorism or organized crime or slaughter women and children.

The United States is one of the 154 members to support the treaty; it was opposed by Iran, North Korea and Syria.

Prospects for the treaty are bleak in the United States Senate, however. As Steve Benen details, this is because it is opposed by the National Rifle Association and Republican Senators (and at least one Democrat, Max Baucus), partly on the grounds that it will violate Americans’ gun rights.

Leading Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz is denouncing the treaty as “international gun regulation.” Senator Jim Inhofe called it “another attempt by internationalists to limit and infringe upon America’s sovereignty.” Last year Rand Paul claimed the treaty would pave the way for “full-scale gun CONFISCATION.” There’s no indication he’s since changed his views, which continue to be BEST EXPRESSED IN CAPITAL LETTERS.

These and other Senators — which may end up including a few red state Dems, too, since over 50 Senators vowed months ago to oppose it — seem to be following the lead of the NRA, which has claimed that the treaty could “infringe on gun rights as understood in the United States and could force Americans on to an international registry,” as the Post recently put it.

Yet the treaty explicitly addresses such objections. As the New York Times notes: “In a bow to American concerns, the preamble states that it is focused on international sales, not traditional domestic use.” FactCheck.org has noted that the administration has explicitly said it won’t support any treaty that “regulates the domestic transfer or ownership of weapons.” Gavin Aronsen adds: “the treaty doesn’t dictate domestic gun laws in member countries. It requires signatories to establish controls on the import and export of conventional arms.”

But opposition on domestic gun rights grounds continues unabated, anyway.

Look, Newtown has changed absolutely nothing. After the shooting, lawmakers in both parties vowed to approach the problem of gun violence with a genuine seriousness of purpose, one appropriate to the moral challenge and emotional and spiritual horror created by the slaughter of 20 young children. Yet only three and a half months later, Republicans (and too many red state Dems) are letting their approach to a problem that continues to claim American lives be dictated by a group that is happy to traffic in strains of paranoia that rival U.N. black helicopter fantasies.

Republican Senators (and too many red state Dems) have fallen into line behind the NRA’s lurid claims not just about the treaty, but also about gun control, endorsing its paranoid and false claim that expanding background checks would create a national gun registry. With United States Senators eagerly feeding such fringe views rather than engaging in genuine policy debate, is it any wonder that it’s a major struggle to implement even the most modest and sensible effort to limit the ongoing murder of innocents, one that is supported by nine in 10 Americans?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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Greg Sargent | April 3, 2013