Mr. Kopel is research director at the Independence Institute.
National Review Online. August 6, 2001 2:25 p.m.
Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in an NRO series on the United Nations Conference on Small Arms (the previous installment: #3). More by Kopel on United Nations gun control.
At the U.N. Small Arms Conference, Iran took the lead in promoting a ban on weapons supplies to non-states. The "non-state actors" clause would require vendors "to supply small arms and light weapons only to governments, or to entities duly authorized by government." This would make it illegal, for example, to supply weapons to the Kurds or religious minorities in Iran, in case Iranian persecution or genocide drove them to rebellion. Had the provision been in effect in 1776, the sale of firearms to the American Patriots would have been prohibited. Had the clause been in effect during World War II, the transfer of Liberator pistols to the French Resistance, and to many other resistance groups, would have been illegal.
The United States stood firm against this clause, rejecting "compromise" efforts to revise the language, or to insert it into the preamble of the Program of Action. Although Canada pushed hard on this point, the U.S. delegation would not relent. U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton pointed out that the proposal "would preclude assistance to an oppressed non-state group defending itself from a genocidal government."
Bolton's statement, by the way, reflects the enormous contribution that Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership has made to gun debate, through historical research demonstrating the victim disarmament is the sine qua non of genocide.
More recent research by constitutional attorney Stephen Halbrook has detailed how the Nazi regime used firearms-control laws, enacted by the democratic Weimar Republic, to disarm potential opponents of the regime, and to facilitate the persecution of Jews.
U.N. Deputy Secretary General Louise Frechette (of Canada) explained that in some parts of the world, an AK-47 could be obtained for $15 or a bag of grain. Small-arms "proliferation erodes the authority of legitimate but weak governments,'' she complained.
U.S. delegate Faith Whittlesey (ambassador to Switzerland, under Reagan) replied that the U.N. "non-state actors" provision "freezes the last coup. It favors established governments, while taking away rights from individuals. It does not recognize any value higher than peace, such as liberty."
According to the U.N., any government with a U.N. delegation is a "legitimate" government. This U.N. standard directly conflicts with the Declaration of Independence, which states that the only legitimate governments are those "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
In a letter to the New York Times, answering a Times editorial criticizing the U.S. for not allowing the conference to be used as a tool to disarm civilians, Whittlesey elaborated:
The highest priority of freedom-loving people is liberty, even more than peace. The small arms you demonize often protect men, women and children from tyranny, brutality and even the genocide too frequently perpetrated by governments and police forces. The world's numerous dictators would be delighted to stem the flow of small arms to indigenous freedom fighters and civilians alike to minimize any resistance.. . .
The right of individual self-defense in the face of criminal intimidation and government aggression is a deeply held belief of the American people dating back to 1776, when small arms in the hands of private individuals were the means used to secure liberty and independence.
The United Nations Conference on Small Arms was held in a room where a large poster proclaimed: "SMALL ARMS KILL WOMEN & CHILDREN." (Meanwhile, the U.N. propaganda office and its accomplices in the U.S. media claimed that there was no antigun agenda at the conference.) The U.N. says that small arms kill 500,000 people a year: 300,000 in war, and another 200,000 from murder, suicide, and accidents. Put aside, the fact that most war deaths are caused by governments, which wouldn't be disarmed under the U.N. program. Also put aside questions about whether the U.N. antigun program would really disarm murderers. And forget the topic of whether antigun laws might reduce gun suicides or gun accidents, but would save few, if any, lives — since self-destructive people have many potential tools available.
Let us assume that the U.N. antigun program — which, as I detailed in a previous column, is a program for slow-motion disarmament of everyone except the government — would save every single one of those 500,000 lives.
Now, compare those half-million annual deaths with the 170 million civilians (not soldiers) who were murdered by governments in the first nine decades of the last century, as detailed by University of Hawaii political scientist Rudy Rummel.
Given that democide — Rummel's term for mass murders by government — appears to be confined almost exclusively to regimes which have attempted to disarm their victims, it is reasonable to conclude that if every man and woman on this planet had owned a working firearm and ammunition, many — perhaps nearly all — of those 179 million lives might have been saved.
If small arms are really as destructive as the U.N. claims, it would still take 340 years for small arms to kill as many people as died from 1900 to 1990 due to the lack of small arms. Stated another way, even if we accept every one of the premises of the antigun advocates at the U.N., gun prohibition appears to be about four times deadlier than gun proliferation.
Gun "proliferation" begins with "pro" and "life." Gun prohibition begins with registration, and ends with genocide.
Besides serving as the sine qua non of genocide, civilian disarmament helps dictatorships maintain their power — as demonstrated by the string of dictatorships that rose to support U.N. efforts to disarm everyone except the government.
Djbrina Moumouni, secretary general of the cabinet of the president of the Niger called illicit weapons "a scourge" which cause "drug trafficking, mass displacement, slow economic development and recovery, and the exacerbation of conflicts. The Niger has not escaped that fallout, and has suffered armed rebellion for some years now."
The Niger delegate's speech was a euphemistic reference to the fact that the pastoral Tuareg people of northern Niger, in the Sahara, spent much of the 1990s fighting for their independence from Niger. The Tuareg objected to uranium being extracted from their region, while profits went to people connected to the far-away central government.
To stay in Niger, the Tuareg wanted federalism and some regional autonomy. Their desire to leave was greatly intensified when they starved en masse in 1984-85 thanks to the Niger government's venality and incompetence. And the central government of Niger, which tends to alternate between military dictatorships and one-party civilian dictatorships, hasn't exactly been a good place for people to work within the system.
A report from the European Centre for Conflict Prevention, a pro-disarmament group, describes these problems in Niger quite straightforwardly, and explains that the UN's solution is to disarm the Tuareg:
The United Nations have not been directly involved in managing the conflict, but the organisation is dealing with a closely related issue: the proliferation of small arms in the region. In 1993, it set up an Advisory Mission on the issue, at the request of President Konaré of Mali. The mission produced its findings to the Secretary-General in 1996. It identified a variety of causes for the unfettered flow of arms, including political instability, poverty, unemployment, ethnic and religious differences and the spill-over of intra-state conflicts into other states. This was said to apply to most of the states visited during the mission, including Niger.
What the European Centre and the U.N. (and their prohibitionist allies in private organizations) fail to understand is that in places like Niger, small arms are part of the solution, not the problem. The Niger government only began to make small steps towards treating the Tuareg better when the Tuareg were able to initiate an armed rebellion. One of the reasons that the Niger government never had the choice of following the policy of the Rwanda government (perpetrating genocide against a disaffected ethnic group) was that the Tuareg were armed.
Likewise presenting an articulate defense of the pro-dictatorship position was Gaspar Santos Rufino, Vice-Minister for Defense of Angola: "African leaders, in analyzing the causes of the proliferation and illicit trafficking of small arms, suggest that Member States and the suppliers should be more transparent in their conduct and go beyond national interests. This means, so far as possible, to impose limits on the legal production of certain basic goods, to exercise rigorous control of their circulation, and even to destroy surplus production of goods.
"It should be possible to do this with small arms and light weapons, as they are not basic goods and will not be missed by our people."
Mr. Rufino, of course, is the Defense Minister of a Communist dictatorship which was installed by the Cuban army's small arms and light weapons in 1975-76, and which has permitted exactly one election (criticized by some as fraudulent) in the last quarter-century.
Rufino complained: "In Angola, men with guns in their hands have opposed the legitimate Government for many years. It should be clear that it is imperative to destroy surplus arms, regulate their production in the legislation of manufacturing countries, and sell them to legally constituted and authorized entities."
The "men with guns in their hands" are the men of UNITA, one of the groups that (along with Rufino's Communist organization) fought against the Portuguese colonial regime until Portugal surrendered in 1975. Rufino's side would have lost the civil war which followed, but for Fidel Castro's modern-day Hessians.
What makes Rufino's dictatorship — created by Cuban "men with guns in their hands" — legitimate? As Rufino shows, beneath the veneer of humanitarian rhetoric, the objective of small arms prohibition is to ensure that unpopular dictatorships enjoy a monopoly of force.
Yasir Arafat's U.N. delegate charged that Israel arms its settlers illegally, thus turning them into a militia. She demanded that Israel to disarm the settlers.
Nguyen Thanh Chau of Viet Nam, a communist dictatorship which shot its way into power, called for "a comprehensive approach to the prevention, reduction and eradication of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons at all levels."
Sar Kheng, Minister of the Interior of Cambodia, represented a nation which, under its previous rulers, had taken care to confiscate guns before slaughtering a third of the population.
Cambodian gun control had been a legacy of French colonialism. A series of Royal Ordinances, decreed by a monarchy subservient to the French, appears to have been enacted out of fear of the Communist and anti-colonial insurgencies that were taking place in the 1920s and 1930s in Southeast Asia, although not in Cambodia. The first law, in 1920, dealt with the carrying of guns, while the last law, in 1938, imposed a strict licensing system. Only hunters could have guns, and they were allowed to own only a single firearm. These colonial laws appear to have stayed in place after Cambodia was granted independence. The Khmer Rouge enacted no new gun control laws, for they enacted no laws at all other than a Constitution.
As detailed in the book Lethal Laws, the moment the Khmer Rouge took power, they set out to disarm the populace. One Cambodian recalls that
Eang [a woman] watched soldiers stride onto the porches of the houses and knock on the doors and ask the people who answered if they had any weapons. "We are here now to protect you," the soldiers said, "and no one has a need for a weapon any more." People who said that they kept no weapons were forced to stand aside and allow the soldiers to look for themselves. . . . The round-up of weapons took nine or ten days, and once the soldiers had concluded the villagers were no longer armed, they dropped their pretense of friendliness. . . . The soldiers said everyone would have to leave the village for a while, so that the troops could search for weapons; when the search was finished, they could return.
People being forced out of villages and cities were searched thoroughly, and weapons and foreign currency were confiscated. To the limited extent that Cambodians owned guns through the government licensing system, the names of registered gun owners were of course available to the new government.
The current (non-genocidal) Communist dictatorship in Cambodia does not trust its people with arms any more than its predecessor did. The UN delegate called "illegally held arms" (e.g., all civilian arms) major obstacles to efforts to reconstruct and rehabilitate the country and to the building of democracy and respect for human rights."
The Government of Cambodia has designated management of all arms and explosives as its major task, and has instituted several measures, such as collecting and confiscating all arms, explosives and ammunition left by the war; instituting practical measures to reduce the reckless use of arms; and strengthening the management of weapons registration. Those who possessed weapons during the civil war wish to continue possessing them for self-protection. On the other hand, criminals have no intention of giving up their weapons, because they need them to carry out their criminal offences. However, with assistance from the European Union and from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), there has been some success in raising the awareness of the problem among a majority of Cambodians.
To date, more than 112,000 light weapons, together with several tons of arms, explosives and ammunition, have been collected. More than 50 per cent of those weapons and some 4,000 landmines have been crushed and burned in public ceremonies under the slogan "Flames for Peace."
Like Cambodia, Pakistan has a dictatorship determined to possess a monopoly of force. According to Human Rights Watch, the military dictatorship perpetrates torture and many other human rights abuses.
Moin-Ud-Din Haider, Minister of the Interior, said, "Pakistan has become a victim of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons…" "It has threatened our political stability," he explained, meaning that arms held by the civilians threatened the power of Mr. Haider's military dictatorship.
"Since February of last year," he boasted, "we have not issued a single license for any weapon" — demonstrating how a licensing system can be easily converted to a prohibition system.
He continued: "We have also prohibited the public display of weapons" — a parallel to his dictatorship's ban on public rallies and demonstrations.
"We have started a weapons collection programme composed of two phases. In Phase I, the Government announced general amnesty from 5 to 20 June for voluntary surrender of illicit weapons" — similar to the gun surrender program run by President Clinton's Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, and recently terminated by the Bush administration. Under both the Clinton and the Pakistani program, the targeted weapons firearms owned by civilians, regardless of criminality.
Pakistan's delegate turned to the gun licensing system: "At present, the campaign to recover illicit weapons from those who did not surrender their weapons during the amnesty period is in full swing. During the amnesty period, we acquired a total of 86,757 weapons. In Phase II, we plan to cancel all automatic weapons licenses, which were loosely issued in the thousands by previous governments. Revalidation of existing arms licenses will be handled with great care." In other words, the gun licenses which were issued by the democratic government would be eliminated by the dictatorship. As in Weimar/Nazi Germany, the licensing law created by the democracy proves to be a useful prohibition tool for the dictatorship.
Finally, the Pakistani Interior Minister made a brief pretense of pretending to respect Pakistan's traditional culture of gun ownership, before announcing the government's plan to obliterate it:
It must be emphasized that in segments of our society, possessing and carrying arms has been a proud cultural legacy. However, to their credit, many such people voluntarily surrendered their weapons. Thus, while the Government has sought to implement sound strategies, the real winners are the people of Pakistan, whose concern, cooperation and willingness to make ours a weapon-free society went a long way in launching our campaign on a promising note.
The wretched dictatorships endorsing the U.N.'s antigun program wouldn't have surprised the federalist Noah Webster. Arguing in 1787 for adoption of the proposed American Constitution, Webster urged Americans not to worry that the new federal government could become a military dictatorship, for "Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed." (An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution(Philadelphia 1787)."
The "United Nations" was originally a name for the coalition that defeated the Axis in World War II. But today, gun prohibitionists and dictatorships are using the United Nations to promote the firearms policies of Hitler and Hirohito: First, preventing aid to victims to genocide and tyranny. And second, obliterating the moral distinction between free governments, which are founded on the consent of the governed, and dictatorships, whose victims have the God-given right to remove them by force of arms.
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Share this page:
Follow Dave on Twitter.
Search Kopel website:
Make a donation to support Dave Kopel's work in defense of constitutional
rights and public safety.
Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action. Please send comments to Independence Institute, 727 East 16th Ave., Denver, Colorado 80203 Phone 303-279-6536. (email)webmngr @ i2i.org
Copyright © 2014