Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

By Dana Tims June 20, 2014

Will the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty infringe on our right to keep and bear arms?

From universal background checks to limits on magazine capacities, gun-control proposals are among the surest ways to stir controversy.

Some Second Amendment activists are convinced there is yet another threat to gun ownership that comes not from the U.S. government but from the United Nations.

The claim:

U.S. Senate candidate Monica Wehby, a Republican, is running against Oregon’s Democratic incumbent Jeff Merkley. On her website, Wehby addresses gun ownership, singling out a U.N. proposal long been opposed by the National Rifle Association and many other pro-gun groups.

She promises to oppose the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty, her statement says, because it "infringes upon our right to keep and bear arms."

If adopted, would it have that effect in the U.S.? We decided to check.

The analysis:

We emailed Wehby’s campaign and asked how this U.N. treaty would affect gun ownership in the United States.

Michael Antonopoulos, the candidate’s new campaign manager, replied: "Dr. Wehby is an unapologetic defender of second amendment rights and will always oppose any effort (to) infringe on them when she is in the Unites States Senate."

He added that nine Democratic senators share Wehby’s concerns about the treaty but provided no additional information on how the treaty itself would infringe on U.S. gun rights.

We checked PolitiFact National’s database for some background on what the treaty is and what it does.

The formally named Arms Trade Treaty, which took seven years to negotiate, was adopted by the U.N.’s General Assembly on April 2, 2013. The vote was 154 in favor, three opposed and 23 absent. The U.S. voted for it, with North Korea, Iran and Syria opposed.

Featured Fact-check

The treaty requires each participating country to establish its own controls over the export of ammunition and conventional arms, PolitiFact Virginia found. The pact prohibits sending the weapons to nations that are under a U.N. arms embargo or where the arms will be used for terrorism, genocide, crimes against humanity, breaches of the Geneva Conventions, attacks against civilians or other war crimes.

It has no enforcement power, but backers hope it will create common standards for international trade of weapons. To take effect, the pact must be ratified by the governments of 50 U.N. nations. To date, it has been ratified by 36.

So does it contain language that would somehow infringe on gun-ownership rights of U.S. citizens, as Wehby’s website claims?

The pact’s preamble affirms "the sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system."

We emailed the U.S. State Department and asked for its position on the treaty. Press officer Drew Bailey sent us a synopsis, which included this point: "Nothing in the Arms Trade Treaty is inconsistent with the rights of U.S. citizens, including those protected by the Second Amendment."

Some pro-gun advocates, however, remain unconvinced. The conservative Heritage Foundation, for instance, has called for hearings into the Arms Trade Treaty and its potential reach. The group also notes, correctly, that a Senate majority, including some Democrats, opposes ratifying the pact.

The National Rifle Association issued a statement after Secretary of State John Kerry signed the treaty saying it "threatens individual firearm ownership and an invasive registration scheme." Despite all signs to the contrary, the NRA and other groups opposed to the treaty insist it will create a slippery slope leading to a national gun registry.

However, previous PolitiFact checks don’t back that up. PolitiFact Georgia, in an Aug. 12, 2012 story, interviewed legal experts and concluded, "...even in the unlikely event that the U.N. creates a treaty that provides for domestic registries and the U.S. Senate ratifies it, it would not 'almost certainly force' the U.S. to create one," as a Georgia congressman had alleged.

The ruling:

Oregon Republican U.S. Senate candidate Monica Wehby’s website, in addressing the Second Amendment, says she opposes an international arms treaty passed by the U.N., and signed by the United States, because it "infringes on our right to keep and bear arms."

A Wehby spokesman did not elaborate on how or why any infringement could come about, but did restate the candidate’s support for the Second Amendment. He did not return phone calls or emails asking exactly how the treaty would infringe on the gun rights of U.S. citizens

Previous fact-checks looking at this claim found it lacked merit. Language in the treaty itself specifically leaves gun-control and ownership decisions up to member nations.

The claim is all flash and no powder. We rate it False.

Return to to comment on this article.

Our Sources

Emails from Drew Bailey, press officer, U.S. Department of State, June 19/20, 2014.

National Rifle Association, "Obama Administration Signs United Nations Arms Treaty," Sept. 25, 2013.

Website, Monica Wehby for U.S. Senate.

Email from Michael Antonopoulos, campaign manager, Monica Wehby for U.S. Senate.

PolitiFact Virginia, "Chain email says Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine voted to allow U.N. to seize guns," June 19, 2014.

United Nations Arms Trade Treaty.

Heritage Foundation, "After U.S. Signature, Dangers of U.N. Arms Trade Treaty Begin to Surface," Jan. 14, 2014.

PolitiFact Georgia, "Broun: U.N. treaty likely to lead to international gun registry," Aug. 10, 2012.


Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Dana Tims

Will the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty infringe on our right to keep and bear arms?

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up