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Gov. Greg Abbott, shown here speaking in November 2015, made a False claim about a United Nations arms trade treaty (Austin American-Statesman photo, Jay Janner). Gov. Greg Abbott, shown here speaking in November 2015, made a False claim about a United Nations arms trade treaty (Austin American-Statesman photo, Jay Janner).

Gov. Greg Abbott, shown here speaking in November 2015, made a False claim about a United Nations arms trade treaty (Austin American-Statesman photo, Jay Janner).

By W. Gardner Selby December 22, 2016

False: Greg Abbott's claim that arms treaty could give U.N. authority to police guns

Greg Abbott warned in a December 2016 tweet that President Barack Obama seeks Senate ratification of a treaty that could empower the United Nations to regulate guns.

The prospect of the U.N. mucking with American guns should sound familiar. That’s because the treaty has long sparked similar claims--many of them short on facts.

Abbott's tweet, Republican concerns

The Texas governor tweeted: "This Treaty by Obama could give the UN some authority to regulate guns. Tell the Senate to reject it."

Abbott further pointed to a story stating, in part, that the Arms Trade Treaty, recently urged on the Senate by the lame-duck Democratic president, seeks to regulate the world’s annual exchange of $70 billion in conventional weaponry including tanks, helicopters and missiles.

That Dec. 13, 2016 story doesn’t say the U.N. deal would regulate guns within the U.S.

Still, it notes opposition from Republicans including Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who signed legislation in April 2016 prohibiting the enforcement of international laws, such as the treaty, "that could affect the Second Amendment," says.

The Democratic-led Senate signaled its concerns in 2013, voting by a 53-46 margin against the U.S. going along with any such treaty. That move occurred a month before the U.N. General Assembly approved the treaty with 154 nations in favor, 3 opposed and 23 absent. The U.S. voted for it; North Korea, Iran and Syria opposed it.

The 2016 story also recaps that when Abbott was attorney general of Texas, he "promised to slap the federal government with a lawsuit if the treaty was ratified." On Sept. 25, 2013, then reported, AG Abbott said in a press release: "By signing this treaty, the Obama administration has attempted to subject Americans’ right to bear arms to the oversight of the United Nations."

Abbott said in an April 2013 Fox News interview: "The concern is that the United States is trying to use the United Nations as a back-door mechanism to try to legislate here in the United States, in this instance trying to impose gun control."

In that interview, Abbott was pressed to elaborate on the treaty’s threat to domestic gun rights. He then conceded the treaty focuses on international trade in armaments. Still, he expressed concern the U.N. would exploit the treaty to impose gun registration and other requirements.

Past fact checks

We’ve spotted flawed claims about the treaty before.

In May 2012, we found Pants on Fire a Texas candidate’s statement that the treaty--then still under negotiation--would ban the use of firearms. In an April 2012 speech, Thomas Countryman, an assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, said any treaty provisions limiting domestic gun rights would not be embraced. "We will not support outcomes that would in any way infringe on the Second Amendment," Countryman said.

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Later, we rated False a Texas claim that the U.N.-advanced treaty mandated an international guns registry. Nations that ratify the treaty must track conventional arms that move across their borders, share information about the transfers with the U.N. and other countries and then annually report the imports and exports in broad categories such as "battle tanks" to the U.N.

Treaty rests on self-regulation

So what does the treaty do?

The treaty states its purpose is to "establish the highest possible common international standards for regulating or improving the regulation of the international trade in conventional arms" and to "prevent and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and prevent their diversion."

It requires each participating country to establish its own controls over the export of ammunition and conventional arms. 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. The treaty calls on participating nations to take "appropriate measures" if they determine that a shipment has been diverted, although it does not clearly define those steps.

The accord applies to tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft and helicopters, warships, missiles, missile launchers and small arms such and handguns and rifles. Participating nations would be required to send annual reports to the U.N. on their imports and exports of conventional weapons.

The treaty gives no body including the U.N. any enforcement power, but supporters have expressed hope it will create common standards among countries for international trade of weapons. To go into effect, the pact must be ratified by the governments of 50 U.N. nations. As of mid-December 2016, it had been accepted or ratified by 91 countries including France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain, Australia and Mexico.

The State Department has said the treaty, if joined by the U.S., would not put additional controls on the import or export of guns in America. Instead, it would require other countries to establish "control systems that are closer to the high standard the United States already sets with its own national standards," the State Department wrote in a September 2013 fact sheet.

Also, 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 called and emailed Abbott so he could otherwise offer backup for his regulation claim and didn’t hear back.

Our ruling

Abbott said the treaty advocated by Obama "could give the U.N. some authority to regulate guns."

This statement, which fits with other incorrect claims about the U.N. gaining the power to preempt U.S. gun laws, doesn't hold up because the treaty doesn’t regulate gun traffic within countries and also doesn’t hand the U.N. enforcement powers.

We rate this claim False.

FALSE – The statement is not accurate. Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

CORRECTION, 10:15 a.m., Dec. 27, 2016: This story has been amended to say the Senate was led by Democrats in 2013, not Republican-majority. The Senate that year consisted of 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans and two Independents, who caucused with the Democrats. This correction didn't affect our rating of the claim.

Our Sources

Statement, "Message to the Senate -- Arms Trade Treaty," the White House, Dec. 9, 2016

Truth-O-Meter articles, "Craig James says Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton seek treaty to ban the use of U.S. firearms," PolitiFact Texas, May 17, 2012; "U.N. treaty is about weapons systems moving between countries," PolitiFact Texas, Aug. 28, 2013; "Chain email says Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine voted to allow U.N. to seize guns," PolitiFact Virginia, June 15, 2014

YouTube video, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott interview, Fox News, posted by Think Progress, April 3, 2013 (viewed Dec. 20, 2016)

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More by W. Gardner Selby

False: Greg Abbott's claim that arms treaty could give U.N. authority to police guns

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