An Arms Treaty? You’re Joking!









Photo copyright: RJ SANGOSTI/AFP/GettyImages – the

Being far from a wild-eyed, look-over-your-shoulder-to-see-if-that-car-is-still-there conspiracy theorist, I do however enjoy the occasional tipple of the crazy – especially if it involves the US and its (ir)rational policies and perspectives on the international community (you may have heard the one that argued the 9-11 planes were infact holograms?)

The recent cinema shooting spree, which killed 12 (including a six-year-old girl) and wounded 58 other movie-goers at the opening of the latest instalment of Batman in Aurora, Colorado, has seeded a flourishing garden-bed of debates amongst armchair/ late night coffee and internet theorists. The purported shooter – James Holmes – was until recently studying a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and although of late more details have come to light regarding his mental health and eccentricisms, many are claiming that the wild shooting spree by the red haired, self-styled ‘Joker’ was either the unfortunate test patient in his own mind-altering research, or more diabolically – that he was a pawn in a greater plot by the government (or government agencies) to bring to a head the debate on arms in the US.

“Holmes was clearly provided with exotic gear (and bomb-making skills)”, it is claimed. The Colorado Joker certainly had amassed a formidable arsenal – including a shotgun, an AR-15 assault rifle, two Glock handguns and more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as a 100-round drum magazine thatis capable of firing between 50 and 60 rounds a minute, gas masks and body armor. He also rigged his apartment with extensive booby traps, bombs and incendiary devices, including over 30 improvised grenades. The size and capablities of his personal army, the degree of complexity and technical know-how that was required to wire the apartment with such an assortment of sophisticated explosive devices, and the cost (which some estimate could have costed upwards of US $10- 20,000), is admittedly fairly astonishing.

While I stop (at a reasonable distance) short of agreeing that this “carefully planned, heavily funded and technically advanced attack” was an elaborate plot by the US government and the FBI, as a means of rallying public acquiesence for the US to sign up to the (then) up-and-coming vote on the UN Arms Trade Treaty, it is not beyond the realms of possibility. This would not be the first time that the US government or agencies have been accused of being involved (whether complicit or actively supporting or even masterminding) events that have shaped public opinion and allowed the realisation of more far-reaching US policies and initiatives. One may remember the the spectacular debacle that was the ‘Fast and Furious’ operation in 2009-10, conducted by the The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in which an estimated 1,608 guns were knowingly and illegally leached across the border into the hands of Mexican drug cartels in the hope of tracing them across the complex gang networks. However, many of the guns promptly disappeared, and were used in multiple gang shootings, and finally bringing the whole affair into the publc eye, in the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

And what of the Mohamed Osman Mohamud case – in which the young Somali would-be Jihadist attempted to detonate a bomb in Portland, Oregon during a public Christmas event. He was supported throughout the failed attempt by undercover FBI agents – raising questions of entrapment, and whether the man would indeed have followed through on his plans had it not been for the facilitation of the FBI.

While these examples are incredibly worrying – and raise questions as to what degree state governments can go to ensure a) the monopoly of force and ultimately legitimacy of rule, and b) covertly influence public opinion and thereby policy in order to further ‘its’ own interests, it is not the main point I wish to raise. What is of more interest is that in the Colorado shooting incident described above, the (accused) gunmen was able to purchase four powerful and specialised weapons, and more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition – legally – in the 60 days preceding the shooting. Whether or not the ‘Joker’ was drugged, under mind-control, orthe pawn in some diabolical plot by government agencies with alterior motives to instigate (or at least be complicit to) the dramatic and horrific events that occured, what is alarming is the continued beligerent invocation of the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms – and the wider debate surrounding the $60 billion global arms trade.

On Friday, following a month of deliberation by 170 countries, and six years of hard advocacy from international humanitarian agencies, the UN Arms Trade Treaty failed to materialise.  The treaty would require all states to regulate the transfer of  ‘conventional’ arms, to control the trade of arms brokers, as well as prohibit countries from supplying arms to countries who break international humanitarian law – inclduing acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. While countries such as Syria, North Korea, Iran and Algeria can be expected to, and did, loudly protest any global control of arms trade, the US stood as a key obstacle to any agreement. Its position as the biggest arms dealer (with a 40% share of the world’s arms trade) is seen as pivotal in its decision to avert any agreement – along with the powerful lobbying by the US Rifle Association and within the Senate.

As the tragic events in Colorado reveal, while a treaty may emerge from further considerations planned for later in the year (the looming US election adds only fuel to the fire, however), it would appear that the US arms industry, government bodies, and citizenry have some way to go before they will release their firm grip on the Second Amendment, their wallets, and their guns. Yet if they remain immune to the international suffering caused by small arms, and the needless death of fellow moviegoers hoping to escape to a world where the good-guy prevails over the diabolical masked villain, what will it take to swing the tide of opinion?


2 comments on “An Arms Treaty? You’re Joking!

  1. ryankf says:

    Normally i’d scoff at your allusions to a conspiracy here Andrew as i tend to, naively or not, have faith in most governments not to intentionally try to kill its citizenry – with a few obvious exceptions. However, i did just watch Oliver Stone’s ‘JFK’ a couple weeks ago and i’m feeling a bit uneasy these days. There is of course a large gap between making an error in judgment like the Fast and Furious campaign an outright conspiracy.
    Area 51 cover-ups aside i can’t help but think the US putting the kibosh on a UN arms treaty has less to do with assault rifles than it does with big ticket items. This year looks to be a banner one for US arms dealing:
    …and despite an unfruitful hour long search for information on US small arms exports i presume of that USD$50-60 billion in arms sale income the large majority is composed of aircraft and heavy weapons systems.
    Again, maybe i’m being naive, but i can’t picture senior policy makers sitting down to have a conversation about the hit the budget might take in loss of machine gun sales. I can see them having a conversation about the potential loss of $20-30 billion in F-22 and F-35 sales. American’s get pretty keyed up when it comes to job loss and withe US military manufacturing complex has long been a strong home for jobs since.
    Admittedly there are those who see the US delaying the UN arms treaty as a direct threat the the US Second Amendment:
    I would think with the US track record weighs pretty heavily on the side of not letting something like a binding international agreement get in the way of domestic politics.
    To address your final question i find myself feeling pessimistic. I find it hard to believe much of anything will swing public opinion about gun control in the US (which apparently has far reaching effects on the US position internationally). If the L.A. gun battle in the streets with police, Columbine, Virginia Tech shooting, and now the theater shooting haven’t done it i don’t hold out much hope.

  2. Admin says:

    I guess I’d be a little less kind on the “armchair/ late night coffee and internet theorists”. Looney-conspiracy nut-jobs is the phrase that comes to mind (and Ryan don’t get me started on Oliver Stone). I think Andrew is probably on the money with the claim the ATT fell over at the final hurdle because of the sensitive election-year politics around gun control. The NRA and its international spin off, the World Sports Shooting Association, did the same job of spreading falsehoods and obfuscation with UN Plan of Action on small and light weapons about a decade ago. Agree with them or not, but they are very good at what they do. It was terrible timing to have this conference less than four months out from election day. If you’re interested in reading more about this, Oxfam has a good blog on the ATT with reports filed by one of our former students Luke Roughton.

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