False claim that US is joining international gun registry

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The claim: The US will be willing to ratify a treaty that would establish an international arms registry

A viral Facebook post claims that President Joe Biden recently decided to add the US as a signatory to a United Nations treaty that seeks to establish an international arms registry.

“Joe Biden just announced that he is adding America as a signatory to the United Nations Small Arms Treaty, setting the stage for a full ratification vote in the US Senate,” reads part of the post on the 29 of August

The publication goes on to state that the treaty would “establish an international arms control registry, allowing Communist China, European socialists and Third World dictators to track the ‘end user’ of every rifle, shotgun and gun sold to the world.”

The post was shared more than 8,000 times in two months.

But the claim is false. According to a State Department spokesman, the United States will not join any such treaty. Experts said the Arms Trade Treaty, which appears to be the treaty referred to in the post, would not establish an international arms registry.

USA TODAY has reached out to the user who shared the post for comment.

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The US is not a party to the treaty, according to the State Department

There are no announcements about US accession to an international arms treaty on the White House website, and USA TODAY found no evidence that a “United Nations Small Arms Treaty” exists.

The post appears to refer to the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in April 2013 and enacted in December 2014. The treaty aims to regulate international trade of conventional weapons, according to the UN website.

“There is no UN treaty on small arms,” ​​a State Department spokesman said in an email to USA TODAY. “The Arms Trade Treaty, which was negotiated at the UN and entered into force in 2014, includes light and small arms, but also includes heavier weapons such as tanks, armored fighting vehicles, artillery systems , fighter jets, attack helicopters, etc. warships, and missiles and missile launchers.”

Former Secretary of State John Kerry signed the treaty on behalf of the Obama administration in 2013, but the Senate never ratified it. In 2019, President Donald Trump sent a notice to withdraw the US from the treaty. The notice said the US is under no obligation to adhere to the treaty’s stipulations.

The State Department spokesman said the Biden administration “continues to work to finalize an updated conventional arms transfer policy for the United States” and that once that policy is finalized, “the United States intends to turn to other arms transfer issues, including determining the appropriate relationship of the United States with the (Arms Trade Treaty).”

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The treaty tracks arms deals between nations, not between people

In any case, the arms treaty does not create an international arms registry.

Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty submit reports on international arms sales that participating governments can access. However, the annual reports only include information such as the number and types of weapons sent and which nations sent and received them, not which people own them, according to Rachel Stohl, vice president and director of the Conventional Defense Program at the Stimson Center. an international security think tank.

The information provided by treaty parties may be somewhat more detailed than what nations already submit to the UN Conventional Weapons Register, a voluntary reporting process that began in 1993 with similar goals, he said Stohl. Both reporting processes track what are broadly defined as conventional weapons, including guns, rocket launchers, fighter jets and tanks.

The Arms Trade Treaty contains language that formally recognizes the “sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its territory, in accordance with its own legal or constitutional system.” Stohl, who helped draft the treaty as a UN consultant, said the language was specifically included as a nod to the right to bear arms enshrined in the US Constitution’s Second Amendment.

“This line was included for the US,” he said.

The creation of a federal gun registry has been prohibited in the US since the Firearms Owners Protection Act was signed into law in 1986.

The claim has also been debunked by The Associated Press and PolitiFact.

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Our rating: False

Based on our research, we consider the claim that the US is willing to ratify a treaty that will establish an international arms registry to be FALSE. The US is not ready to ratify any such treaty, according to the State Department. The treaty referenced in the post tracks cross-border sales of conventional weapons between nations; it does not detail which specific people end up with guns.

Our fact-checking sources:

  • Rachel Stohl, Sept. 27-Oct. 17, Telephone interview and email exchange with USA TODAY
  • US Department of State, September 23, email release
  • Library of Congress, accessed October 17, Text of Firearm Owners’ Protection Act
  • United Nations Treaty Collection, accessed 17 October, Text of Arms Trade Treaty
  • United Nations Conventional Arms Register, accessed 17 October, Participation Statistics
  • United Nations Conventional Weapons Register, accessed 17 October, Major Conventional Weapons Categories
  • United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, accessed 17 October, Arms Trade Treaty
  • Whitehouse.gov, December 9, 2016, Message to the Senate – Arms Trade Treaty
  • Associated Press, September 21, The ad misleads about the treaty that regulates the global arms trade
  • PolitiFact, August 10, 2012 Broun: UN treaty likely to lead to international arms registry
  • USA TODAY September 25, 2013 US signs treaty to regulate global arms trade
  • Indianapolis Star April 26, 2019 Trump reverses US course on Arms Trade Treaty during speech at NRA in Indianapolis

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