Senator Feinstein Urges Bush Administration to Reconsider Apparent U.S. Opposition to Accord on Small Arms that Feed International Terrorism and Drug Wars
July 16, 2001


Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a member of the U.S. Delegation to the U.N. Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, today urged the Bush Administration to reconsider its apparent opposition and open questioning of efforts by the international community to address the illegal trafficking of small arms through a U.N. Accord. The following is the prepared text of the statement Senator Feinstein delivered on the Senate Floor:

'Mr. President, I rise today to address an important international policy issue in which the United States has a vital stake: The global proliferation of small arms and light weapons and the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects which began in New York earlier this week.

And I rise because I am concerned that in his speech to the opening session of the Conference on July 9, John R. Bolton, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, seemed to indicate that the United States government may well be opposed to measures considered by the Conference that are aimed at curbing the international proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

Before I address Mr. Bolton's speech, however, and the questions it raises about the direction of the Administration's policy on this issue, I would like to briefly sketch out the scope and scale of this problem:

These conflicts undermine regional stability and endanger the spread of democracy and free-markets around the world.

In fact, the increased access by terrorists, guerilla groups, criminals, and others to small arms and light weapons poses a real threat to all U.S. participants in peacekeeping operations and U.S. forces based overseas.

Clearly this is a huge problem, with profound implications for U.S. security interests. And it is because of the scope and scale of this problem that the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons is so important.

Unfortunately, as the Washington Post editorial on July 10 put it, Mr. Bolton's opening address 'appeared designed to cater to the most extreme domestic opponents of gun control.'

Although I do not disagree with all that Mr. Bolton said, I believe that it is important to examine more closely the implications of some of his statements, and how they conflict both with settled Supreme Court precedent and the goals of stemming the tide of illicit arms into the hands of terrorists, drug cartels and violent rebellions.

As the Post's editorial pointed out, 'No such measures appear in the draft documents before the conference.'

Not only is Mr. Bolton wrong in his assertion about the connection between the Second Amendment and the work of conference, but in any case Mr. Bolton's position on the Second Amendment is in direct contradiction to decades of Supreme Court precedent.

Not one single gun control law has ever been overturned by the Court on Second Amendment grounds.

Contrary to the constant claims of the NRA, the meaning of the Second Amendment has been well-settled for more than 60 years - ever since the 1939 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Miller. In that case, the defendant was charged with transporting an unregistered sawed-off shotgun across state lines.

In rejecting a motion to dismiss the case on Second Amendment grounds, the Court held that the 'obvious purpose' of the Second Amendment was 'to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness' of the 'state Militia'. Because a sawed-off shotgun was not a weapon that would be used by a 'state Militia' (like the National Guard), the Second Amendment was in no way applicable to that case, said the Court.

If a sawed-off shotgun is not protected by the Second Amendment, why does the Administration seem to be taking the position that the Second Amendment protects the international trafficking of shoulder-launched missiles?

If an American citizen cannot freely transport a sawed-off shotgun across state lines, why can't we work to stop the international transportation of grenade launchers and high powered, military sniper rifles?

The Second Amendment argument simply makes no sense, and has no place in this debate.

So Mr. Bolton essentially objected to even considering merely curtailing the 'unrestricted sales and ownership' of military weapons.

Mr. President, in point of fact the United States already curtails the sale and ownership of many of these guns. The National Firearms Act, for instance, places severe restrictions on the manufacture and possession of machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, grenades, bombs, rockets, missiles, and mines. We also passed the 1994 assault weapons ban, which stopped the production of semi-automatic, military-style assault weapons.

These firearms have no sporting purpose, and our laws recognize that fact. Yet these guns contribute enormously to terrorist threats, drug cartel violence, and civil strife throughout the world.

Congress has already recognized that curtailing the use of military-style weapons is reasonable, appropriate, and even life-saving. To now object to a clause that would call upon other governments around the world to do the same is nonsensical at best, and undermines U.S. security interests -- and the lives of U.S. military personnel -- at worst.

Although it is my belief that the United States is not the biggest contributor to the problem of the global proliferation of small arms and light weapons -- the United Nations has found that almost 300 companies in 50 countries now manufacture small arms and related equipment -- in 1999 the U.S. licensed for export more than $470 million in light military weapons.

With the average price of $100-300 per weapon, this represents a huge volume of weapons. And the problem is that in addressing the issue of the international proliferation of small arms and light weapons one cannot simply address the illicit side of the equation without also looking at the interactions between the legal trade and the illegal trade.

In fact, there is good evidence of an increased incidence of U.S. manufactured weapons -- legally manufactured and legally traded or transferred -- flowing into the international black market.

Given this undeniable connection between legal sales and illicit trade, the approach suggested by Mr. Bolton to the Conference -- that it should only address one part of the equation while ignoring the other, appears to me to be untenable.

I would also suggest that certain measures which may be seen by some as constraints on legal manufacture and trade -- such as international agreements for the marking and tracing small arms and light weapons, or seeing that there are international regulations governing the activities of arms brokers -- are in fact wise policy.

Yet, as Mr. Bolton himself points out in his statement, the United States has some of the best laws and regulations on the books regarding the sale and transfers of light weapons. In my view it is clearly in the U.S. interest to see that those standards are replicated by the world community. Mr. Bolton's statement is fulsome in its praise of U.S. brokering regulations. Why do we not want to see others rise to the same standards?

Mr. Bolton's statement cites U.S. regulations governing the transfer of military articles of U.S. origin and U.S. exports of small arms and light weapons. Instead of going it alone -- with limited success even when it comes to some of our closest allies, like the United Kingdom, as the example I cited above indicates - shouldn't we be working to see to it that the rest of the international community adopts similar standards?

In approaching the United Nations Conference, the U.S. government should negotiate and support making the trafficking of small arms traceable, strengthen international regulations of transfers, bolster rules governing arms brokers, and eliminate the secrecy that permits thousands of weapons to fuel crime and war without anyone's knowledge of their source.

We should be taking the lead on this issue based on our foreign policy and national security interests, not taking the NRA line based on domestic political considerations.

And U.S. leadership should ensure that the Conference is the first step, not the last, in the international community's efforts to control the spread of small arms and light weapons. I yield the floor.