My wife, Diane, and I traveled to New York City in June to participate as representatives of what the UN refers to as “civil society” in “The Sixth Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the Programme of Action
to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects,”
which is quite a mouthful, and which is generally known among interested parties as BMS6
. The term “Illicit Trade” refers to the sales of arms to organizations or states that the seller knows, or reasonably should know, are likely to use these weapons to commit criminal acts or otherwise abuse human rights. “Small arms” include everything from handguns to fully automatic machine guns that can be carried by a single person, while “light weapons” include heavier machine guns, portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, and small mortars. For the most part, though, the damage done by small arms and light weapons is done with types of guns that are readily available for purchase by most civilians in the USA
and which the US
also exports en masse
The “Programme of Action (POA)” was agreed to by all participants in a UN small arms conference in 2001 as a minimum standard to which all nations should adhere in order to reduce the illicit international trade in small arms. UN member nations send delegates every two years to discuss what progress, if any, is being made on the POA. The discussions that occurred on the floor of the UN during the week that BMS6 was in session from June 6-10 were, for the most part, rather tedious. Delegates addressed one another with stilted terms such as “his excellency” while debating the minutia of individual words in the “outcome document,” a summary of the consensus reached at the meeting. An objection by just one nation is enough to change the wording. For example, the issue of whether the outcome document should include any reference to “gender” was debated at length. In the end, it was considered a major victory for the more progressive member states when it was agreed that the outcome document would acknowledge that the illicit trade in small arms has implications for realization of several of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, including “gender equality.”
Occasionally, the discussions on the floor of the UN during BMS6 became more interesting, as when the Ukrainian and Russian delegates exchanged pointed barbs regarding the conflict in the Ukraine
. Such exchanges demonstrated the importance of the UN in providing a venue where nations can work out their differences with words rather than settling them on the battle field. And as with other UN conferences, much of the real diplomatic work is carried on outside the conference room.
For Diane and me, the most exciting and rewarding part of participating in BMS6 was to meet other people from around the world who believe, as we do, that we must substantially reduce the world wide glut of weapons if we are ever to achieve any of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. We met daily with fellow members of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and quickly developed close friendships. Many IANSA members have been personally affected by gun violence, including Irene from Ghana whose husband was shot and killed in front of her and her four year old son; and Alex from Guatemala who has been paralyzed below the waist since age 14 as a result of a gunshot wound. Despite the challenges that many of our fellow IANSA members faced in their own countries and in just getting to the UN, they were remarkably upbeat and optimistic. Alex showed us pictures of his new baby, and Ansel, from Jamaica
, whose son was killed by gunfire in the prime of his life, wore brightly colored ceremonial garb and teased Diane and me daily about my own conservative attire.
Sadly, the United States
played largely an obstructionist role at BMS6, as it has at previous biennial meetings. The US
is the world’s largest exporter of small arms and light weapons, just as it is with other larger weapons of mass destruction. When I asked the US
delegate why the US
in objecting to any mention of ammunition in the BMS6 outcome document, he replied, “Do you realize how many billions of rounds of ammunition we sell abroad every year?” Space limitations in this newsletter do not allow me to print my reply, which I will leave to the reader’s imagination.
I had the honor of being asked to speak on panels at two of the BMS6 side events, including one hosted by the Swedish embassy. The Swedish ambassador asked me, “What can our country do to be more effective in reducing small arms violence?’ I replied, “Carefully study what the United States
does, and then do the opposite.”
Diane and I returned from NYC on the evening of Saturday, June 11, weary but inspired by the many wonderful, dynamic people we’d met at BMS6. We awoke Sunday morning to the news of the Orlando
Working through organizations like the Sacramento chapters of the United Nations Association and Physicians for Social Responsibility, as well as through the new non-profit organization, Americans Against Gun Violence (aagunv.org
), that UNA Sacramento President Kate Van Buren and I just helped co-found, we can – and must – stop the shameful epidemic of gun violence that afflicts our own country at the same time that we stop exporting gun violence abroad.