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"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
UN General Assembly Adopts Illicit Firearms Protocol
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Wade Boese

Without a vote, the UN General Assembly adopted a protocol May 31 targeted at improving cooperation in clamping down on the illegal manufacturing of and trade in firearms. The protocol, which complements an existing UN convention on crime and will be legally binding, calls on states to mark each legally produced, exported, and imported weapon with identifying information and to set up proper licensing and authorization procedures for the commercial export of firearms.

Formally titled the “Protocol Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition,” the protocol will apply to any barreled weapon that can be carried by an individual and uses an explosion to discharge a shot, bullet, or projectile. Countries signing the protocol are to pass legislation criminalizing any illicit manufacturing and trafficking of such firearms, establish an effective export control system, and share information as well as technical experience and training with each other to enable cooperation in preventing illegal shipments of firearms. States-parties will also be expected to keep records for at least 10 years on their marking and transfer activities so that it will be possible to trace the movement of firearms across borders.

The measure, which is focused against organized crime and will not apply to government sales, is considered “law enforcement, not arms control,” according to a U.S. government official. The firearms protocol is the third to complement the November 2000 UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime—the other two are aimed at stopping the smuggling of migrants and the trafficking in persons, particularly women and children.

Originally, the firearms protocol was to be completed at the same time as part of a package, but disagreements concerning how weapons should be marked slowed work on the firearms protocol. China and others that do not use the Roman alphabet did not want to abandon their established marking method, but the United States, among others, worried that multiple marking systems would complicate the tracking of firearms and, if necessary, the prosecution of criminal activities. Eventually, the United States relented, though the protocol states that each firearm produced will be marked with a serial number, name of manufacturer, and country of origin, or “alternative unique user-friendly marking…permitting ready identification by all States of the country of manufacture.”

Modeled on a similar instrument adopted by the Organization of American States in 1997, the UN firearms protocol cannot enter into force until 40 countries have deposited their instruments of ratification and not before the main convention has entered into force. Countries that wish to join the firearms protocol must first join the broader convention.