Friday, May 17, 2013

Treaties And Powers

By Dave Dargo

There's a lot of noise about the United States signing the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty.  This treaty passed the United Nations General Assembly 153-4, with the United States voting in favor and several countries abstaining.

Some are arguing that President Obama will not sign the treaty and others are claiming that it's a done deal that the President will sign it.  If President Obama signs the treaty then it will require approval of two-thirds of the Senate in order for it to become binding on the United States.  In the latter article, Amnesty International argues that the concerns raised by those opposed to further infringements of their gun rights are "rooted in baseless assertions about the treaty's reach into domestic gun control regulations."

After all, those supporting the treaty say, we still have the U.S. Constitution that will protect the rights of the American citizen in her endeavor to keep and bear arms.  Never mind that there are a slew of laws being introduced nationally and locally that are designed to infringe on those rights; we should be comforted by those who would sign such a treaty when they tell us not to worry.

We could debate on-and-on about the efficacy of the treaty.  It's perfectly reasonable to argue that enforcement of such a treaty is likely to embolden and strengthen the efforts of tin-hat dictators as the people within their countries will have little chance of obtaining the necessary tools in order to fight for their freedom.

However, this blog entry isn't about the treaty itself.  Rather it is about a much larger issue that is highlighted in a case before the United States Supreme Court, Bond v. United States.  I've argued, on a sound foundational basis I might add, that the national government does not have any powers not specifically granted to it in the U.S. Constitution.

Carol Ann Bond is a 42 year old woman who lived with her husband and adopted child.  She was happy when her close friend, Myrlinda Haynes, became pregnant until she found out the father of Myrlinda's child was her, Carol's, own husband.  Carol decided to get even and purchased some chemicals in order to poison Myrlinda, although the undisputed evidence shows that Carol had no intent to kill Myrlinda.  Carol was unable to deliver the poison as she intended.  Carol likely violated one or more Pennsylvania statutes and accepted full responsibility for her actions.  However, instead of allowing local law enforcement to handle this domestic dispute federal prosecutors decided to charge Carol with violation of a federal law designed to implement the United States' treaty obligations under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.

Carol was charged with a federal law for her locally confined actions.  No one has argued that the national government has the power to intervene in this local issue except for the fact that a federal law was passed in order to implement a treaty obligation and a federal prosecutor decided to charge Carol with violation of that federal law.

The case before the Supreme Court isn't about Carol's conviction or whether or not she deserves to be punished for her actions.

The case before the Supreme Court is whether a treaty can give powers to the federal government that they didn't already have, in this case the power to go after someone for attempting to poison one of their, presumably former, friends.

This is where the mundane becomes exciting.  Can a treaty increase the powers of the national government?  I and many others would argue, no, it can not.  A treaty can not expand the power of the national government.

Imagine if the opposite were true, that a treaty could expand the power of the national government.  If such a scenario were true then it would only take 2/3 of the U.S. Senate and a signature from the President of the United States to do what would normally take those same signatures PLUS the approval of 3/4 of the states, 38 of the 50 - the process to amend the U.S. Constitution.  The absurdity of such a power would eviscerate the process we have implemented in order to only grant powers to the national government via the approval of the people.  A national government wanting increased powers would merely need to find a willing international partner with whom it could create a treaty and then get the treaty through the Senate.

Now, let's tie these two stories together.  The thought that the United States will become a signatory to the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty combined with the belief by some that a treaty gives the national government expanded powers and you have a volatile combination as seen by those of us who tire of governmental overreach.

Is it any wonder that gun owners are skeptical of the "just trust us" crowd in Washington, D.C. who claim that this treaty would pose no danger to our gun rights while simultaneously arguing before the Supreme Court that the national government can do whatever it wants in order to meet the obligations of an international treaty?  Remember, this is happening at the same time that the "just trust us" crowd is failing to get their gun control measures through both houses of Congress.

I'm not inclined to just trust anyone, especially those who've shown a penchant for continued power grabs and overreach into our daily lives.

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