UNITED NATIONS -- Britain, Japan, Australia and others are pushing for an unprecedented treaty regulating the arms trade worldwide, in a campaign sure to last years and to pit them against a determined American foe, the National Rifle Association.
In what U.N. officials say is an "overwhelming" response, almost 100 governments have submitted ideas for such a treaty, to be reviewed over the next year. There's an "extremely urgent" need for controls on the international gun trade, says Kenya, echoing the sentiment in much of guns-besieged Africa.
But in the U.S., the NRA says it sees a creeping attempt to limit civilian gun ownership within nations -- even though the focus now is on setting standards for arms exports and imports.
The international issues "necessarily will come to involve at some point domestic laws and policies regarding firearms," said former congressman Bob Barr, a leading NRA voice on the subject.
"That's not what we're looking at here," countered Greg Puley, of the Control Arms coalition of pro-treaty advocacy groups. "The point is to control trade in weapons that contribute to conflict and atrocities."
The NRA and other U.S. gun lobbyists have helped blunt earlier efforts at the United Nations to rein in the weapons trade. Last December, the U.S. delegation cast the lone negative vote when 153 nations approved a General Assembly resolution initiating this new treaty process.
Now, alone among the world's top 10 arms suppliers, the United States -- by far the biggest, with almost $13 billion in arms export agreements in 2005 -- has not filed a requested report to the United Nations with its views on a treaty.
"The United States has not yet decided whether it will or will not participate in [the review], and thus we will have no submission at this time," Richard Kidd, a deputy assistant secretary of state said.
The treaty campaign may encounter resistance beyond Washington as well. The reports from Russia and China, two other big arms exporters, offered only lukewarm endorsement for stricter controls.
"This is just the beginning of the process. There will be a lot said on the issue," noted Pamela Maponga, conventional arms chief in the U.N. Disarmament Affairs Office.
Britain, a $3-billion-a-year arms exporter, has spearheaded the effort with a half-dozen co-sponsoring nations.