Behind the Control Arms campaign
The purpose of this article is to present some new research into the recently formed anti-gun campaign, Control Arms and in so doing ask the question: why should anti-gun NGO?s (in some cases funded by the UK taxpayer) with their large budgets and ideological agendas, be permitted to have continuing influence over government policy in relation to firearms, without submitting to public scrutiny.
Mark Govier is a member of Stock Exchange Rifle Club in London and the LEX Pistol Club in Sydney. He is a published researcher in the history of science.
THE CONTROL ARMS CAMPAIGN
The Control Arms Campaign was created in 2003 by the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), Amnesty International (AI) the human rights organization, and the UK humanitarian aid charity Oxfam. All incidentally, and perhaps unsurprisingly given the power of the UK anti-hunting lobby, the (often violent) animal liberation movement, and a history of powerful pacifist movements, are UK based. IANSA has its Secretariat in London, whilst both AI and Oxfam were founded and have their headquarters in the UK. Control Arms Campaign?s two aims, as declared on its website (www.controlarms.org), are: ?international arms treaty to regulate all international arms movements, and for effective arms control at regional, national and community levels. In short, we aim to turn off the irresponsible supply of arms and drain the pool of existing weapons ? without strict control, such weapons will continue to fuel violent conflict, state repression, crime, and domestic abuse?? (My italics)
Founded by noted anti-gun activist Dr Rebecca Peters in 1998, IANSA is a collection of NGO?s subscribing to a strict anti-firearms creed. Members range from the World Council of Churches, to tiny human rights groups, all, according to its website (www.inansa.org/about), ?working to stop the proliferation and misuse of small arms?? IANSA?s Financial Statement for year ending 31 December 2005 (Company number: 04452066) is available via [email protected]). This states its Principal Activity is ?to promote for the public benefit a safer and increased quality of life through public education about small arms and their detrimental effects on human life/existence and security?? (My italics. Page 2) Ultimately, given Dr Peters views, this would lead to a utopian world without small arms. Two of IANSA?S highest profile members are AI and Oxfam, with whom IANSA ?formed a joint campaign?, the Control Arms Campaign.
AI is a registered charity in the UK (no: 294230) whose full details, especially yearly Report and Financial Statements, are available for public scrutiny via the UK Charities Commission website (www.charity-commission.gov.uk). AI is also registered at Companies House as a company limited by guarantee, a common way for NGO?s to conduct their business, liability being limited to a small amount pledged by each of their members. Oxfam (another company limited by guarantee) is also a registered charity in the UK (no: 202918). IANSA, though also a company registered by guarantee, is not registered as a charity, despite having aims that could, in theory, permit it to apply and be granted charity status, with all the benefits this implies.
Scrutiny of AI and Oxfam accounts reveal the following information. (All amounts in UK Pounds Sterling) AI?s income is from membership, or other fund raising activities, or investments made with the funds from both, making it financially independent, a source of pride to both staff and members. In the year 2005/6 AI had a gross income of 13,235,000, well down from its 2003/4 income of 17,423,000; and a total expenditure of 14,725,000, down from its 2003/4 expenditure of 15,974,000. However, any amounts spent on Control Arms Campaign cannot be identified in the balance sheet. Despite its Charitable Object being ?Relief of poverty, overseas aid/famine relief?, Oxfam?s own ?Report for 2003/4, Accounts for year ended 30 April 2004? (www.oxfam.org.uk) states ?we have launched the Control Arms campaign (in October 2003) with AI and IANSA??(Page 12) This pronouncement is in Aim 3: ?Right to life and security?, an aim one would normally associate with public health and humanitarian aid issues. Unlike AI, Oxfam does obtain a significant percentage of its income from governments and other statutory authorities. These are predominantly UK sourced, apart from some income returned from its international arm, Oxfam International. In 2003/4 (the most recent available) 35,800,000 out of the total net income of 117,500,000 came from the UK government and UK statutory sources. (Page 18) Out of the 120,200,000 spent in the period, 40,868,000 went into Aim 3: Life and Security. As with AI, it is not possible to see how much was spent on Control Arms, nor the contribution of the UK taxpayer.
IANSA?s Financial Statement to Companies House for the year ending 31 December 2005 shows a total income of 510,251 with a total expenditure of 505,825. (Page 11) It also provides a list of donors for 2005: ?The UK Global Conflict Prevention Pool, Department for International Development (UK), Christian Aid, Save the Children (Sweden), Novib, the Government of the Netherlands, The Government of Canada, The Government of Norway, the Government of Sweden, and the Government of Switzerland?. (Page 10) Again, it is not possible to identify how much of the budget was spent on Control Arms, nor to know the contribution of the UK taxpayer. Despite rumours to the contrary, American billionaire George Soros does not massively fund IANSA.
The Control Arms Campaign has two parts. The first is the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which aims to bind all arms producing nations into signing a (probably unenforceable) UN agreement to control the export of small arms. The second is reducing the proliferation of small arms within a civilian context. In order to find out more, I contacted (or attempted to) each of the participants.
AMNESTY. In August 2006, I called Steve Ballinger, a listed AI contact for Control Arms. Steve, as with most AI staff, was initially open, accessible, and forthright. In response to my concerns about legal firearms owners enduring further restrictions as a result of campaigns such as Control Arms he stated we had no need to be. He sent me an explanatory email that included the following comment: ?this (ATT) doesn?t specifically touch upon arms being held and used legally and lawfully ? but the campaign is not aimed at people (military, police and private individuals) who hold and use weapons in this way. The campaign is aimed at ensuring that weapons do not get into the hands of human rights abusers?? (My italics) With the email , Steve also included 2 attachments, a copy of a survey conducted as a part of the Campaign : ?Oxfam Arms Trading Charts?, and a Control Arms UK Press Release, giving the UK results of the survey. (Copies of both documents, can be obtained via www.amnesty.org.uk) The survey itself makes no mention of Control Arms Campaign, and the contents are too wide to be able to be fully presented here, however the thrust is this. Oxfam contracted market research companies to ask a series of questions to around 6,000 respondents in 6 countries, 1,000 per country: Brazil, Guatemala, South Africa, India; and the UK and Canada. Many questions revolved around civilian access to firearms under the heading of ?Opinions towards gun crime and arms trading?. The results purport to show that in the UK ?almost 1 in 6 people have seen a gun they understood to be illegal? and that ?60% of people think it is too easy to get a gun in the UK? (Guatemala 77%). Given that the UK has some of the strictest gun legislation in the world, a very low gun homicide rate (knives being far more commonly used), and is not a nation associated with human rights abuses, one wonders not simply about the quality of the sample the survey was using, but also why this (expensive) survey was conducted in the UK at all.
As part of its involvement in Control Arms Campaign, AI commissioned an advertisement / video. Entitled ?Teleshop?, it purports to show how easy it is to purchase AK 47?s (and firearms in general) on line or over the phone, the message being, the arms trade is out of control ? join AI, support the Arms Trade Treaty. (The video can be accessed on www.controlarms.org/teleshop/). But the AK 47 is a Russian, not a UK weapon, generally made in Russia, or by licence to manufacturers in countries Russia has close relations with, eg Venezuela, to whom a licence to manufacture was granted 2006. ?Teleshop? was shown in art house cinemas around London last year. I contacted but two of them: the Prince Charles in Leicester Square, and the Ritzy in Brixton. I spoke to Pearl and Dean advertising executive, Mark Patterson, which handles the Prince Charles advertising, and was advised it would cost 850 pounds per week to show a 30 second ad. ?Teleshop? however is 2 minutes, and Mark advised me the cost would be around 2000 per week, which for a year, is in excess of 100,000. Steve Adams of Carlton, which handles the Ritzy advertising, advised it would cost 366 pounds per week, per screen for a 30 second advertisement. There are, however, 5 screens at the Ritzy, which, for an advertisement lasting 2 minutes, is around 4,000 pounds a week, in excess of 200,000 per year, given ?Teleshop? was shown on each screen, each week. AI also holds a number of fund raising events at the Prince Charles, a cinema that boasts the ?Tarantino Bar?. Thus, prior to watching ?Teleshop?, or perhaps attending an AI fund raising event to ?protect the human?, the audience can sip a beer or coke before larger than life pictures glorifying gun suicide and senseless gun violence.
OXFAM. I called and emailed Oxfam many times, but soon discovered this is a huge and inaccessible bureaucratic organization, with the phone numbers for Control Arms representatives being either not current, or if current, the staff being permanently unavailable. A more general inquiry to Oxfam?s web system led to an automated reply stating research questions cannot be answered. From an aid organization so well supported by the UK taxpayer, this is hardly acceptable.
IANSA. Unlike Oxfam, this is a tiny secretariat based at Development House, a high security ?ethical property? entirely filled with NGO?s. I asked Dr Alan Howard, a research officer, if IANSA?s goal was the disarming of civilians worldwide, and he did not disagree. From then on, Dr Howard became defensive, questioning me, asking why I wanted to know about Control Arms, who did I represent, where would the answers end up, and who I was. Eventually he agreed I could to put some questions to him by email, addressing all the questions he asked, plus including a CV. The questions were :
a) how is the Control Arms Campaign funded, and what proportion of your organization?s budget is used on Control Arms
b) is the Control Arms Campaign a legal entity separate to your organisation
c) does the Control Arms Campaign have a separate budget of its own
d) is the Campaign in a financial relationship to any government or agency
Despite confirming with Dr Howard the email was received, I received no response.
I sent the same questions to AI and Oxfam. Unsurprisingly, all I received was an automated acknowledgement of receipt of the email, with no subsequent response, or answers, as seems to be its modus operandi. Surprisingly AI?s Steve Ballinger, on this occasion, did not respond. Given that neither the UK Charity Commission, nor Company House in the UK has any registration for any organization called Control Arms, and given the wide extent of the campaign, the high public profile of two of the NGO?s involved, and the large sums of money already expended on surveys and advertising, and the involvement of the UK taxpayer, questions of accountability must be raised.
I eventually managed to speak to Nicola East, Communications Officer at AI London. Nicola reiterated that Control Arms was a joint action by AI, IANSA and Oxfam. Given the thrust of the Control Arms / Oxfam Survey was gun crime, a civilian matter, I asked what AI?s position was on media / cinema gun violence. Nicola stated that, as far as she was aware, AI did not have a position on this issue. In relation to the question as to whether AI wanted further restrictions on civilian gun ownership in western democracies, she stated this was a ?difficult question? and referred me to the same Dr Howard who failed to respond to my earlier questions. I mentioned Rwanda, a massacre in which most of the carnage was committed with machetes, and asked whether AI had a policy on restricting the machete trade, given the huge quantity imported from China shortly before the massacres. Once again, Nicola referred me to Dr Howard, adding that AI?s interest is in reducing human rights abuse.
Finally, I visited IANSA?s HQ at Development House, and was fortunate enough to speak in person with Kate Noble, its Communications Officer, in the ground floor reception area. Kate stated IANSA chose AI and Oxfam to be part of a new campaign specifically targeting the Arms Trade Treaty: Control Arms Campaign. I was informed the 3 NGO?s have regular Control Arms meetings, and plan their strategy together in such a way that each NGO makes contributions, eg AI with ?Teleshop? and Oxfam with the survey. Kate was surprised when I informed her insurance premiums for target shooting were far lower than for cricket or table tennis, with all this implies. In fact, it was obvious that Kate had very little knowledge of firearms per see. I left IANSA wondering if an enlightened program to educate NGO staff about the realities of legal firearms ownership and usage could have any benefit.
The ideal of ?democracy? is that governments are elected to make most of the decisions affecting a population, that they are accountable, and that for the most part, their actions and policies are transparent. In the real world, things are much less clear. Much of the impetus for the NGO movement was the perception that large corporations, beholden only to their shareholders, and with undue influence on government policy, were sidelining matters such as human rights and the environment. Thirty years on however, times have changed, with many corporations now permanently looking over their shoulders for NGO?s such as People for Ethical Treatment of Animals and AI. Given NGO accountability is only to their membership, not to a greater public or an electorate, matters such as who is elected to the Secretariat of IANSA, AI, or Oxfam should now be a matter of public concern, especially for shooters and hunters.
The case of AI is illustrative. Formed in 1961 by people who were, not unreasonably, appalled reading of a student in Portugal, then a dictatorship, being sentenced to 7 years prison for raising a glass to toast freedom. AI, however, is now a multi-national company with branch offices in 150 countries, over 2 million members, and a world-class PR section. By joining IANSA, and becoming a leading member of Control Arms, AI has thus extended its brief to include civilian disarmament. In the UK, AI, due to its falling income, is engaged in a high profile membership drive, going so far as placing slick (and expensive) ?Join AI: Protect the Human? advertisements on London Underground escalators and train hoardings. Ironically, the current AI Secretariat is simultaneously attempting to convince existing worldwide membership to approve their plan to include abortion as a part of an extended concept of Human Rights, creating considerable concern and distress amongst its large following of Christians.
Much more objective research into anti-gun NGO?s is needed not simply to comprehend, but also to engage their now excessive influence on public policy with respect to firearms and hunting. As with AI, which started off as a genuine response to what many people in the UK would regard as ?injustice?, the NGO movement has become a self-perpetuating grasping for greater influence and power (aka ?mission creep?), without public accountability, to such an extent it calls into question its integrity. That the UK government currently directly funds Control Arms Campaign, with its domestic disarmament agenda, via Oxfam and IANSA also needs to be questioned.