Beginning this week, and running through July 23, the United Nations will hold back-to-back meetings of the Preparatory Committee for the Arms Trade Treaty. The Preparatory Committee will discuss the content of the treaty, in advance of a meeting of the Conference in 2012 to finalize the treaty and open it for ratification.

This treaty is purportedly intended to address the “absence of commonly agreed international standards for the transfer of conventional arms” which, it is argued, contributes to war, crime, and terrorism. On October 14, 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the United States would seek a “strong international standard” in the control of the conventional arms trade by “seizing the opportunity presented by the Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations.”

Recently, a chain e-mail has been making the rounds claiming that the Arms Trade Treaty—which it mistakenly calls the “small arms treaty” —is the “first major step in a plan to ban all firearms in the United States.” The mistake is understandable: there are a lot of small, conventional arms control treaties and discussions out there. There’s CIFTA from the Organization of American States; There’s the U.N. Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons; and there’s the U.N.’s Arms Trade Treaty.

The claims that the chain e-mail makes are, at best, impossible to verify. But that does not mean that the Arms Trade Treaty is a good idea. Indeed, it poses a series of dangers — to American rights, to the interests of the United States, and to effective and serious diplomacy. As the meetings of the Preparatory Committee continue, Heritage will be keeping a close eye on this treaty process—and on the other, similar treaties—and judge the outcome by how successful the process is in avoiding these dangers.