"Socialism of any type leads to a total destruction of the human spirit." ~ Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Gun Control in the Third Reich
Column by Alex R. Knight III.
Exclusive to STR
It is perhaps apropos – with gun control hysteria reaching a feverish pitch as society pushes towards another bi-annual rat-on-a-treadmill November bean counting -- that I just recently got around to reading Stephen P. Halbrook’s 2013 literary offering, Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State”. The book offers a first of its kind, well-researched look at the rise of Nazi Germany along the timeline of Reich gun laws from the days preceding the political significance of Hitler’s regime, through the final devastating days of World War Two in Europe.
The book’s real-life saga opens with the post-World War One Weimar Republic of 1918 -- a shattered and defeated Germany in utter economic and social chaos. In this atmosphere, a multitude of widely scattered upstart political movements vied for control over the rubble and ashes. Impossible to ignore at any event, the fledgling Weimar democracy – marshalled by the victorious Allies -- sought to address such a volatile environment by imposing outright firearm bans, beginning in 1919. The predictable result of this, of course, was that such bans proved wholly ineffectual and were largely ignored – in particular by communist and other left-wing organizations, fueled by Stalin’s Comintern. Indeed, in Hamburg, in 1923, communist insurgents raided several police stations, seizing weapons and munitions – though this rebellion was ultimately crushed.
Reich firearms laws, in fact, remained exceedingly vague, contradictory, arbitrary, and selectively enforced until 1928, when the Law on Firearms and Ammunition was enacted. Unsurrendered guns pursuant to the 1919 laws were given clemency, but the acquisition of new ones, or ammunition, now required licensing – as did manufacture and sales of new firearms. The first elements of racial profiling also appeared in German gun law, wherein those defined as “gypsies” were barred from legal gun ownership. This was, naturally, a mere shadow of what was to come.
The 1928 law, however, did little to curb violent misuse of firearms, and – as is the case with all such ill-conceived government edicts – served only to victimize those who humbly submitted to state will, while politically charged fighting and rioting continued to plague Germany well into the post-Great War years. Enter the Great Depression, exacerbated by the harsh reparation terms of the Versailles Treaty, and Weimar politicians, blindly pinwheeling for solutions, turned recklessly to the worst possible medicine for the problems of rising crime and political unrest: More ineffectual gun control laws. Namely, gun registration.
Enacted in late 1931, not long before Hitler would become chancellor and the Nazi Party would proclaim a political monopoly for itself in the Reichstag, near-universal registration of personal firearms was characterized (as might well be expected) as a crime fighting measure. In addition, in 1932 – and with ominously ironic foreshadowing – the German interior minister ordered that the lists of gun registrants be securely stored so that they could not fall into the hands of “radical elements.” He also issued an alleged promise of a “very high level of security of the data.”
All of this would become utterly meaningless, of course, when in less than a year’s time Hitler and his underlings would order the cross-referencing of said gun registration lists with both new and old state registry office census data which – with the help of punchcards courtesy of IBM corporation’s German subsidiary – enabled the Nazi authorities to identify Jews, as well as others considered, for whatever reasons they cared to formulate, “politically unreliable.”
The all-out war against private ownership of firearms thus intensified, on the basis of both racial and ideological grounds. By 1938, as the Second World War rolled into view behind the scenes, the Nazi drive for total gun confiscation had kicked into high gear. Banned persons – those considered “unreliable,” which would ultimately include nearly every German not in government uniform – were threatened with no less than 20 years in a concentration camp for refusing or neglecting to turn in their guns to the State. Which was simply a more involved and tortuous path to the alternate penalty the Nazis proscribed for unauthorized gun ownership: Immediate execution.
This unremittingly militant and brutal repression, fueled of course by Nazi paranoia at the slightest chance that an armed resistance movement might coalesce to counter the deportation of Jews and others to the extermination camps of Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen, continued straight through to the final days of the regime’s ability to exercise its power as it crumbled under Allied assault in 1945. By then, of course, millions of disarmed human beings – many of whom had willingly complied with German law from the time of the first Weimar gun registrations – had been gassed, shot, hung, or otherwise worked, beaten, and starved to death at the hands of their Nazi captors. And all of it made possible by the gullible naïveté of bureaucrats – many of whom themselves ended up disarmed and exterminated – who believed they were creating a safer society through gun registration and other restrictions on the sale and ownership of firearms.
Numerous fine organizations today exist to remind us in no ambiguous terms of the danger inherent to government restrictions on gun ownership, as does Halbrook’s equally important book. It is a must read, must have for anyone serious about acquiring a working knowledge of history in relation to victim disarmament. To be sure, there are – sadly and inexcusably -- numerous other examples of tyranny and genocide made possible by gun control, right up to the present time. And while some may draw a comparable parallel with what took place in Germany and later, Nazi occupied Europe, between 1918 and 1945, none can claim to be more heinous in nature.
All, of course, have come as the result of governments.
Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist and survivor of the Nazi camps, in his 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning, concludes with these lines:
“Auschwitz showed us what man is capable of. Hiroshima showed us what’s at stake.”