Book Review – Gun Control in the Third Reich

Last year during a debate with a gun-control advocate in an online forum, my opponent asserted that there was no gun control in Nazi Germany. His statement took me by surprise, because how else would the Nazis have been able to control the population and later enslave and massacre conquered subjects? Because I had always thought that Nazi Germany must have had gun control, I felt the need to look into the subject further to ascertain the truth.

Halbrook Book Cover

Fortunately, I did not have to look far. Stephen P. Halbrook of the Independent Institute has written a book called Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State”. This book, rich in historical research, proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Germany of Adolf Hitler did indeed have very strict gun control laws.  The book further proves that gun ownership registries enabled the Nazi authorities to confiscate legally owned firearms from citizens, especially Jews.

Part I – The Weimar Republic

 The Weimar Republic was formed in Germany in the aftermath of their defeat in World War One and the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm. Germany, which had only become a united country less than 100 years before, had no strong tradition of private gun ownership and certainly no enumerated rights to keep and bear arms.

The government, wasting no time, declared a state of emergency and set a deadline of December 14, 1918 for the “…surrender of arms. Anyone in illegal possession of a firearm after the deadline expired would be subject to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 marks.” In addition, the victorious allies (Great Britain, France and the United States) were pressuring Germany to disarm. Manufacturing and importation of arms was prohibited.

Because of a patchwork of laws enacted by the various German states and confusion regarding enforcement of laws, in 1928 the Weimar government enacted “The Law on Firearms and Ammunition”. In part, the Weimar leaders acted on the “…illusion that power would be exercised for the common good. They did not anticipate losing power and a new regime’s seizing power and using the Weimar laws to repress the citizenry at large.”   Another feature of the Weimar law is that it targeted specific ethnic groups, such as Gypsies and Jews.

Another prominent feature of the 1928 law was the creation of a national gun registry. This registry, as we shall see, was used to enable the Nazis to confiscate guns from German citizens after they took power. This alone is proof that while the intention behind the creation of a gun registry can be benign, in the end it becomes a great tool for evil.

 Part II – The Rise of the Nazi Party and Hitler

 The 1920s and early 1930s in Germany were a difficult time, with economic difficulties and social unrest. Hitler’s National Socialists (Nazis) and Communists were battling in the streets and the ballot boxes over who would end up ruling the country. As everyone knows, the Nazis won that battle and Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, second only to President Paul Hindenburg, in January 1933.

At the time of Hitler’s ascension to office, the 1928 law had been in effect for five years. Private ownership of guns was strictly limited, and persons who were of certain ethnic or political groups were forbidden arms altogether.

In particular, Jews were forbidden to own firearms, as the author points out in this paragraph:

“Pursuant to the 1931 decree [requiring the registration of guns] various jurisdictions required that all firearms, ammunition, and other weapons be registered with the police. In 1938, just before the Night of Broken Glass, Berlin’s records were available to identify Jewish firearm owners.”

One of the ironies of the registration law was that many of the Weimar Republic leaders had their firearms confiscated after the Nazis came to power. Confiscation was not a matter of pleasant police officers showing up at somebody’s house and asking politely for their guns. Instead, confiscation “included police searches of persons and houses to seize weapons, which led to armed clashes and deaths.”

Once Hitler came to power, the Nazis used the laws enacted by the Weimar Republic to embark on an aggressive program to disarm the “enemies of the State”. This generally meant anybody who was not a Nazi party member, police or military official or soldier. Private firearms ownership, already sharply curtailed, became nearly impossible. Any shooting clubs or organizations that had existed before were absorbed by the Nazis.

Part III – Assuming Complete Control

 After President Paul Hindenburg died, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party seized complete power in Germany. Though democratically elected, through manufactured crises and backroom deals, Hitler was able to seize complete power and declare himself the Furher, or “Ultimate Leader”. In 1933 the legislative body of Germany – the Reichstag – voted to give plenary power to Hitler and then dissolved itself.

In the six years between Hitler’s assumption of power and the beginning of World War Two, the Nazi party systematically took over all aspects of German life and culture. People and groups deemed “Untermensch” (subhuman) were gradually stripped of their rights, disarmed (often using gun registries mentioned earlier) and shipped to concentration camps or, if they were lucky, fled Germany.

This section of the book describes the rise of the Gestapo as a private and superior police force, answerable only to the Nazi party and Hitler. Vivid descriptions abound of how Jews were deemed enemies of the state and stripped of their arms; of how shooting clubs were disbanded or brought under Nazi control, and how terrorist acts committed by Jews outside Germany were used to justify ever-increasing persecution of Jews within Germany.Hitler_on_gun_control

The chapter on the Gestapo concludes with this chilling paragraph:

“In sum, the Hitler dictatorship viewed private gun owners and gun clubs with suspicion, and the Gestapo used different tactics to bring them under total control or to disarm them altogether. Armed Jews were demonized in propaganda campaigns as dangerous to the state…Protest was not an option, and no recourse existed. By the time the National Socialist police state had been in power for half a decade, it was approaching near-complete control of firearms possession and use by the populace. But on this and every other aspect of life, the worst was yet to come.”

One can draw a parallel between today’s increasingly lawless Obama administration and the “incredibly shrinking rule of law in Nazi Germany” described in the chapter entitled “Hitler’s Gun Control Act”. In this chapter, Halbrook describes how even though formal laws enforced by ordinary police were still important and adjudicated by courts, they could be ignored in cases where the Gestapo chose to intervene.

Through this chapter the ways that National Socialism exploited divisions in German society are described and aptly summed up in words attributed to German pastor Martin Niemoller:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was not one left to speak for me.

Part IV – The Night of Broken Glass

Prior to the German pogrom known to history as Reichskristallnacht, the arrest of a Berlin Jew named Alfred Flatow is described. Flatow, a former Olympian, was arrested even though he was in legal possession of a firearm which he had duly registered with the authorities in compliance with the law. He was just one of many Jews disarmed throughout Germany in the months leading up to the pogrom.

The remainder of this part describes the incidents leading to and encompassing the Night of Broken Glass. Halbrook also discusses why there was no German resistance and how, because the population was largely disarmed, effective resistance was not possible. The same has been true in every other dictatorship in modern history. A disarmed citizenry is powerless to protect itself. It is for this reason that the Framers of the American Constitution wrote the Second Amendment into that document.

 Observations and Conclusions

 The Germans were well-known for detailed and thorough record-keeping. This book draws upon the wealth of historical evidence left behind by German authorities during the early part of the 20th century, and is thoroughly and exhaustively referenced. There can be no doubt in anybody’s mind that gun control was a very real part of German life before the Nazis came to power and much more so after.

Because of gun control, the German population was unable to develop any sort of effective resistance to the Nazi government. The fact that Jews in particular were targeted for disarmament was a direct cause of their persecution and extermination throughout the 12 years of the Third Reich.

The tragic history of Nazi Germany is only a part of the epic tale of death at the hands of governments in the 20th century. As Professor Rudy Rummel has noted, over 260 million people in the 20th century were killed at the hands of their governments in accordance with their sovereign laws. The one thing that all these countries have in common is that the populace was disarmed and people were unable to effectively defend themselves. Only the police and military had guns, and wholesale murder was the result.

German officers shooting Jewish prisoner during World War II
German officers shooting Jewish prisoner during World War II

It is for this reason alone that America should cherish and vigorously guard the tradition of the Second Amendment and citizen ownership of weapons. It is sadly true that with guns in society, tragic things happen – the mass shooting, the gang-related mayhem, the occasional angry outburst, and similar incidents. Just as our society tolerates a certain level of drunk driving deaths as the price of having legal alcohol, these unfortunate deaths are, in my opinion, the price we pay in order to avoid the possibilities of tyranny and genocide.

As Pastor Niemoller said: “When they came for me…”

By Richard D. Turnquist

July 14, 2014

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