Stephen P. Halbrook’s Gun Control in the Third Reich is a book that every advocate of “gun control” in the modern U.S. and elsewhere should read – but almost certainly never will.
Most other historians have ignored or outright suppressed the role of weapons law and weapons confiscations in the Nazi imposition of totalitarianism on Germany before World War II. Thus it is forgotten that the legal pretext for the infamous Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938 was the confiscation of all firearms from Jewish owners. And that most of the first major wave of Jews sent to the concentration camps went there on charges of illegal possession of weapons.
Gun control was not an incidental feature of Nazi tyranny, it was one of the central tools of totalitarian repression and genocide. If Halbrook’s book had no other virtues, the reminder of this stark fact would be enough to recommend it.
Halbrook studiously avoids explicitly drawing any direct lessons for our time from the Nazi revolution. He doesn’t have to; the bare chronicle of what occurred is telling enough.
It is commonly argued today that civilian firearms can do nothing to prevent tyranny because the armed citizen is helpless against the military and law-enforcement machinery of the modern state. But the Nazis never belived this; Adolf Hitler said in 1942 “The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to permit the conquered […] peoples to have arms. History teaches that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by doing so.
Halbrook shows how the Nazis treated the Germans themselves as “conquered people”; they took the prospect of armed resistance very seriously and acted with brutal efficiency to thwart it it by disarming any civilian they identified as a political enemy or potential rebel. In this they were successful; while armed anti-Nazi resistance movements sprung up all over the rest of Europe, there were none in Germany where weapon controls had been tightest.
The Nazis built their edifice of repression on a law of the preceding Weimar Republic requiring universal weapons registration. The law’s architects realized that these records could be dangerous in the hands of “extremist groups” and required them to be securely stored at police stations. This proved extremely convenient for the Nazis, who used the registration records as a targeting list.
The lesson for today is clear: the individual right to bear arms has to be defended with zeal even when a nation’s political circumstances look relatively benign. By the time the will to repression takes visible form, opposing gun control has already been deferred too long.
There is a postscript to this story that Halbrook does not tell. Textual comparison of the U.S. Gun Control Act of 1968 with the Nazi Weapons Law of 1938 shows that the logic and in many parts the text of the GCA was a direct translation from the German.
Poignantly, the organization that compiled this evidence is Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. Their motto: “Never Again!”