Politics & Policy

How the Nazis Used Gun Control

The Weimar Republic’s well-intentioned gun registry became a tool for evil.

The perennial gun-control debate in America did not begin here. The same arguments for and against were made in the 1920s in the chaos of Germany’s Weimar Republic, which opted for gun registration. Law-abiding persons complied with the law, but the Communists and Nazis committing acts of political violence did not.

In 1931, Weimar authorities discovered plans for a Nazi takeover in which Jews would be denied food and persons refusing to surrender their guns within 24 hours would be executed. They were written by Werner Best, a future Gestapo official. In reaction to such threats, the government authorized the registration of all firearms and the confiscation thereof, if required for “public safety.” The interior minister warned that the records must not fall into the hands of any extremist group.

In 1933, the ultimate extremist group, led by Adolf Hitler, seized power and used the records to identify, disarm, and attack political opponents and Jews. Constitutional rights were suspended, and mass searches for and seizures of guns and dissident publications ensued. Police revoked gun licenses of Social Democrats and others who were not “politically reliable.”

During the five years of repression that followed, society was “cleansed” by the National Socialist regime. Undesirables were placed in camps where labor made them “free,” and normal rights of citizenship were taken from Jews. The Gestapo banned independent gun clubs and arrested their leaders. Gestapo counsel Werner Best issued a directive to the police forbidding issuance of firearm permits to Jews.

In 1938, Hitler signed a new Gun Control Act. Now that many “enemies of the state” had been removed from society, some restrictions could be slightly liberalized, especially for Nazi Party members. But Jews were prohibited from working in the firearms industry, and .22 caliber hollow-point ammunition was banned.

The time had come to launch a decisive blow to the Jewish community, to render it defenseless so that its “ill-gotten” property could be redistributed as an entitlement to the German “Volk.” The German Jews were ordered to surrender all their weapons, and the police had the records on all who had registered them. Even those who gave up their weapons voluntarily were turned over to the Gestapo.

This took place in the weeks before what became known as the Night of the Broken Glass, or Kristallnacht, occurred in November 1938. That the Jews were disarmed before it, minimizing any risk of resistance, is the strongest evidence that the pogrom was planned in advance. An incident was needed to justify unleashing the attack.

That incident would be the shooting of a German diplomat in Paris by a teenage Polish Jew. Hitler directed propaganda minister Josef Goebbels to orchestrate the Night of the Broken Glass. This massive operation, allegedly conducted as a search for weapons, entailed the ransacking of homes and businesses, and the arson of synagogues.

SS chief Heinrich Himmler decreed that 20 years be served in a concentration camp by any Jew possessing a firearm. Rusty revolvers and bayonets from the Great War were confiscated from Jewish veterans who had served with distinction. Twenty thousand Jewish men were thrown into concentration camps, and had to pay ransoms to get released.

The U.S. media covered the above events. And when France fell to Nazi invasion in 1940, the New York Times reported that the French were deprived of rights such as free speech and firearm possession just as the Germans had been. Frenchmen who failed to surrender their firearms within 24 hours were subject to the death penalty.

No wonder that in 1941, just days before the Pearl Harbor attack, Congress reaffirmed Second Amendment rights and prohibited gun registration. In 1968, bills to register guns were debated, with opponents recalling the Nazi experience and supporters denying that the Nazis ever used registration records to confiscate guns. The bills were defeated, as every such proposal has been ever since, including recent “universal background check” bills.

As in Weimar Germany, some well-meaning people today advocate severe restrictions, including bans and registration, on gun ownership by law-abiding persons. Such proponents are in no sense “Nazis,” any more than were the Weimar officials who promoted similar restrictions. And it would be a travesty to compare today’s situation to the horrors of Nazi Germany.

Still, as history teaches, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Stephen P. Halbrook is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, in Oakland, Calif., and the author of The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms, Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State,” and the forthcoming Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France: Tyranny and Resistance.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

ABC Chief Political Analyst: GOP Rep. Stefanik a ‘Perfect Example’ of the Failures of Electing Someone ‘Because They Are a Woman’

Matthew Dowd, chief political analyst for ABC News, suggested that Representative Elise Stefanik (R., N.Y.) was elected due to her gender after taking issue with Stefanik's line of questioning during the first public impeachment hearing on Wednesday. “Elise Stefanik is a perfect example of why just electing ... Read More
White House

Trump vs. the ‘Policy Community’

When it comes to Russia, I am with what Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman calls the American “policy community.” Vindman, of course, is one of the House Democrats’ star impeachment witnesses. His haughtiness in proclaiming the policy community and his membership in it grates, throughout his 340-page ... Read More
Law & the Courts

DACA’s Day in Court

When President Obama unilaterally changed immigration policy after repeatedly and correctly insisting that he lacked the constitutional power to do it, he said that congressional inaction had forced his hand. In the case of his first major unilateral move — “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” which ... Read More
White House

Impeachment and the Broken Truce

The contradiction at the center of American politics in Anno Domini 2019 is this: The ruling class does not rule. The impeachment dog-and-pony show in Washington this week is not about how Donald Trump has comported himself as president (grotesquely) any more than early convulsions were about refreshed ... Read More
Books

A Preposterous Review

A   Georgetown University professor named Charles King has reviewed my new book The Case for Nationalism for Foreign Affairs, and his review is a train wreck. It is worth dwelling on, not only because the review contains most of the lines of attack against my book, but because it is extraordinarily shoddy and ... Read More