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.”
Never forget.

Your rating: None
Alex R. Knight III's picture
Columns on STR: 153

Alex R. Knight III is the author of numerous horror, science-fiction, and fantasy tales.  He has also written and published poetry, non-fiction articles, reviews, and essays for a variety of venues.  He currently lives and writes in rural southern Vermont where he holds a B.A. in Literature & Writing from Union Institute & University.  Alex's Amazon page can be found here, and his work may also be found at both Smashwords and Barnes & Noble.  His MeWe group can be found here.


Paul's picture

Everyone should be armed. It is madness to entrust one's personal security to the murderous state.

Alex R. Knight III's picture

True that.

Jim Davies's picture

Good job here, Alex. I had not realized that the gun controls were in place before the Nazis took over; I'd thought they were instigated by Hitler.
Did you find in the book any reference to what I thought was the widepread, open use of guns by the Nazi SA before he was elected? - they marched and bullied extensively, I thought with rifles on the shoulder. But if those were all verboten in the Weimar republic, how was that possible? - the SA was not then a State outfit.
By the way (I'm an ex-IBMer) do you feel that a government contractor or supplier should be held responsible for the use to which customers put their products? One can refuse to accept government orders (I did, later, in my small business) but if they are accepted, surely the whole responsibility for use lies with the purchaser? The question becomes the more acute when recalling the orders for unusual quantities of bug poison ordered from I G Farben.

Alex R. Knight III's picture

Armed SA squads were indeed part of the Weimar political unrest the fledgling post-war government couldn't hope to control, and most of their futile efforts to do so were instigated by Allied pressure.
I do feel that any contractor or business that provides products to governments should be expected to know that whatever is supplied will be put to detrimental -- if not in fact nefarious -- ends.  Yes, I think we can safely hold them liable for seeking profits from such a customer base.  In the case of IBM, it's pretty clear that it was known what all the early vacuum-tube computers and punch cards sold to Hitler would be used for.  The tattoos on the arms of camp inmates were the numbers fed into IBM machines for tracking and informational purposes.  Today, there are RFID chips....

Jim Davies's picture

Early computers didn't surface until 1945, but you're right about punched-card tabulators, sorters etc. I believe those were also the main products sold to the FedGov to facilitate its Vietnam war, under the euphemism of "Defense."  Through the 60s and 70s, though, I recall that IBM sales to government were only about 10% of its business.
The standard you name poses an ethical dilemma to multi-customer firms. At the start of the extraordinary documentary The Wannsee Conference (a must-see movie now on YouTube) the camera pans along a line of radiators of cars driven to the meeting by top Nazis; Mercedes of course, and Auto Union, later Audi, and... Ford. Is Ford to blame for selling cars to members of the German government?
In my Transition to Liberty I visualize that after learning what freedom and government really are, government workers will quit - about 20 million of them. Progressively, of course. Then in addition there are many more millions working in contractor firms, and I suggest they too will quit if more than half of their working day is devoted to government contracts. Very roughly, I counted the total all told at about 40 million. A great deal of job-changing to take place! Those in contractor firms like Boeing would not necessarily have to quit the firm, though; a lot of them will apply for and be given transfers to divisions that serve the non-government market, like airlines in that case.

Samarami's picture
    " you feel that a government contractor or supplier should be held responsible for the use to which customers put their products?..."

Interesting but important question that became lost in the "rights" squabble. But it's a topic that should possibly be at the very top of anarchist and libertarian discussion forums. Because it asks us to get to the bottom of our understanding of what it actually means to be free, to promote liberty, and to grasp and promote "self-ownership" concepts (I refrained from "right of self-ownership" because we've already bloodied each other over that one).

I think, unless I choose to judge you and/or others (I don't), the question must be rephrased:

    " a libertarian or anarchist, do you feel it incumbent upon yourself to refuse to accept orders for products you think (or suspect) might be used nefariously?..."

Because I'd be fearful that those "...holding (the seller) responsible..." would feed from the same nosebag of those placing the orders in question.

It opens up discussion of many highly sensitive issues we've engaged in on STR over the years: displaying and/or promoting religious faith, displaying and/or promoting atheism, accepting "social security" monthly payments and/or other government "benefits". Even driving on government highways and streets. We had one guy a few years ago who insisted one cannot be free and libertarian while in possession of a government-issued drivers license. This was the same guy who challenged me over my proclamation, "I do not have the right to walk barefoot in the woods" (I had been droning on about dealing with or avoiding police with the same caution that I use to avoid rattlesnakes). He convinced me that I DO have the right to walk barefoot in the woods. I think that might have been about the time I decided that it is more appropriate (for me) to use "choices" in lieu of "rights" to sidestep the appearance of servitudinalism (my new word).

I choose to wear high boots to the woods to reduce the chance of snakebite. But I have the right not to do so.

The question not only addresses accepting government contracts and "benefits", but also spills over into other dilemmas: accepting orders for wedding cakes if I believe the customers are homosexual, or if I suspect the cake might promote and encourage behaviors in which I might not approve. And it could include the probity of selling alcohol and tobacco to children, which gets into ascertaining just when an individual ceases to be a child and enters adulthood. And " parents 'own' their children?..."

We've discussed many of these topics over the years without rancor. Debilitating rancor, I mean. Because many of the discussions get quite animated.

I'd enjoy seeing it happen again. Sam

Paul's picture

"I had not realized that the gun controls were in place before the Nazis took over; I'd thought they were instigated by Hitler."

One has to be pretty far from the gun culture to admit such ignorance - not to mention, not even realizing how devastating such an admission is. It is almost the central point of JPFO for example; how could anyone not know it?

Oh, well, I still think everyone should be armed, even such clueless individuals as Davies. Maybe he will venture into a gun store some day and buy himself a pellet gun.

Jim Davies's picture

Unfortunately the link you gave led to a JPFO page that promotes a book about the "Nazi gun law of 1938" that offers proof that later US anti-gun laws had their roots in its wording. I'd heard of that.
1938 is not 1928, though; your digit slipped. The Nazis were in charge by 1938, but not in 1928. The point of my confession was that I'd not realized the prohibitions pre-dated Hitler. Perhaps I gained that mistaken impression from the very page to which you led us.
But that wouldn't be the first time your errors have led STReaders astray.

Paul's picture

If you had read the book, rather than just responding to a picture, you'd see the narrative begins with 1928, not 1938. There is actually more material dealing with the 1928 and 1931 laws than with the 1938 law (if you leave out the comparison of the 1938 law with the 1968 USGCA). How predictable your response was.

I see they are out of stock. If you want to bother with actually reading it, go on Amazon.

Jim Davies's picture

Having read Halbrook's book, Alex, would guns have been any use, in your opinion, in preventing or moderating the Holocaust?
Suppose the Wiemar / Nazi gun prohibitions had not been enacted, or suppose they had been widely ignored, especially by Jews. How would that have affected the ultimate outcome, aka the Final Solution?
It began slowly, recall, as government tyranny usually does; how to boil a frog. Jews were prevented from holding responsible jobs, then from marrying Aryans, then were deprived of property - but allowed to emigrate. Only later, after the US entered the war and Jews could no longer be used as bargaining chips, did the large-scale systematic slaughter begin.
So at what stage would a gun in the household have stopped that progression?
Would a University lecturer have shot his Chancellor upon being told he was being fired by order of the government pursuant to the Nürnberg laws? Would he have shot the SA troopers when they arrived to evict his family from their home (when he would certainly have been heavily out-gunned)?
Or would German Jews have organized some kind of militia to fight the army and police, in the hope of overthrowing the government?  Bear in mind Tandy's warning about the futility of armed revolt. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943 was amazing and heroic and used only a handful of stolen guns, but still 13,000 Jews were killed and transports to the death camps were not stopped. Had they all been armed it might have had a better outcome, but how could they possibly have taken guns with them from home to ghetto, when all they were allowed was a suitcase or two?
This is not for a moment to discourage anyone from owning guns if he so wishes, merely to question their utility in terminating government or even in defending oneself from its predations.