The U.S. has reached that point in its history that its political state can be credibly compared with that of Weimar Germany, especially in regards to the issue of gun control. The Republic was governed, between 1919 and 1933, by a hodge-podge of political parties, every one of them statist, that is, their iron-clad premise was that the rights and privileges of citizens emanated from the government, and were not inherent. Lip service was paid to a citizen’s liberty. The Weimar government tried to balance these “traditional” rights with the powers the government asserted were necessary to protect the state and “the people.”
Principals of the Weimar government tried to reach a compromise with the most feared and violent of the “new” political parties, first, with the Communists, then with the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP, or the Nazis). The “moderate” and “conservative” principals lost because the Nazis were more consistent in their political philosophy and their ends, which meant total power over the country, or totalitarianism. In fact, the “moderates” and “conservatives” shared many key premises with their enemies, just as the Republicans share them with the Democrats and Progressives today.
In the U.S., “traditional” rights that were recognized as inherent rights possessed by the individual are being ignored, ruled invalid, or superseded and usurped by “Homeland Security” concerns. These genuine rights were expressed and recognized in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Statist policies over the last century or so conflicted with individual rights and will continue to be in conflict. The Democrats and the Republicans are at comparable odds with the Communists and Socialists of the Weimar and the conservative “traditionalists.”
It was the Weimar Reichstag that passed laws that forbade “extremists” from purchasing, owning, or using a variety of firearms. And it was on such legislation that the Nazis later based their own firearms restrictions – and outright bans – to forestall any resistance to the Führer’s and the Party’s will. The Nazis relied more on the Weimar government’s gun control laws than they did on their own laws. Doing so lent the actions of the Nazis an air of legitimacy.
One of the rights recognized by the Founders was the right to “bear arms,” that is, to own guns for self-defense or for recreation (such as hunting and sporting events). In terms of self-defense, that right applies equally to protecting oneself against criminals as it does against a government acting like a criminal, that is, initiating force to assault, rob or enslave individuals – or a whole population.
In America today, the “new Jews” and “enemies of the state” are the Tea Party and anyone else who “clings” to his guns, his principles, and his certainty that he isn’t beholden to a state that continually assaults him with taxes, regulations and a socialist agenda to make him a willing or unwilling ward of the state.
Stephen Halbrook, in Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State“, describes in detail how Germans, and especially Jews, were increasingly left defenseless, beginning with firearms registration and “permit-to-carry” laws enacted during the Weimar era in the name of “law and order” to disarm violent “extremist” groups (chiefly Communists, Nazis, and Freicorps paramilitary outfits), and ending by 1945 with millions of self-defense-stripped and disarmed Germans imprisoned for political opposition to the Nazis, six million Jews slaughtered during the Holocaust, and countless millions of other Europeans killed or imprisoned in Nazi occupied countries.
The Weimar Republic’s weapons laws following the Great War were draconian and vague and could be implemented only in an arbitrary and chaotic manner. To add to the confusion, the German states not only determined how these laws were implemented but also continued to pass their own laws….
The Law on Firearms and Ammunition…of 1928, however, would focus not on repression of armed violence, but on regulation of the predominately peaceable citizenry.
But 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 régime’s seizing power and using the Weimar laws to repress the citizenry at large. The 1928 Firearms Law would be one of many such laws. (p. 15)
Significantly, the Firearms Law, passed on March 31st, 1928, was passed by the Reichstag on the next to the last day of its session. Perhaps, like the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), it was passed without many of the legislators even reading it. It was also passed as an amendment to a budget bill. As one German official reported:
“This is the first time in the history of the Reichstag that such an important statute with far-reaching consequences for economy and jurisprudence was adopted in the Reichstag without any debate, as an afterthought as part of the budget of the Reich Department of the Interior…” (pp. 19-20)
American politicians have nothing over German ones on how to sneak in important, expropriatory legislation without having to seriously debate it, without knowing what was in it, and without risking bringing it to the attention of the public. In the Reichstag, no one contested the legitimacy of the bill.
As Halbrook unveils the progress towards Nazi totalitarianism, he paints Weimar efforts to control the spread of firearms as a bewildering mosaic of overbearing Reichstag hubris and the various firearm laws in the different German cities and states. An ostensively “benign” intention was written into the Firearms Law, one which many of its authors and proponents rued in later years. Halbrook wrote, quoting from the Law:
“Firearm and ammunition acquisition licenses and firearm carrying licenses may be issued only to persons whose reliability is unquestioned, and firearm carrying licenses may be issued only with proof of a need.” Licenses were automatically denied to “Gypsies or persons traveling like Gypsies”; persons with convictions under various laws, including this law; and “persons for whom police surveillance has been declared admissible, or upon whom the loss of civil rights has been imposed.” (p. 17, Italics mine)
The terms reliability and need would recur in future debates and gun control legislation and haunt the Weimar lawmakers .The Nazis would make effective use of the terms when identifying who owned firearms, because the issuance of licenses naturally meant creating registration records.
Restrictions on firearms were aimed not so much at armed crime as at political violence. But such policies had little effect and instead served primarily to restrict law-abiding citizens. Those whose agenda was overthrow of the state could have cared less about jumping through the hoops to obtain arms according to the bureaucratic requirements imposed by the existing authorities. (p. 21)
While establishing a legal code and the political power of the new Weimar Republic in 1922, the Reichstag incorporated into the constitution a provision that permitted the president to declare an emergency and take emergency actions, such as banning an arm of the Communist Party, the RFB (the Nazis had not yet begun its climb to political “legitimacy”), Article 48. The Reichstag also included the Law for the Protection of the Republic. Halbrook writes, in describing the measures the besieged government was taking to combat violent “extremist” political groups:
In introducing that law, Prussian Interior Minister Carl Severing…explained in March 1930: “The right of assembly has become the wrong of assembly, and press freedom has become press license. We cannot permit demagogues to inflame the masses any further.” Like the right to have arms, the rights to free speech and assembly were curtailed. (p. 21)
Sound familiar? It should. Aside from the continuing call for gun controls in the U.S. by those who claim that guns shoot people, not people – that is, that possession of a firearm magically turns an individual into a rampaging maniac activated by the gun in his hand – there are increasing instances of politically correct applications of what constitutes inflammatory “hate speech,” from criticizing Islam and Muslims to school children playing cowboys and Indians and using sticks or simple hand gestures. In the Weimar Republic, local police were granted the discretion of deciding who was “reliable” and ruling on the “need” of a person to own or carry a gun. If a case went to court, courts almost invariably sided with the police’s decision.
Often, a court would split a decision. If a citizen had dutifully registered a gun he procured as a soldier during the Great War, or any time before the 1923 law went into effect six months after its passage, the registration might be upheld as “legal,” but the person found guilty by reason of his “unreliability” or because of the ex post facto restriction on the type of the weapon he owned, and face fines and prison time.
As time went on, not only firearms came under scrutiny and more and more restrictive controls, but non-firearms that could be used as weapons, whether or not one participated as a Nazi or a Communist in the constant street battles between political groups. Fairly utilitarian objects, often used by the battling gangs that could be used for “hitting, thrusting, and slashing,” such as bicycle chains, rubber truncheons, steel rods, and the like, came to be frowned upon as well as were ceremonial swords and bayonets from the Great War. As the anti-gun hysteria grew over the next decade, police searches became regular events even in the most placid neighborhoods of German cities. If the police found an old, rusted, inoperable handgun in one’s home, the resident could be charged with a variety of anti-firearms violations.
Halbrook retraces the trail of how both the Weimar and the Nazis disarmed a whole nation. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, one of the first things they did was turn their attention to disarming Jews and other “enemies of the state.” Of great assistance in this campaign were the lists of registered owners of weapons and even of those individuals who had surrendered “illegal” weapons to the police. Some Weimar officials had expressed dismay over these records possibly falling “into the wrong hands.” But, fall they did.
Halbrook makes the interesting note that these possibly millions of records – including information on the whole German population – were organized and disseminated by a wholly-owned subsidiary of IBM.
The burgeoning police state needed detailed information on every person. For the previous fifty years, the state registry offices had maintained files on every person’s status and religion, making Jews readily identifiable. Beginning in June [1933, after Hitler's ascension to power], a new census began that would provide to authorities detailed information on every household. For the census, Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft (Dehomag), the subsidiary of the U.S. firm International Business Machines (IBM), provided its new punch card and card-sorting system, which allowed in enormous amount of data to be stored in 600 punch hole possibilities per card.
Besides name, address, sex, birth date, native language, family, and employment, the cards included at column 22: hole 1 for Protestant, hole 2 for Catholic, and hole 3 for Jew. It is unclear whether firearm ownership was included, but census records could easily have been correlated with police records to identify Jews, political opponents, and others who had obtained permits to acquire or carry firearms or who had registered firearms pursuant to the 1931 decree. [Reich Chancellor Heinrich Brüning used Article 48 to declare a state of emergency on December 10th.]
IBM punch card machines also helped the Nazis organize the rail traffic of moving millions of Jews to concentration camps and gas chambers. IBM has disputed its complicity in the Holocaust, claiming it had no knowledge of or control over how Dehomag and the German Ministry of Transport used its technology. [Developed, by the way, by Herman Hollerith, the son of a German immigrant; his Tabulating Machine Company was merged into the Computer Tabulating Recording Company, renamed in 1924 the International Business Machines Corporation.] Two major lawsuits against IBM stemming from the Holocaust were dismissed by courts.
Edwin Black wrote a controversial book that implicated the giant corporation, IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation. He was interviewed by CNET’s Paul Festa in 2001, shortly after Black’s book was published. See his comments here and judge for yourself.
Halbrook’s book is thoroughly documented with his principal sources being Weimar and Nazi government archives, in addition to the diaries of notables such as George Goebbels. He hypothesizes that when Herschel Grynzpan, a Polish Jewish teenager, shot German third secretary Ernest vom Rath in the German embassy in Paris on November 9th, 1938, the Nazis were prepared to implement the penultimate steps in Hitler’s “Final Solution,” very likely waiting for the right incident to lend credibility to not only conducting a massive, nation-wide pogrom against German Jews, whose German citizenship had already been revoked, but for “rolling out” firearms restrictions that all but prohibited Jews from raising a butter knife in self-defense.
The immediate result was the Nazi-orchestrated Reichskristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass) of November 8-10.
Jews were attacked, their homes and businesses ransacked, synagogues were burned, and 20,000 to 30,000 Jews were detained. A central focus of this onslaught was that Jews were dangerous; their premises must be searched for weapons, and any caught with arms must be thrown into concentration camps. (pp. 163-164)
Lending credibility to the conspiracy theory is the fact that November 9th also was the fifteenth anniversary of Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, Tag der Bewegung, or “Day of the Movement.” (p.163, 168) How suspiciously propinquitous! How dare a Jew spoil such a solemn occasion! Jews are dangerous! They must be punished! Their ill-gotten gains must be confiscated, and Jews removed from our presence! Jews who resist “law and order” should be shot on the spot! We must cleanse our homeland of these vermin!
National Socialism [Nazism] embodied a schizophrenic perversion of law as a set of predictable rules that could be overridden by the führer, acting through institutions such as the Gestapo. But formal laws remained significant because in the usual course of events they were enforced by ordinary police and adjudicated by the courts. They could be ignored in extraordinary cases only if the Gestapo so decided. (p. 123)
Targeting Jews and other “enemies of the state” served yet another purpose: To put all “law-abiding” Germans on notice that this was what they could expect should they breathe a single word of criticism or raise a single eyebrow against the Nazi Party and the way Hitler and his cronies went about controlling the country. Halbrook introduces the means by which the Nazis were able to get away with as much as they did from January 1933 to the bitter end in a Berlin bunker in 1945: Gleichschaltung, or, “forcing into line.” Halbrook describes it workings and ends:
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, and shooting clubs were essentially seized by central Nazi authorities. 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….(p. 122)
Writing about the public response – or non-response – to the “Night of the Broken Glass,” Halbrook notes:
Observing that the people at large took no part in and were repulsed by the pogrom, anti-Hitler plotter Hans Gisevius later reflected that they could also see what might happen to themselves if they spoke out or resisted. In addition to the mortal blow to the German Jews, “the cowed middle class stared at the Nazi monsters like a rabbit at a snake. A general psychosis had been created [Gleichschaltung], under which the populace was reduced to absolute submission; and this effect was valuable to the Nazis. The class was doomed, but for the present it had its uses and would be made to serve.” (pp. 172-173)
What are the parallels between the Weimar Republic and the U.S. today? They are eerily similar and traipse about under a different name in a different dance. The Washington Times on December 1st reported on Allen West’s warning about the latest wrinkle in Obama’s gun control agenda:
Come 2014, all ammunition sold to civilian gun-owners in America will have to be imported, a result of President Obama’s crackdown on sulfur dioxide and lead emissions and accompanying harsh Environmental Protection Agency regulations, said former Florida congressman, Lt. Col. Allen West.
And for defenders of the Second Amendment, that means higher ammo prices are likely on the way – a situation Mr. West writes on his blog, AllenBWest.com, is akin to a federal power-grab on guns, albeit through the backdoor.
Just as the Weimar government and later the Nazis sought to restrict ammunition ownership and sales to “unreliable” German citizens, our own “Homeland” super-agency, which, like the German government, assumed supreme authority over all civilian law enforcement entities, including state authorities and the local police, is determined to disarm Americans by making it more difficult and expensive to purchase and keep ammunition.
Instead of punch-cards and printouts of gun registrations and census data that can be matched with local or state police records, we have high-speed computers and the Internet.
Under the Obama plan to restrict gun ownership, you may or may not be deemed “reliable” because your insistence on “clinging” to your guns may be deemed a “mental health” issue. Those mandatory background checks are too similar to the “reliability” and “need” requirements of the Weimar and Nazi governments. The Obama agenda, reported by the National Conference of State Legislatures, includes:
Requires background checks for all gun sales and strengthens the background check system. This would include removing barriers under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act so that states may more freely share information about mental health issues involving potential gun purchasers.
Provides states with monetary incentives-$20 million in fiscal year FY 2013 and a proposed $50 million in FY 2014-to share information so that records on criminal history and people prohibited from gun ownership due to mental health reasons are more available.
Imagine the consequences if the British Crown had implemented a plan to require background checks and mental health tests administered by Crown-appointed doctors in the colonies. Doubtless every American colonial who applied for the right to own a muzzle-loading musket and a pouch of power and ball would have been denied and sent on his way, possibly to jail if the doctors deemed their loyalty to the King suspect and “unreliable.” There would have been no American Revolution.
That policy would have been complemented with the Crown’s own “Fast & Furious” campaign to demonize gun ownership by secretly selling guns to frontier Indians so they could better raid defenseless settlers and “prove” that guns were “dangerous.”
The only purpose of gun controls in the U.S. is to prevent Americans from defending themselves against common criminals – and to rely on a lethargic government entity for protection – and uncommon ones in the guise of enforcers of “public safety.”
So, dear reader, are you reliable? Do you really need your guns? Or are you going to let a bureaucrat or anonymous government functionary answer those questions for you? If you do, then you have been “forced into line.”
Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State,” by Stephen P. Halbrook. Oakland, CA: The Independent Institute, 2013. 247 pp.
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Edward Cline is the author of the Sparrowhawk series of novels set in England and Virginia in the decades leading up to the American Revolution, and also of Whisper the Guns and First Prize. His essays, books reviews, and other nonfiction have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and other periodicals. He is a frequent contributor to Rule of Reason and The Dougout.