Does Gun Control Lead to Genocide?
Rational conversations about gun control are difficult to come by. Hyperbole as well as deliberate misstatements only lead to emotional tirades. With this in mind, I will tread carefully toward illuminating the question posed by this article.
In their 1997 paper titled "Of Holocausts and Gun Control," Daniel D. Polsby and Don B. Kates, Jr. note:
The question of genocide is one of manifest importance in the closing years of a century that has been extraordinary for the quality and quantity of its bloodshed. As Elie Wiesel has rightly pointed out, 'This century is the most violent in recorded history. Never have so many people participated in the killing of so many people.'
Contemporary scholars have little explored the preconditions of genocide. Still less have they asked whether a society's weapons policy [contributes] to the probability of its government engaging in some of the more extreme varieties of outrage. Though it is a long step between being disarmed and being murdered – one does not usually lead to the other – ... it is nevertheless an arresting reality that not one of the principal genocides of the twentieth century, and there have been dozens, has been inflicted on a population that was armed.
Considering the point that "one does not usually lead to the other," some factual background might be useful.
In 1929, the Soviet Union established gun control. From 1929 to 1953, 20 million dissidents were rounded up and murdered.
An account by Gabriella Hoffman, who writes "My Family Fled Communism. Stop Pushing Soviet-Style Gun Control Here," highlights this history.
Compared to the United States, Soviet-occupied Lithuania was gun-free except for those in elite governmental positions. My dad always said the Soviets succeeded in oppressing Lithuanians and others by first disarming them. I always knew he was right, but aimed to confirm his assertions. Low [sic] and behold, he was right about gun confiscation as a pretext to installing tyranny in a country.
Here's a case study from Firearms Possession by Non-State Actors: The Question of Sovereignty (2004) published in the Texas Review of Law & Politics.
Indeed, the best testimony to the power of an armed populace is the vigor with which the Warsaw Pact dictatorships enforced gun control. When the Communists took over Bulgaria on September 9, 1944, they immediately confiscated every weapon in private possession.
In East Germany, private gun ownership was outlawed, though selected members of agricultural collectives were allowed to possess hunting weapons while participating in government-organized collective hunts, under immediate government supervision.
Immediately after World War II, Hungary was governed by a coalition of democrats and Communists. Preparing the way for a total Communist takeover, Laszlo Rajk, the Communist Minister of the Interior, ordered the dissolution of all pistol and hunting clubs, as well as of other organizations which might prove a threat to government power. Rajk claimed he acted 'in order to more efficiently protect the democratic system of the state.'
Poland ... did initially allow limited ownership of registered target guns with a license from the so-called 'Citizen's Militia.' However, in December 1981, Poland's dictator, General Jaruzelski ... declared martial law, arrested all the pro-democracy leaders he could find, and ordered all firearms and ammunition be turned over to the government (424).
In 1911, Turkey established gun control. From 1915 to 1917, 1.5 million Christian Armenians were rounded up and exterminated.
According to Stephen Halbrook, the "Armenian Genocide Didn't Happen by Accident." In fact, "Ottoman law made it a crime to possess a firearm without government permission. The Armenians, as British traveler H. F. B. Lynch wrote in 1901, were 'rigorously prohibited from possessing firearms.'" Then, in 1915, the "Ottomans also decreed that any firearms the Armenians possessed were to be surrendered to the government. Failing to do so, the decree said, 'will be very severely punished when the arms are discovered.'"
In 1938, Germany established gun control. From 1939 to 1945, 13 million Jews and others were rounded up and exterminated.
It is critical to note that gun control began with the liberal, democratic Weimar Republic. In Control: Exposing the Truth About Guns, Glenn Beck states that "[a] 1931 Weimar 'emergency decree' authorized the German states to register all firearms, which could be confiscated if 'public security and order so requires.' The interior minister warned the states to provide 'the secure storage of the lists of persons who have registered their weapons,' so that they would not 'fall into the hands of radical elements.'"
So the liberal Weimar Republic began gun control "in the hope of taking back the streets from the right- and left-wing brawlers of the 1920s and 1930s." But when the National Socialists (Nazis) took over, it suited them that Germany's laws regarding gun ownership were left to the administrative discretion of the state. The only change that the Nazis made "was to forbid Jews from owning guns and exempting members of the SA and other Nazi party officials from the law's strictures" (Beck 109.)
There is more. In 1935, China established gun control. From 1948 to 1952, 20 million political dissidents were rounded up and exterminated. These rules were based on Articles 186-7, Penal Code; Article 9, Security Law.
In 1956, Cambodia established gun control. From 1975 to 1977, 1 million educated people were rounded up and exterminated.
According to the American Civil Rights Union, "[t]he Khmer Rouge never bothered to write their own gun control laws, relying instead on a number of statutes left over from the French colonial government. A series of 1956 laws, Articles 322-28 of the Penal Code, required licenses for 'guns, owners, ammunition, and transactions,' complete with photo ID and fingerprints." In fact, "[g]un confiscation was at the top of the agenda for the Khmer Rouge. As soon as the Khmer Rouge took power, they immediately set out to disarm the populace."
In 1964, Guatemala established gun control. From 1981 to 1984, 100,000 Mayan Indians were rounded up and exterminated.
In 1970, Uganda established gun control. From 1971 to 1979, 300,000 Christians were rounded up and exterminated.
"Gun control is predicated on the belief that private citizens cannot be trusted with firearms." Instead, it is the "state [that] should have a 'monopoly on violence' because it is less violent than individuals." Consequently, "firearms should be taken away from private citizens because only the state is responsible enough to handle them."
But "states are statistically far more violent than individuals." After all, in the 20th century alone, millions of people died at the hands of their own governments.
In a review of the book Lethal Laws, by Jay Simkin, Aaron Zelman, and Alan M. Rice, David B. Kopel asserts that "the most important benefit of defensive arms is their deterrent power. As long as a potential dictator ... must take into account very serious risks involved with taking action against the American people, then the prospect for such actions being taken becomes markedly smaller."
It is interesting to note that as of November 2017, only 15 constitutions (in nine countries) "ever included an explicit right to bear arms." They are from Bolivia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Liberia, Guatemala, Mexico, and the U.S. All of those countries, excluding Mexico, the U.S., and Guatemala, have since rescinded the constitutional right to bear arms.
Ultimately, "even a benign government that disarms its citizens leaves the population at the mercy of any future malevolent dictatorship." Because of this, "citizens should be on their guard whenever politicians attempt to impose restrictions on gun ownership."
Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.