Will the Real Nazis Please Stand Up?!! (Part 3a)

Part 3a:  Nazi and Liberal Common Ground on Social Policy:  Gun control laws

[This is the third installment on a series on Nazism.  This is the first on social policy.]

Book_cover_for_Gun_Control_in_the_Third_Reich_by_stephen_halbrookStephen P. Halbrook provides the most in-depth study to date of Nazi uses of gun control laws in his recent book Gun Control in the Third Reich.[1]  Halbrook documents that the Nazis made use of gun registration laws from the Weimar Republic to oppress Jews and other enemies of the state, and they also passed legislation that allowed confiscation of guns from anyone known to be a Jew.   Although it is common among gun rights advocates to raise the example of Nazi use of gun registration laws to oppress the Jews, gun control advocates often counter that the Nazis did not pass gun control legislation except to liberalize gun control laws.  Halbrook demonstrates that the gun control advocates are using half-truths to present the situation as the reverse of what really happened under the Third Reich.

The Weimar Republic passed gun registration laws a few years before the Nazis took power in 1933.  A prescient conference of state interior ministers meeting in September 1931 noted that not requiring a permit to own firearms “avoids the danger that, in chaotic times, the list of firearms owners would fall into the wrong hands, allowing unauthorized persons to seize power and use them to commit unlawful acts.”[2]  Exactly what they feared happened soon after when the Nazis took over.  The Nazis made extensive use of the gun registration law that was already on the books, such as the 1928 Law on Firearms and Ammunition and the 1931 decree made pursuant to the 1928 law.  Nazi courts cited the Weimar-era laws and the various local enabling regulations to uphold convictions for unregistered firearms.[3]  “Emergency situations,” like alleged Jewish attacks against Nazis, were used to confiscate the guns of Jews in various cities, and the officials knew who had the guns because they had the gun registration lists.[4]  The 1931 amendment to the 1928 Law on Firearms and Ammunition allowed the state to confiscate weapons and ammunition “if the maintenance of public security and order so require.”[5]  As interpreted during the Nazi era, the Weimar-era law allowed the police the discretion to determine who was “reliable” or not, which allowed them to confiscate weapons from those who were not.  A leading legal journal noted in November 1934:  “If the police consider a person dangerous and if such person, because of concerns about his reliability under §16(1), should not have received a firearm or ammunition acquisition license, then the police may prohibit such person from possession of arms and ammunition.”[6]  Dr. Werner Best, a top Gestapo official, issued a directive to the Gestapo on December 16, 1935 that said, “As a rule, we have to assume that firearms in the hands of the Jews represent a considerable danger to the German people.”[7]  Arms searches became an everyday occurrence soon after the Nazis took power.[8]  The Nazis even searched the home of Albert Einstein for weapons in 1933, but they only found a bread knife.[9]

In addition to allowing the later confiscation of weapons under Nazi rule, the Weimar Republic’s gun registration law promoted the rise of the Nazis to power by making life difficult for average-citizen gun owners and thereby discouraged their ownership of weapons. Halbrook writes, “The effect of its laws was to limit and discourage arms possession by average citizens – the very people most likely to support democratic government against communism or National Socialism – while at the same time failing to control the destabilizing in-country conflict.”[10]  The people most likely to have their guns confiscated under the gun registration laws were those who were law-abiding enough to register the guns in the first place.[11]  The bumper sticker slogan proved true, that when guns are outlawed, only the outlaws will have guns.  The danger of Germany’s history of gun regulation was not lost on Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter, writing shortly after the end of World War II:

We are in the danger of forgetting that the Bill of Rights reflects experience with police excesses. It is not only under Nazi rule that police excesses are inimical to freedom. It is easy to make light of insistence on scrupulous regard for the safeguards of civil liberties when invoked on behalf of the unworthy. It is too easy. History bears testimony that by such disregard are the rights of liberty extinguished, heedlessly at first, then stealthily, and brazenly in the end.
–  Davis v United States, 328 U.S. 582, 597 (1946) (Frankfurter, J., Dissenting)

Despite the example of Nazi Germany, liberals still clamor to pass gun control legislation under the delusion that it will stop the criminals from using guns against innocent people.

The Enabling Law passed on March 24, 1933 allowed the cabinet to decree laws and Hitler, as Chancellor, to draft laws that could violate the Constitution. [12]  On March 28, 1933 there was a Decree for the Surrender of Military Weapons, which included bolt action military rifles and revolvers.[13]  A few days later Nazis raided homes in Jewish homes in Berlin.  Halbrook writes that, “Apparently hoping to depict Jews as subversive by proving them to be in possession of firearms, search-and-seizure operations were executed on April 4, 1933.”[14]  The New York Times reported,

A large force of police assisted by Nazi auxiliaries raided a Jewish quarter in Eastern Berlin, searching everywhere for weapons and papers.  Streets were closed and pedestrians were halted.   Worshipers leaving synagogues were searched and those not carrying double identification cards were arrested.  Even flower boxes were overturned in the search through houses and some printed matter and a few weapons were seized.[15]

The Hitler-Fricke Weapons Law, published on March 13, 1938, amended the 1928 Weimar firearms law.  Under the 1938 law Jews were specifically prohibited from working in the firearms industry, but it did not specifically forbid Jews from owning firearms.  Nevertheless, it continued the criterion of the “reliability” of a person in the issuance of a firearms license.[16]  The 1938 law is cited by modern gun-control advocates as a liberalization of gun laws because the law no longer required a license for rifles and shotguns, only handguns.[17]  However, Halbrook notes that “Although this description makes the new law sound as if it is deregulatory, the Nazis were masters of propaganda.”[18]  The gun-control advocates are falling for this propaganda.  Halbrook cites the following commentary on the law from a German newspaper on March 22, 1938 that reveals the truth of the law’s “liberalization”:  “The prerequisite for the easing of the applicable weapons law had to be that the police authorities would remain able ruthlessly to prevent any unreliable persons from acquiring or possessing any weapons.” [19] Pursuant to the 1938 Weapons Law, on November 11, 1938, Interior Minister Frick promulgated the Regulation Against Jews’ Possession of Weapons.  It provided that “Jews . . . are prohibited from acquiring, possession, and carrying firearms and ammunition, as well as cutting and stabbing weapons.  Those now having in their possession weapons and ammunition must at once surrender them to the local police authority.”[20]  Furthermore, the official laws of Germany did not prevent the Nazi regime from doing whatever they wanted to do.  Hitler declared on October 22, 1938 that “[E]very means adopted for carrying out the will of the Leader is considered legal, even though it may conflict with existing statutes and precedents.”[21]  The Nazi regime made use of this power to confiscate weapons from political enemies in addition to the legislation that was passed.


Detroit News article on Kristalnacht and Polish Jew

Detroit News article on Kristalnacht and Polish Jew

On November 7, 1938 a seventeen-year old Polish Jew shot and killed a German official at the German embassy in France.  He was despondent because his parents were stranded at the border of Poland along with thousands of other German Jews who had been deported from Germany but were not allowed to reenter Poland.  This event served as the Nazi’s excuse to regard all Jews as untrustworthy with firearms.  Given that designation, the Nazis were able to invoke the 1931 Weimar firearm law to deprive Jews of their firearms.  They could confiscate registered weapons and ammunition “if the maintenance of public security and order so requires.”[22]  The Nazis used gun registration records, informants, interrogation, and house searches to search for firearms.  On November 9 the Berlin police announced (possibly exaggerating) that they had confiscated from Jews in their jurisdiction 1,702 firearms, 20,000 rounds of ammunition, and 2,569 stabbing and cutting weapons.[23]


The Night of Broken Glass: Nazis terrorizing Jews to find their guns.

The Night of Broken Glass: Nazis terrorizing Jews to find their guns.

The Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht) followed on the night of November 9-10, 1938.  Jews throughout Germany and Austria were terrorized in their homes and synagogues by Nazi sympathizers while authorities looked on without intervening.  Of course, it was all orchestrated by the Nazi officials, from Hitler on down.  What was the purpose of night of terror?  Looking for firearms was a main one.  The gun registrations records begun under the Weimar Republic were available to identify Jewish firearm owners before the Night of Broken Glass.[24]  And the fact that Jews had already been almost completely disarmed allowed the terrorists to invade homes and synagogues without fear of the owners using deadly force in self-defense.

An order issued by SS leader Heinrich Himmler on November 10, 1938 read: “Persons who, according to the Nurnberg law, are regarded as Jews, are forbidden to possess any weapon. Violators will be condemned to a concentration camp and imprisoned for a period of up to 20 years.”[25]  Off to the concentration camps they went – because of weapons violations – although the “final solution” was still four years away.  No judicial review of Gestapo decisions were permitted, whether for firearms or anything else.[26]  On top of Himmler’s decree, the very next day Interior Minister Frick promulgated the aforementioned Regulation Against Jews’ Possession of Weapons pursuant to the 1938 Weapons Law.  At least under this law, an accused had a right to trial.

As Justice Frankfurter noted, the contrasts between gun rights in the United States and such rights in Germany are instructive.  A war for independence by the American colonies was started on April 19, 1775 when British military troops attempted to confiscate the Americans’ firearms at Lexington and Concord.  They passed the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to secure the right of individuals to be armed as the ultimate basis for the security of the nation.[27]   Citizens continued to rely on firearms to settle its frontier, for both protection and hunting.

In Germany, their tradition was Hegelian statism, where the State is God walking on earth.  Hegel said that history is ruled by great men, not the will of the people living freely to pursue their own happiness.  Individuals serve the state, not the state serving to secure the rights of individuals.  Nietzsche took a similar view when he extolled the superman, a man like Napoleon (also admired by Hegel) who creates new order and values for society.  Hitler greatly admired Nietzsche.   William Shirer writes, “That in the end Hitler considered himself the superman of Nietzsche’s prophecy can not be doubted.”[28]  On top of that, Hitler and the German scientific establishment enthusiastically applied Darwin’s idea of survival of the fittest to society.[29]  On this view, the weak have no rights.  Societal progress requires exterminating the weak.[30]

Germany had a “right to bear arms” in sense, but Halbrook points out that it was in the sense of “the Hegelian statist tradition, meaning compulsory military service rather than individual liberty.”  He continues that “German military leaders rejected the Swiss militia system of “a people in arms” in which the citizen soldier kept his arms in his home.”[31]  He also notes that “The working class had few firearms and no tradition of keeping and using them.”[32]  This meant that even when they did have weapons, they did not have much knowledge on how to use them.  The Prussian Administrative Appeals Court ruled on July 9, 1931 that an individual does not have a need for a weapons license just because he has political adversaries given that “the police are responsible for the protection of the public.”[33]  (As the saying goes, when seconds count, the police are minutes away.)  And Hitler often emphasized, as reported by the U.S. Ambassador to Germany from 1933 to 1937, William Dodd, that the state armed services were “the sole bearer of arms in the Nation.”[34]  Hitler, of course, was hardly a Thomas Jefferson-type democracy-promoter.  He wanted to control the masses (inferior races), which required keeping them disarmed.  Not surprisingly, that especially applied in recently conquered territory.  Hitler said:

The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the supply of arms to the underdogs is a sine qua non for the overthrow of any sovereignty. So let’s not have any native militia or native police. German troops alone will bear the sole responsibility for the maintenance of law and order throughout the occupied Russian territories, and a system of military strong-points must be evolved to cover the entire occupied country.[35]

Anyone found with a firearms in occupied territories received the death penalty.[36]

Even hunting licenses and shooting clubs were targeted by the Nazis.  In March 1937, the Gestapo revoked all hunting permits held by Jews.[37]  Target matches were placed under the German Defense Association by Gestapo decree, and hence any actions against a shooting club for violations of the decree were ineligible for judicial review.  On December 21, 1938 Hitler mandated that all sports associations were under the Nazi Party.  All leaders of the sport associations had to be approved by the Nazi Party.[38]  Hitler himself was a vegetarian and was sensitive to the feelings of animals (but not humans!).  He said, “Personally, I cannot see what possible pleasure can be derived from shooting,”  and  “The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals would do well to turn its attention to the sportsmen themselves.”[39]

Is Resistance Always Futile?

Gun-control advocates claim that the gun rights would have done nothing to help the Jews against the Nazis.  Jews in the Warsaw ghetto were able to obtain some guns and temporarily drove off the Nazis.  But Nazi troops soon returned and crushed the rebellion.  Liberals say that this proves that it was futile for Jews to try to resist.  This is wrong for a number of reasons.  If a person is going to be killed, is it compassionate or reasonable to forbid him from at least trying to save his life?  Nobody with any human sensibility in them should deny innocent people being led away to their death a chance to try to save their lives.  Second, the rebellion at Warsaw and other places were so unsuccessful because the Nazis had already confiscated so many guns from Jews.  If the registration laws under the Weimar Republic and the Nazi regime had never been enacted, then the Jews would have had a much better chance at fighting back in the home country of Germany, which would have made conquest of other nations for difficult.  That is a good reason to fight such legislation from ever being enacted.  Third, there were benefits that resulted from the Jewish uprising against the Nazis.  The Warsaw rebellion inspired other rebellions, and some of those permanently escaped, and one concentration camp was torn down by the Nazis after the rebellion.[40]  Lives were saved by fighting back with firearms!  Another benefit was that rebellions like the one at Warsaw required the Nazis to divert resources away from fighting the professional armies of the Allies, giving them a better advantage over the Nazi military.  Fourth, while gun-control advocates paint a futile picture of a small number of armed Jews mounting an assault on trained Nazi troops, more guns in the hands of Jews could have been very effective in asymmetrical warfare.  There were several assassination attempts on Hitler’s life, and they were very close to being successful.  If one had been successful, it would have been a drastic blow to Nazi Germany, probably leading to a fight for power and rebellion against the regime from groups within the Nazi ranks.  One assassination attempt was by Swiss theology student Maurice Bavaud, who stalked Hitler for months before he was caught.  He decided not to take a shot on one occasion because he might injure others, and he barely missed other opportunities.   Hitler later remarked about him that

The confessions of this Swiss interested me insofar as they confirmed by conviction that no a soul could cope with an assassin who, for idealistic reasons, was prepared quite ruthlessly to hazard his own life in the execution of his subject. [41]

Fifth, the Nazis themselves did not believe that guns in the hands of Jews and other political opponents would be ineffective.  Halbrook comments:

A skeptic might surmise that a better-armed populace might have made no difference, but the Nazi regime certainly did not act on that premise.  While many historically unique factors ultimately led to the Holocaust, Nazi policies prohibiting possession of firearms helped consolidate Hitler’s power at home, exacerbated persecution of the Jews, aiding their arrest and deportation, and foreshadowed some of the more severe policies undertaken during the war.[42]

Last, I should point out that the use deadly force in self-defense is a right given by God’s law.  A homeowner is held guiltless for killing a thief who breaks in at night (Exodus 22:2).  And Jesus tells His disciples that, while He protected them while He was on earth, He was about to leave them, and they needed to each buy a sword:  “let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36).  Peter misused his sword to cut off a soldier’s ear (John 18:10), but that demonstrates that Jesus had allowed Peter to carry a sword for self-defense prior to the misuse incident.[43]

The Bible demands a limited government that follows the rule of law, rather than a totalitarian regime like Hitler promoted.  The king of Israel was forbidden from multiplying horses, which prevented him from launching offensive wars to other lands, and forbidden from multiplying wives, which prevented him from making foreign alliances that could draw the nation into war, and he was required to follow God’s law rather than his own will “that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment” (Deuteronomy 17:14-20).  A tyrannical regime is described as one that forces citizens into government service and that taxes as high as a ten percent of income (1 Samuel 8:10-18).  Successful wars require troops and money, and the possession of both resources in large amounts by the government is condemned by the God of the Bible.


[1]  Stephen P. Halbrook, Gun Control in the Third Reich:  Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State” (Oakland, CA:  The Independent Institute, 2013).  Also see his essay, “Nazi Firearms Law and the Disarming of the German Jews,” 17 Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, No. 3, 483-535 (2000), http://www.stephenhalbrook.com/article-nazilaw.pdf.

[2]  Quoted in Halbrook, Gun Control in the Third Reich, p. 29.

[3]  Ibid., p. 39.

[4]   Ibid., pp. 66, 69.

[5]  Ibid., p. 33.

[6]  Quoted in ibid., p. 103.

[7]  Quoted in ibid., p. 111.

[8]  Ibid., p. 113.

[9]  Ibid., pp. 58-59.

[10]  Ibid., p. 23.

[11]  Ibid., p. 33.

[12]  Ibid., p. 60.

[13]  Ibid., p. 62.

[14]  Ibid., p. 64.

[15]  “Raid on Jewish Quarter,” New York Times, April 5, 1933,p. 10; quoted by Halbrook, Gun Control in the Third Reich, p. 64.

[16]  Halbrook, Gun Control in the Third Reich, p. 132.

[17]  Ibid., p. 134.

[18]  Ibid., p. 136.

[19]  Ibid., p. 136.

[20]  Ibid., pp. 173-74.

[21]  Ibid., p. 141.

[22]  Ibid., p. 157.

[23]  Ibid., p. 158.

[24]  Ibid., p. 35.

[25]  Ibid., p. 169.

[26]  Ibid., p. 170.

[27]  District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 US 570 (2008).

[28]  William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (London:  Mandarin Paperback, 1991), p. 101.

[29]  See Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006); and Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). Jerry Bergman, Hitler and the Nazi Darwinian Worldview: How the Nazi Eugenic Crusade for a Superior Race Caused the Greatest Holocaust in World History (Joshua Press, 2012).

[30]  Darwin apologist Richard Dawkins admits as much:  “[N]atural selection is a good object lesson in how NOT to organize a society. As I have often said before, as a scientist I am a passionate Darwinian. But as a citizen and a human being, I want to construct a society which is about as un-Darwinian as we can make it. I approve of looking after the poor (very un-Darwinian). I approve of universal medical care (very un-Darwinian). It is one of the classic philosophical fallacies to derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’.”  Richard Dawkins, “Lying for Jesus?,” March 23, 2008 at http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/2394-lying-for-jesus.

[31]  Halbrook, Gun Control in the Third Reich, p. 44.

[32]  Ibid., p. 9.

[33]  Ibid., p. 26.

[34]  Ibid., p. 101.

[35]  Adolf Hitler, dinner talk on April 11, 1942, quoted in Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-44: His Private Conversations, Second Edition, Trans. by Norman Cameron and R. H. Stevens (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973), pp. 425-426.

[36]  Halbrook, Gun Control in the Third Reich, pp. 112-13, 206-07.

[37]  Ibid., p. 125-26.

[38]  Ibid., p. 204.

[39]  Ibid., pp. 204-05 (quoting Hitler’s Secret Conversations:  1941-45, trans. Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens (New York:  Signet Books, 1961), pp. 114, 633.)

[40]  “Treblinka Death Camp Revolt,” http://www.ushmm.org/research/the-center-for-advanced-holocaust-studies/miles-lerman-center-for-the-study-of-jewish-resistance/medals-of-resistance-award/treblinka-death-camp-revolt; “Sobibór Uprising,” http://www.ushmm.org/research/the-center-for-advanced-holocaust-studies/miles-lerman-center-for-the-study-of-jewish-resistance/medals-of-resistance-award/sobibor-uprising.

[41]  Halbrook, Gun Control in the Third Reich, p. 206.

[42]  Ibid., pp. xv-xvi.

[43]  See P. Andrew Sandlin, “Pistol Packin’ Jesus?,” http://docsandlin.com/2015/12/14/pistol-packin-jesus/#comment-8043; Larry Pratt, “What Does the Bible Say About Gun Control?,” https://www.gunowners.org/fs9902.htm.

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