Friday, October 25, 2013

A good historical study of a controversial topic

Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and "Enemies of the State"

By Stephen P. Halbrook

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars 

When I was offered Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and "Enemies of the State to review, I was filled with quite a bit of curiosity. In 2013, when there seems to be a shooting a day by some disgruntled person, there is quite a discussion going on about gun control and the 2nd amendment. A lot of it on both sides is hyperbolic and weak with facts. One of those analogies you see quite often on the anti-gun control side is about the Third Reich in Germany in the 30s and 40s. The basic argument is that Nazi Germany had gun control and it either led to or was an important factor in the rise of Hitler and it could happen here. On the other side, the pro-gun control side states that using this is a ridiculous statement in that gun control was not the reason that the Third Reich occurred. So a serious, non-hyperbolic look at what actually went on in Germany during the rise of Hitler could actually be helpful to know.

The first thing to be aware of is who wrote the book and who published it. And, for that matter, who is reviewing it. Stephen P. Halbrook has written extensively on gun rights and the second amendment. The publisher is the Independent Institute, a Libertarian think tank whose basic stance on this topic is that any restriction on gun control, no matter how small, is anti-constitutional. My own position is that I support the second amendment but understand that some restrictions, like gun registration, may be necessary to protect that right and to prevent abuses, just like there are minimal restrictions to the right to free speech and the right to assembly to protect people against irresponsible and harmful behavior. In the arena of gun control debate, I would probably be considered moderate or in the middle. In most other things, I would definitely be considered liberal. So there is the philosophical starting points for all to see.

My first reaction to this book was how well researched and devoid of preaching this book is. Halbrook did an impressive job of researching his subject and preventing his viewpoint from overpowering the facts. He starts his look into German gun control laws in 1918 when gun possession was pretty much prohibited and severely punished. He continues to the gun control laws of 1928 by the relatively liberal Wiemar Republic that allowed possession of firearms but called for national registration. In the 30s the Nazis took control of the country and used these laws to firther restrict gun possession and to search for and find arms possessed by those they felt were a threat to the regime. In 1938, a new law was passed that forbade "enemies of the state", and specifically Jews, to possess firearms. The Nazis massed an aggressive campaign to seize weapons and arrest anyone against their government, securing the control of the country to Hitler and the Third Reich.

My synopsis is quick and simple but suffice to say Halbrook present detailed evidence of this scenario. Much of this evidence is claimed have been made available only recently. The author does not claim that the gun control laws caused the rise of Hitler's Third Reich but he does make a good case in that it was a significant factor in its success and was also a factor in the lack of armed resistance in Germany during this time. I also think he made a good case for the idea that any law restricting human actions, not just gun control laws in my opinion, have consequences and should be monitored for the potential of abuse by the government.

I really admired Halbrook's research and presentation. The historical facts seem not in dispute. However what can be in dispute is the intent and conclusion of the author and the publisher. For the question now is how much of this can be related to our current national and world environment. While Halbrook's book for the most part appears "to the facts" there are occasional statements that made me wonder. In the introduction of this book, the author states a movement in the United States exists that claims firearms should only be allowed for the military and police. That seems odd to me since I know of no group that takes that extreme and, if there is, it would be a very insignificant movement. I do know that pro-gun registration groups are commonly attacked as wanting to take's guns away from everyone when it is simply not true, I wondered if what I read was an example of that mentality. Another instance happens when the author relates an instance in the 30s in which a German Nazi attacks a Jewish family with a blunt weapon and a gun. The author implies that this incident in another culture would be used as propaganda against the Aryan using the weapon. I was very mystified until I realized that these sentences could have been written in 2013 during or after the incident in which George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin with a gun and could be implying Zimmerman was used in some form of propaganda attack, even though what actually happened is still disputed in most circles. I may be totally off here but I can't think of any other interpretation. I would love to ask the author what he was meaning or implying when he wrote that paragraph.

For the most part, Halbrook wisely leaves us to make our own conclusion but he is certainly trying to lead us to certain ones. I have my own questions needing answers in order to offer a conclusion. For instance, there is no doubt that Germany's laws, even those of the alleged "Liberal" Wiemar Republic, were much more restricted than anything existing or even proposed in America. Is it fair to compare one country with a tradition of second amendment gun rights to a country where such rights would be basically unheard of. Also, taking the current world situation in mind, all countries in Europe and Northern America, in other words most developing countries, have gun control or registration with America's laws being the weakest. I would be hard put to see where any of those democratic countries are in danger of heading toward tyranny at this time even if certain extreme conservative groups love to yell words like "Tyranny" when addressing the current administration.

Another interesting conclusion that the author makes is this. If there were not gun control registration laws in Germany, there could have been an effective resistance by both Jews and people against the Third Reich. That is one of those speculations that is hard to prove but I would essentially agree with it in the abstract. However, I do want to point out it is not a slam dunk. It is good to remember that at about the same time and across the Atlantic, Japanese-Americans were being rounded up into relocation camps with no apparent opposition and resistance despite the existence of the second amendment.

I do think we need to be very careful at what solutions we use even though I think national gun registration is essentially a sensible solution if done correctly. What I don't understand is why conservative groups, meaning in this case Republicans, are so concerned about the possible abuses of gun control laws while they actively pass laws that force pregnant women into invasive ultra-sound procedures just for considering their legal birth control options or pass voter ID laws that will effectively curtail the right of minorities and women to vote under the guise of preventing non-existent voter fraud.

So I think the conclusions can still be argued. But I do commend the author and the publishing country for providing a sane and well researched look at a part of history that is usually drowned in insinuations and exaggerations. I think it would be good for both sides to read this book, weight the information and the discuss the right way to address gun control issues using more sense and less accusations.

I want to thank the author, the Independent Institute and Netgalley for allowing me to read and receive this book. I suspect the author and publishing company may not be happy with some of my review but hope they will take solace in the fact that I actually enjoyed and work and found it informative. I also hope they appreciate that, in this particular instance, they were not preaching to the choir.

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