Thursday, November 13, 2014
American Gun and Book Review: Gun Control = People Control
Professor Brian Anse Patrick
University of Toledo
Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State,” Stephen P. Halbrook, Independent Institute, 2014, 247 pages.
A few years ago the American voluntary association, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, issued a poster showing Adolf Hitler giving the sieg heil salute and captioned: “All in favor of gun control raise your right hand.” A truism throughout America’s Gun Culture is that gun registration leads in time to confiscation, and confiscation to just about anything. Despite this generally held perception, few persons, however, are armed with particulars on how this slippery slope, lubricated by statist bureaucrats, came to operate under the centralized, collectivist state that we know as Nazi Germany. Since we Americans seem perhaps to be developing our own version of a collectivist state, it may benefit us to learn some lessons about how such things were done in the Fatherland.
Dr. Stephen Halbrook’s well-researched book provides the dreadful particulars. Oppressive controls blossomed under the Nazi regime, excepting of course for ranking Nazis who were allowed to purchase, own and carry guns. This led not only to mass confiscations but also quite directly to imprisonment and death for many Jews and other designated enemies of the state, who were seen as potential terrorists or “politically unreliable.” For example, the Nazis imprisoned in concentration camps approximately 20,000 Jews in the immediate aftermath of the government sponsored home invasions and weapon searches that took place on Reichskristallnacht, aka the “Night of Broken Glass,” on November 9-10 of 1938.
Halbrook documents the Nazi gun and people-control agenda with the aid of numerous, mainly primary source documents: diaries, letters, arrest records and memoranda of German police and bureaucrat-regulators, as they legalistically took advantage of open-ended legislation and the existence of registration lists to disarm those whom they considered politically or socially suspect. This meant Social Democrats, Communists and especially Jews, all of whom were systematically identified from registration lists kept by police agencies, who acted under directives from higher officials. Gypsies and other “wandering peoples” were also banned from gun ownership. In addition to gun permits, Jews saw their hunting licenses revoked.
All along, the Nazis had special plans for the Jews. The confiscation agenda included not only the searches of Jewish homes at or around Reichskristallnacht, but also Jewish homes and businesses were targeted by spontaneous “mobs” of the folk. In reality these were planned actions by SA (Sturmabteilung, aka Storm Troopers). Civil police had been ordered to stand aside, and did. Thousands of Jewish homes were searched for weapons and often looted by searchers. The fact that many Jews were German army military veterans of the First World War did not matter. Stabbing and hitting weapons, dirks, military swords, bayonets and even the knives used for kosher slaughter were banned and confiscated. The Nazis ever-legalistic officialdom had even engineered a devilish Catch 22 into the system: banned weapons became automatically property of the state, so that if a Jew had gotten rid of weapons that he once had, he was guilty of stealing from the state. In effect he couldn’t have a weapon and couldn’t not have it either.
Firearms banned under the earlier Weimer Republic gun controls included the military style assault weapons of the day, which in those days were Mauser 98 rifles and Luger Model 08 semiautomatic pistols. Much of this had to do with Germany’s uneasy political situation where communists, who had insurrection plans of their own, fought in the streets with nationalist factions. There was some provision for hunting and target weapons in the laws. Once the Nazis ascended, however, interpretations of the gun laws changed. Plus additional laws were decreed. Guns of all sorts were specifically banned for Jews. As of 1938 any Jew possessing a firearm was subject to 20 years imprisonment in a concentration camp, with no process of appeal, which meant, as Halbrook notes, that he would not be getting out until 1958 (if at all).
Attempted cooperation did not engender mercy or rational treatment. Halbrook personalizes his dread history with the sad example of Mr. Alfred Flatow, an 1896 gymnastics Olympic gold medal winner for Germany, who, as a Jew, surrendered his registered handguns and 22 rounds of ammunition in obedience with new 1938 law, and was then taken into custody by the Gestapo at the police station (noted on the arrest reports as the scene of the crime). Flatow died of starvation in a concentration camp in 1942. He earned this punishment through trying to obey the law, and of course by being a Jew.
It can’t happen here? Good question. Perhaps not in this exact same way, as a number of important differences exist between Nazi Germany and the U.S. political system, including a Bill of Rights and a Second Amendment, but there are worrisome similarities and trends too. Remember recently how the IRS acting apparently under orders of very high officials targeted conservative non-profit organizations for “special” treatment? Or how so-called Operation Choke Point has financially hampered businesses that have been administratively identified as suspect often, apparently, for the thought-crime of not agreeing with the social agendas of appointed officials? We also have at the moment an executive branch that enthusiastically enters into (hopefully) unratifiable treaties with centralist political organizations that oppose U.S. Constitutional rights, i.e., the U.N. Arms treaty.
In the matter of centralized American record keeping, for example, there are good reasons why the National Instant Check System, the computerized FBI-run background check into all purchasers from gun dealers, does not, allegedly, by law keep permanent records of sales. But digital data being what they are—transmissible, storable, penetrable, hideable—one always wonders about their capacity to ever truly disappear. Incidentally, most people, and some gun owners, seem unaware of the existence of NICS, which has been in operation since 1998 and which has conducted more than 100 million background checks on gun purchasers (So much for the mythology behind the current antigun slogan of “universal background checks”: such checks have been done for years). NICS aside, many states and police departments also maintain records of gun owners, especially handgun owners. And then there are hunting licenses, which in many states are electronically linked to voter registration lists. The inviolability of gun owners’ privacy rights thus becomes a questionable proposition.
The Nazis provide an early example of the avidity with which the bureaucratic minded seizes upon the latest data collection and processing methods. An IBM subsidiary, Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gellsellschaft, provided the punch cards and sorting systems used to sift and collate data on every person in the Reich. For those of you too young to have seen a punch card, it was a piece of paper cardstock about 4X6 inches used to record and collate data by means of little rectangular holes punched in specified areas. Jewishness was indicated by a punched out hole 3. Jews were also required to inventory their assets if they were over 5,000 marks, “yet another job for the punch card machines,” writes Halbrook. The Nazis even seized a Jewish owned firearms manufacturing firm.
Some leftist gun controllers have interpreted the German experience in astonishing ways. Authors Joshua Horowitz and Casey Anderson avowed that the big problem of Nazi Germany was lack of a strong centralized government that could have protected the Jews from the Nazis. This claim seems nonsensical on its face, i.e., instead of merely a totalitarian state would a mega-totalitarian state have achieved liberty? They also try to claim that the 1938 law represented a liberalization of gun policy (which it did, but only for the Nazis). Such considerations apparently didn’t stop University of Michigan Press from publishing their book, Guns, Democracy, and the Insurrectionist Idea (2004). The authors pooh-pooh the notion that a Second Amendment-like right of insurrection could have protected Germany’s Jews from the Nazis. And possibly they are right to some extent in this regard. As some of Halbrook’s documentation reveals, however, the Nazis themselves feared armed Jews or, for that matter, any possible armed or even informed domestic opposition. This is exactly why the Nazis set about disarming them. Authors/attorneys Horowitz and Anderson are professionally associated with the anti-gun movement, however, so I read them as making sophistic arguments on behalf of their primary client. Their book seems to be an example of what might be called attached scholarship. Horowitz is or was executive director of the DC-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, although the book blurb merely identifies him as a visiting public health scholar at Johns Hopkins. Anderson, listed only as a DC lawyer in private practice, also happened to be CSGV’s public affairs director. We probably should not be surprised, then, if their arguments seem strained.
The Nazis not only feared guns in the hands of victims or the politically unreliable, they also loathed uncoordinated (by themselves) social action and organizations. In this latter regard they were much like their totalitarian counterparts in the Soviet Union. If you recollect, Hannah Arendt lucidly demonstrated in her landmark Origins of Totalitarianism, that the bullies of the alleged left in Russia and the bullies of the alleged right, the Nazis or so-called fascists, were really essentially the same kind of bully, i.e., collectivist statists. In The Road to Serfdom F.A. Hayek identified the collectivist statist mindset as an essentially Germanic innovation/hermeneutic that burgeoned during the Bismarckian era and diffused widely. Hayek, offended by the eclipse of liberty in the West, wrote, “Individualism is thus an attitude of humility . . . and of tolerance to other opinions and is the exact opposite of that intellectual hubris which is at the root of the demand for comprehensive direction of the social process.” And there is little doubt that the Germans had more than their share of hubris. And socialism, too.
Regarding the Nazi mania for centralization, we can correlate some of Halbrook’s findings with the observations of American social ethicist James Luther Adams, who wrote on the vitalizing central role of voluntary associations in American pluralistic society. Freedom of association is incorporated into the First Amendment precisely because it is the root the American social ethic. The Nazis of course, as well as their rival firm, Lenin, Stalin & Company, simply couldn’t abide freedom of association. If people were allowed to associate, to participate in reasonable democratic forums without overriding direction from above, why, anything might come of it! Adams, who was present in Germany while the Nazis were grubbing for power, attributed the virtually unopposed Nazi rise to the lack of a meaningful tradition of voluntary association in Germany. Halbrook discusses the Nazi’s program of Gleichschaltung to bring all organizations and associations into alignment with the goals of the state. Even shooting clubs, essentially hobby groups, but some of which dated back to the Middle Ages, were reorganized and saddled with swastika emblems and leaders handpicked by the state. Clubs that resisted were suppressed. The Fuhrer Principle, Führerprinzip, required a brand of leadership that made sure that all was ultimately in service to the state. Murdering Mao Tse-Tung, another of Collectivism’s famous goons, thought much the same way. The only time he tolerated freedom of association and the resultant articulation of ideas, was during the infamous 100 Flowers period of the Chinese revolution, when he cynically encouraged such association and expression in order to identify and later snuff out the sources, which he did through censure, imprisonment and death. Not only was the Party’s associational structure the only one tolerated, it was also linked firmly to guns, just as it was with the Nazis: “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun, our principle is that the Party commands the gun”, so it is written in Mao’s Little Red Book.
The only negative aspects that I see in the book owe to the essential ugliness of its subject matter. Seeing the bureaucratic maw at work is not for the fainthearted. Halbrook has undertaken the description of the social anatomy of an objectionable process. The book cites numerous memos and letters to and from grey little men whose nit nattering decisions, in the end, destroyed Life, Love and Liberty. It reminds in so many ways of Hannah Arendt’s famous description when she beheld Adolph Eichmann, the banality of evil, as embodied by the grey little Nazi accountant of Death that the Israelis kidnapped from Argentina and hanged in Israel in 1962 after a fair and necessary show trial. Also troubling, are the polysyllabic fortifications, the conceptual jargon, behind which evil shelters and legitimizes its doings, terms like Gleichshaltung and Führerprinzip.
An important thing to bear in mind about Nazi Germany is that the Germans were undoubtedly the most civilized, literate, educated, technically advanced and cultured people in the world. And they knew it, just like Americans today. So it can’t happen here. Yeah, right. History seems to show that the collectivist bureaucratic mind is always seeking human grist for its mill.