Stephen Halbrook’s Gun Control in the Third Reich
—Steven B. Bowman, Professor of Judaic Studies, University of Cincinnati; Miles Lerner Fellow, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
The gun control debate in the United States is often couched in somewhat parochial terms, with one side invoking, for example, the nation’s unique Second Amendment guarantees and the other citing America’s disturbing problems with gun violence. Yet for this issue (and many others), it’s often enlightening to look at the experiences of other countries. Drawing on previously unexamined material from German archives, Independent Institute Research Fellow Stephen P. Halbrook takes such an approach in his pioneering new book, Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State.” Halbrook’s revealing work adds considerably to our understanding of the Nazi regime’s consolidation of power, and it’s likely to become widely cited as evidence of the risks of firearm restrictions to the civil rights, liberties, and even lives of scapegoated minorities.
A major strength of the book is its surprising uniqueness. “Despite the significance that the Nazis themselves perceived of the need to ruthlessly disarm political enemies and Jews, no historian has addressed the subject,” Halbrook writes. “This is the first book to address Nazi firearms laws and policies that functioned to disarm German citizens, in particular political opponents and Jews.”
Although scholarly, the book is written in an accessible style that will captivate general readers. It begins by recounting the civil and political turmoil in the Weimar republic that created pressure for the 1928 law on firearms. Ominously, the German Interior Ministry warned in 1932 that gun registration records must be made secure lest they fall into the hands of violent groups. This caution became prophetic after the Nazis came to power in 1933; the weapons law of 1938—Hitler’s gun law—made further use of ownership rolls. The arrest of former Olympic gymnast Alfred Flatow for gun possession presaged that November’s ransacking of Jewish homes and businesses, an incident known as the Night of Broken Glass or Reichskristallnacht. (Flatlow would later die in a concentration camp.) Halbrook sheds new light on this episode by drawing on government memos and diaries of Jewish victims.
“The book’s conclusion,” Halbrook writes, “presents a potpourri of events during the wartime period, the second half of the ‘thousand-year Reich,’ to explore the effects of the disarming policies of the previous two decades…. Although such actions do not foretell what will happen, they demonstrate what can happen.”
Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State” by Stephen P. Halbrook
Read a detailed book summary.
Book Review: How Adolf Hitler Prevented ‘Subject Races’ from Possessing Arms, by AWR Hawkins (Breitbart News, 10/27/13)
Book Review: Stephen Halbrook’s Gun Control in the Third Reich, by David B. Kopel (America’s 1st Freedom Magazine, 10/1/13)
[This post first appeared in the November 5, 2013, issue of The Lighthouse. To receive this weekly newsletter, enter your email address on the Independent Institute’s email subscription page.]