Prepared and written by:
Dr. Jason J. Campbell:
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In their 1994 book, Lethal Laws: Gun Control is Key to Genocide,
Simkin, Zelman and Rice argue that, “governments cannot commit genocide except on effectively disarmed populations.”
The goal of this essay is simply to discuss the relationship between the intentional disarmament of a population and genocide, and defend the constitutional right to bear arms, which states: “A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”
The systematic disarmament of a targeted population is a necessary step in waging a genocidal campaign. Quite obviously, a disarmed population is easier to exterminate than citizens capable of defending their lives. It has been noted that, “Gun control opens the political gate for millions of young people to die from genocidal activities,”
In an article for the Washington Times, John Soltis writes:
Each law was an attempt to use “gun control” to control or maintain power by either a failing government or a new, brutal government. Each set of laws, over many decades, all seemingly took a page from the tyrant’s handbook…Anyone who wants to make, modify, import, own, transport or carry firearms on his person must get permission from the government. Each set of laws, from different countries, all said that members of the “politically correct party (i.e., the Nazis or communists – or whoever was in or gathering power) were exempt from these laws. Each set of laws said that the general, non-politically correct population had to turn in its firearms to the government. Each set of laws, each speaking the language of tyranny, used “gun control” as the key to gun confiscation – and then genocide – the murder of millions and millions of people…This history lesson shows that “gun control” is used each time a tyrant wants to take or strengthen his power. That lesson is why men of liberty and freedom – who are also educated in history – fear “gun control” – because history shows it helps to pave the way to tyranny with many dead bodies.
The idea that protecting the right to bear arms is somehow exclusively a conservative value, unafforded to liberals, is ridiculous. Gun ownership transcends petty partisan politics. The intentional disarmament of the population has irrefutably been shown as a necessary though not sufficient condition to genocide. Ensuring that the population retains this right is the responsibility of all citizens. This is not, however, to suggest that regulations and gun control in-and-of-themselves result in acts of genocide. The benefits of gun control are also not being denied, especially in crime and drug infested urban spaces. It is only when coupled with the willful intent to exterminate members of a targeted population that the total disarmament of a population becomes problematic. For example, there maybe some justification in disarming convicted felons and denying their attempts to own guns. Thus, the argument that the systematic disarmament of a portion of the population essentially results in genocide is completely without merit. However, the intentional disarmament of an entire population for the purpose of facilitating the ease of their extermination can only happen if laws are enacted to enforce unilateral confiscation. Within the United States, such an attempt would be unconstitutional.
David B. Kopel demonstrates the effectiveness of disarmament as a function of waging a genocidal campaign. Each example of genocide was preceded by laws specifically designed to disarm the population. Each example of genocide was preceded by government enforced gun control, wherein government officials and party sympathizers could possess arms, and members of the targeted population could not.
[For the Armenian Genocide, at the hands of the Ottoman Empire] A 1903 law banned the manufacture or import of gunpowder without government permission. In 1910, manufacturing or importing weapons without government permission, as well as carrying weapons or ammunition without permission was forbidden…
The Ottoman Empire could not and would not recognize the autonomous existence of dhimmi millet, which were Christian segments of the population (Melson, 1996). The disarmament laws enacted in 1903 were six year prior to the 1909 Adana massacre and the disarmament laws of 1910 were five years prior to the beginning of the Armenian genocide,
which suggests that the intent of the law was the disarmament of the population for the purposes facilitating the ease with which targeted groups were slaughtered. The intent to exterminate Christians and nonconformists arose as a unilateral consequence of defending power. Those within the Committee of Union and Progress, (CUP),
where threatened by an expanding Christian population. It was this threat that led the politically elite to ban the production or sale of guns. Thus, the law was specifically constructed to disarm nonconformist populations, with the intent of completely exterminating those targeted groups. The ease of their extermination was facilitated by prior disarmament efforts, which successfully suppressed the effectiveness of any oppositional movements. What is of key interest then, is the relationship between the 1903 disarmament laws and the proceeding 1909 massacre and the 1910 disarmament laws and the proceeding 1915 genocide. Kopel continues:
[In the Soviet Union] Firearm registration was introduced on April 1, 1918… In October 1918, (the government) ordered the surrender of all firearms, ammunition, and sabers…
Stalin’s determination to destroy the “kulaks” led his regime to equally reinforce disarmament laws with the intent of eventually exterminating defenseless segments of the population. “Stalin apparently found little need to change the weapons control structure he had inherited. His only contributions were a 1935 law making illegal carrying of a knife punishable by five years in prison and a decree of that same year extending “all penalties, including death, down to twelve-year-old children” (Kopel, 1995).
[In Nazi Germany] Additional controls were layered on the 1928 Weimar law: Persons under eighteen were forbidden to buy firearms or ammunition; a special permit was introduced for handguns; Jews were barred from businesses involving firearms; Nazi officials were exempted from the firearms permit system.
Retaining abusive political control required that the Nazi regime disarm their opposition as a preemptive means of preserving power, as such power is challenged by well organized and well armed oppositional forces. The intent to disarm populations deemed threatening, to the regime’s political power, can only unfold where there is a legal “justification” of the denial of gun ownership for targeted group members. Thus, genocide prevention must have a substantial basis in scrutinizing discriminatory legal practices, intent on disarming the population. The truth is, the number of murders committed by firearms, where those firearms are owned by ordinary citizens, pales in comparison to the total number of murders committed by government forces or government sponsored militias, where the government is intent on the total extermination of targeted group members. In short, the government can always kill more people than any individual or any organized group of individuals.
Rather than attempting to control the proper handling of guns, government officials have consistently resorted to increasing gun regulations, seemingly without an understanding of the ineffectiveness of gun prohibitions to deter violent criminals. Cook and Leitzel (1996) introduce a very interesting argument:
Admittedly, the most direct approach to dealing with the externalities involved in gun ownership and use would be to internalize those costs and benefits via a liability policy. Under such a system, those whose misuse of firearms results in external costs would be required to pay compensation. We can imagine a pure liability regime in which gun production, transfer, ownership, and possession (concealed or open) would all be legal and unregulated. The misuse of a firearm-brandishing it or firing it for unprovoked intimidation or for the commission of a crime-would result in the perpetrators facing a fine equal to the value of the external cost. Such a liability regime would, in theory, provide the proper incentives for efficient firearm handling…Ex ante gun prohibitions have not been futile in restricting access to the most dangerous weapons
Cook and Leitzel are arguing that a well enforced liability policy would serve as a successful alternative to outright gun prohibition. In fact, under this theoretical policy, a fully deregulated system of gun ownership would even make “assault weapons” accessible to the public. In so doing, however, the gun owner opts into the liability system, which means that improper use of the firearm results in fines, “equal to the value of the external cost”. Hence, the system (as such) places no direct regulation on the ownership of any given gun, but the system fully regulates the stratification of fines and punishments associated with improper or illegal use of a firearm. In this manner then, both regulators and manufactures can find some middle ground.
The debate over gun control and disarmament is most heated in the discussion of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its lobbying influence in the United States government. Kenny et al., (2004) discuss the candidate rating system used by the NRS:
The ratings and endorsements are based on two types of information collected by the NRA. For incumbents, past voting on legislative issues related to an individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment is used first. In addition, questionnaires are sent to each candidate or, on occasion, an interview is conducted with an NRA liaison. This information, or some part of it, is then used to rate the candidates and produce endorsements. Ratings range from A + (‘An incumbent pro-Second amendment leader’) to F – (‘Favors extremely restrictive legislation and/or actively leads anti-gun efforts’). If the candidate fails to respond to the questionnaire and no legislative record is available, he or she is rated a question mark (?), and it is noted that such candidates tend to be ‘indifferent or hostile to gun owner’s and sportsmen’s rights.’ Finally, endorsed candidates are identified by bold typeface.
Irrespective of the system of rating used by the NRA, one must recognize that the implementation of such a rating system serves the mission of the NRA. For me, the implementation of such a system is neither good nor bad. It is the logical consequence of an organization charged with defending Second Amendment rights. Liberals and conservatives must acknowledge that outright prohibition fails. It fails to protect the people. It collapses the economic market for gun manufactures and it fails to deter violent criminals from committing equally violent acts. In my opinion, Cook and Leitzel have offered a fully plausible suggestion, which may satisfy the demands of the NRA and gun manufactures on the one hand, and regulators and weary citizens, on the other. We have been having the same circular debate for generation. It is time, however, that we put aside partisan politics and think critically of gun control, disarmament and the threat of genocide.
Jason J. Campbell
Editor’s note: Dr. Campbell is currently an Assistant Professor of Conflict Resolution and Philosophy in Nova Southeastern University’s Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution.
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Knighton, B. (2003). “The State as Raider among the Karamojong: ‘Where There Are No Guns, They Use the Threat of Guns’.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 73(3): 427-455.
Melson, R. (1996). “Paradigms of Genocide: The Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and Contemporary Mass Destructions.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 548(ArticleType: research-article / Issue Title: The Holocaust: Remembering for the Future / Full publication date: Nov., 1996 / Copyright © 1996 American Academy of Political and Social Science): 156-168.
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