Friday, April 12, 2013

Thoughts on the gun debate part six: A scholar's view of history.

This is going to be a short post. I want to call your attention to Steven Halbrook's lastest piece for the Fordham Law Review. He explores efforts to include a right to arms in their 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man, and adoption of gun registration just in time for the Nazi occupation and gun confiscations.

The full article is available here. I'm going to cite (claiming fair use) a section from his conclusion.

The suggestion has been made in Supreme Court dissents in Second Amendment and firearm law cases that European models are superior to that of the United States. Similar arguments have been made in debate in Congress on bills to register and restrict firearm ownership. The historical experiences of France do not present a rosy picture for emulation.
Guarantees of the right to keep and bear arms were demanded by the Third Estate in France and were considered, but not adopted, in the French Declaration of Rights of 1789. No constitutional tradition existed in France of a right of commoners to possess arms. Without such a tradition, it appears to have been relatively easy for the French government, under the leadership of Pierre Laval, simply to decree the registration of firearms in 1935. Just five years later, France fell to Nazi Germany, which decreed the death penalty for possession of a firearm unless turned in within twenty-four hours. The 1940 armistice provided that the French authorities collaborate with the Wehrmacht, and the French police obliged by arresting gun owners and confiscating firearms. Pierre Laval returned to power and became France’s chief collaborator with Germany.
Five years of Nazi occupation occurred with the potential of the death penalty hanging over the head of every French person who refused to surrender his or her gun. That historical experience teaches two lessons about gun control that modern prohibitionists seem to ignore.
...
Modern gun prohibitionists may argue that an armed populace is of no use to prevent occupation by a foreign tyranny, and that only standing armies are of any use. Yet the French standing army proved of little use in 1940, when the German Wehrmacht smashed it in just a few weeks. True, armed French civilians could not liberate France without the help of foreign armies, but the Resistance was certainly impeded by the French gun registration policies which made it easier to confiscate firearms.
The existence of even a partially-armed populace, an unknown number of civilians who did not surrender their firearms, remained an element of uncertainty and a threat to the perceived security of the occupation forces. The Nazis were thus forced to utilize more troops and resources than they would have needed to occupy a country that was relatively more “gun free.”
Disregarding armed resistance by civilians, the sheer existence of unknown armed civilians led the Germans to expend resources and to decrease the number of forces available to fight the Allied armies. The mere existence of anonymous gun owners, even disregarding actual resistance activities, thus contributed to the anti-Nazi effort.
In short, everyone who, whether actively or passively, opposed the German occupation—from private citizens with unregistered firearms who thereby created insecurity for the occupation forces, to members of the Resistance who carried guns while committing acts of sabotage, to the members of the Allied armed forces in the great battles following the Normandy invasion—contributed to the defeat of Nazism.
To those who would discard the Second Amendment and emulate European models of firearm registration and prohibition, the historical experience of France suggests a telling lesson: Be careful what you wish for.
I urge you to go read the full article, it's an excellent explanation of the difference between European history and models and the U.S. 

Highly recommended.
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