In February, 2018, New York Times columnist Brett Stephens ran an article titled, “To Repeat: Repeal the Second Amendment.” We occasionally hear such pleas in the aftermath of some shooting that shocks our sensibilities. The basic gist of the article, summarized by Stephens on MSNBC later that year, was that the Second Amendment had long past used up its purpose- to secure liberty.
Stephens was calling people like Madison fools. In Federalist #46, Madison wrote that “the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation” is what made the new Republic unique and free. This was written before the Second Amendment was proposed, written, and ratified. It was placed second in the Bill of Rights for a reason. The “right to bear arms” was as fundamental as the right to free speech and a trial by jury.
In 1789, the original draft of the French Declaration of Rights contained a similar right to bear arms for the common, or personal defense. Unfortunately, this provision of the draft declaration never made the final cut. The result was the horrid Reign of Terror. Revolutionary republicans in Germany in 1848 sought a similar provision, but were beaten down by the old order fearing a loss of power.
Because these countries had no equivalent of a Second Amendment, it was easy to pass “commonsense gun legislation,” the Orwellian term we hear today. And nowhere was this more apparent than in Germany.
In the 1920’s, the Weimar Republic decreed universal gun registration. They warned that such records should never fall into the wrong hands. In 1933, Hitler seized power in Germany; the records fell into the worst of “wrong hands.” Starting almost immediately, the Nazis used the lists to disarm political adversaries. By 1938, they were used to disarm all Jews. By the time of Kristallnacht, Hitler had managed to disarm more than 500,000 Jews resulting in no resistance to the mayhem that resulted. In the aftermath, a decree was sent out not to issue a gun permit to any Jew. In November, 1938 the New York Times reported that in Germany, a law had been passed where any Jew found in possession of a weapon would be sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. This is what passed for “commonsense gun laws” in Nationalist Socialist jargon.
The following year, Hitler invaded Poland. One of the first edicts in the occupied areas was confiscation of firearms within 24 hours. Anyone found in possession of a firearm thereafter was executed or thrown in a concentration camp. In 1935, French Prime Minister Pierre Laval decreed gun registration. Five years later, the Nazis upon overrunning France used those lists to disarm the population. Again, failure to do so within 24 hours usually resulted in execution. France in 1935 had done the job for the Nazis.
After France fell to the Nazis, Britain was very much afraid they would be next. This led to Churchill’s stirring “We shall fight on the beaches” speech. At the same time, he was pleading with Americans to contribute arms and binoculars to help save the British. The New York Times at the time teamed up with the NRA in a campaign to “Send a gun to defend a British home.”
Today, how Europe has changed! The United Kingdom now virtually bans the private ownership of firearms. The European Union now decrees “universal gun registration.” Despite the lessons of history, Germany was the first country to gladly go along. The EU now seeks to ban what they define as “semiautomatic weapons” and standard magazines because they hold more cartridges than the Brussels-approved amount. Meanwhile, Islamic terrorists have run amok killing people with guns, bombs and trucks.
In 1941, Congress passed the Property Requisition Act. The government, in anticipation of war, authorized the government to take certain property from industry. The one thing the law specifically forbade was gun registration, thus reaffirming Second Amendment rights.
Today, gun registration and prohibition schemes are described as benign, progressive, and “commonsense.” We are told that the government is inherently good and there is nothing to fear. The records will remain in “the right hands.”
We heard these words a century ago in the Weimar Republic. It is the Second Amendment that stands in the way of the Weimar Republic- American style. It is not some relic of the 18th century. It is what separates the United States from tyranny. It is also what keeps history from repeating itself.