So what’s the matter with universal gun registration?
To say that Turkey did not enjoy a smooth transition from being the seat of the collapsing Ottoman Empire, through World War One and into the modernist Ataturk era, would be a massive understatement. In those turbulent times, ethnic Turks, Muslims composing the vast majority of the population, considered their Christian minorities, especially the Armenians, to be disloyal and treacherous.
In 1911, a national gun registration law was passed in Turkey, with no apparent ill intention beyond increasing public safety. In 1915, during The Great War, these gun registration lists were used to disarm the Armenian and other Christian populations. Army battalions cordoned off entire towns and did gun sweeps. Once disarmed, the official state violence visited against the Armenians ratcheted up to murderous levels. Typically, on town-wide sweeps, all of the men and boys were taken away by the Turkish soldiers, never to be seen or heard from again.
Only after these Armenian “enemies of the state” were disarmed and completely helpless to resist did the final step begin: the officially sanctioned, ordered, led and conducted wholesale “deportations” of the Christian minorities from Turkey. These “deportations” were in reality forced marches into fiery deserts, accompanied by pervasive sadistic cruelty comparable only to the Japanese “Bataan Death March,” and the less known but much more deadly death marches of the last surviving Jews in Nazi hands as the Red Army closed in on Germany.
Three decades earlier in Turkey, rape, roadside torture sessions ending in death, and the entire worst catalog of human abuses were standard procedure while the Christian Armenians were being marched into the deserts to die of thirst, hunger, exposure, and sheer brutality. The stragglers who could not keep up with the columns being force-marched without food or water by Turkish soldiers were killed with bullets, bayonets, swords and even crueler means (for sport and variety), until the columns were no more and the missions were complete.
Between 1915 and 1923, one and a half of the two million Turkish Armenians were murdered, along with a half million Christians of other sects. The rest escaped from Turkey in one of the first great diasporas of a genocided people in the modern era. There is no need to build gas chambers or slave-labor gulag death camps in a country with ample deserts. In Turkey there is no Dachau or Auschwitz to memorialize the dead, just bones scattered in the sand and rocks a century ago, a model of efficiency that Hitler might have envied. (The Turks deny to this day that it happened, just as some deny the later Nazi holocaust.)
But even after conducting this first modern mega-death holocaust, with diplomats and reporters covering the genocide with daily wire reports, Turkey was not expelled in disgrace from the community of nations. There was no Western boycott of the new Turkish state. Adolf Hitler noticed this 20th-century indifference to genocide, and so did Lenin and Stalin and other despots. After the horrors of the First World War, the West had little gas left in the tank for do-gooder intervention just because some ethnic minority or other had been wiped out in Turkey.
A new low standard had been set. A nation’s leaders could commit genocide against a despised minority, murder two million living souls in full view, and the world would not give a good damn. It was an important lesson for future dictators, leading to even greater mass murders under the Nazis and Soviets.
And the German Nazis and the Soviet Communists learned another crucial lesson from the Turks: national gun registration laws could be passed easily in the name of dubious “public safety,” and the registration lists could be used later to disarm selected minorities and then subsequently to arrest, deport, and murder them by the millions after they were helpless to resist.
In the Turkish case, only a small clique understood the true purpose behind the gun registration and gun control laws of 1911. If average Turks thought about the gun laws at all, they probably believed they would actually lead to greater public safety, as advertised. That was also generally the case with the Russians, Germans, Chinese, Cambodians, Guatemalans, Rwandans, and all the rest who were required to register or even turn in their firearms for “public safety,” and who accepted the demand at face value as a “reasonable” gun control measure, to their later regret.
American liberals who would like to see the Second Amendment torn out of the Constitution as a problematic relic of a bygone era generally do not know—or pretend not to know—this well-established historical pattern. But American Constitutionalists, who are more often than not students of history, understand the pattern very well.
So, directly behind the insane faces of contemporary mass-shooting villains we see the smirking faces of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, tyrants who did not murder individual victims by the fives and tens, but entire populations by the tens of millions. And in each case, these national genocides were preceded by gun confiscation that was made possible by national firearms registration laws sold to a gullible population in the name of “public safety.”
(Interestingly, during the bloody French Revolution’s “Great Terror” of 1793 to 1794, it was the “Committee of Public Safety” who condemned tens of thousands of French men and women to the guillotine or other forms of summary execution without trial. After previously being disarmed, of course.)
This column is an excerpt from Dear Mr. Security Agent, Western Rifle Shooters Association, 2013.