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“Fewer Guns, More Genocide: Europe in the Twentieth Century” by David B. Kopel

There are other papers on the topic but at a concise 23 pages, it is an easy and relatively quick read. It was first posted on 19 November 2020. One may not agree with all the figures and details mentioned in this essay and some arguments may be considered simplistic but, generally, the reasoning and conclusion are sound.

There is no certainty that armed resistance will defeat tyranny. There is certainty that every mass-murdering tyrant fears armed victims and tries assiduously to disarm those whom he intends later to subjugate and murder.

The essay is organized into seven (7) parts.

Part I: Excess Firearms Homicides in the US in the 20th Century simplistically compares the “excess” homicide rate between the US and Europe. In 1990, there were 5.57 firearms homicides per 100,000 population in the US. The European average was 0.92. The difference is 4.65. Applying this excess rate on the US population from 1901 to 2000 yields 745,162 firearms homicides. This is admittedly simplistic but does illustrate the dangers of insufficient gun control.

Part II: Homicides by European and Other Governments in the 20th Century is in effect a summary of figures from Death by Government by R.J. Rummel. The author adds the “democide” figures (that is, mass murder by government) for Europe proper, excluding the Turkish genocides.

The European twentieth-century democide of 87.1 million is over a hundred times larger than the highest possible estimate of American twentieth-century excess gun homicides of 745,000. At the least, the data indicate that over the long run, one’s risk of being murdered is much lower in the United States than in Europe. It is not surprising that migration between the two has always been very heavily in one direction! I am alive to write this essay because my Jewish German and Lithuanian ancestors migrated to the United States in the nineteenth century. By moving to the United States, they increased their risk of being shot by an individual criminal and drastically reduced their risk of being murdered by criminal governments.

Part III: The Relationship between Freedom and Democide continues to rely on Rummel’s research, making the observation that as government power increases, democide increases. The author makes the following observation with a not-so-subtle implied warning:

No democratic government has committed democide against an enfranchised population. As long as true elections are allowed, governments do not mass murder voters.

Part IV: It Can’t Happen Here is a general reminder that gun registration, even if done with good intentions, can be abused. The author cites pre-WWII Germany as an example. Concerned with street violence mainly perpetrated by Nazi and communist gangs, the democratic legislature at the time passed a law requiring a license to obtain firearms and firearm registration. Later, the registration list fell into the hands of the Nazis with obvious results.

Some may argue the above example is over-simplistic but, in my opinion, it generally has merit. The weakness of this section is that the author does not list the regimes that attempted genocide/democide with their corresponding (additional) gun control measures implemented before said attempt and any available statistics regarding the number of firearms confiscated and subsequent deaths. This would make the essay more comprehensive.

Part V: Arms Monopolies Promote Killing with Arms, and Killing by Other Means points out the obvious that although governments can kill with various methods, it is difficult to do so if the population is armed.

Statistically speaking, mass shootings occur predominantly in gun-free zones—that is, places where the population has been disarmed. Hitler’s Einsatzgruppen shot a million, and Mao’s 1949–51 Great Terror shot 1.5 to 2 million more. Even one of these examples shows that mass shootings by government far outnumber mass shootings by individuals. Successful societies suppress shootings by individual psychopaths and prevent psychopaths from obtaining government power. As the history of the twentieth century indicates, this is easier said than done. Whatever the means, murder is most frequent when governments have arms and victims do not.

Part VI: The Perpetrators’ Viewpoints in Tyranny and Mass Murder is an obvious reminder that “totalitarians have always disarmed their subjects. This indicates that they considered widespread citizen armament to be a serious danger to their regimes.”

Of course, a totalitarian regime might not prohibit all firearms across the entire population. It may arm allies who serve the regime.

In the short term at least, a nation can be disarmed and be free but that is “in the long run is more questionable, according to the twentieth century’s political history”.

Part VII: Efficacy of Citizen Arms in Preventing Mass Murder is an interesting discussion. The author begins with “deterrence” since “[r]egime change is difficult once a tyrant has taken power”.

A key reason that the American Revolution began in April 1775, when the British started forcible gun confiscation, was the American fear that waiting longer would leave them disarmed and unable to resist.

Once a tyrannical government is in place, “rebels often lose”. Even the American Revolution depended on outside support. Rebels can take advantage of terrain if available. Sometimes, foreign interventions may stop the mass killing but foreign powers are not always reliable.

In cases where deterrence is too late, action can still save lives even if it does not effect regime change. It is common for the fighters to die but their efforts can save others. The author cites several examples, including Tibet:

Tibet, after many years of self-government, was invaded and conquered by Communist China in 1951. Armed resistance began almost immediately, and greatly intensified after the communists announced a gun registration program, which was universally understood as a prelude to confiscation. By mid-1958, most of the land of Tibet had been liberated. Ultimately, China’s overwhelming numerical superiority finally defeated the Tibetans. But in the meantime, 80,000 Tibetans escaped.

The paper is freely available for download at:


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