Early gun control in Germany

I do often read a story that goes like this:
"The Nazis came to power and introduced gun control to disarm the population and prevent an uprising against their dictatorship."

I understand this is a NRA propaganda myth and even Germans aren't particularly well-educated on details from that era, so it would ask much of Americans to resist such a myth based on actual knowledge.

I'll try to make this a lot easier:

The story begins in 1918 when Germany lost the First World War because its infantry failed to hold the Western frontline after losing too many young, aggressive infantrymen up to spring 1918. You cannot defend a line without counterattacks, and the German army was too bled white to live up to its performance of up to early 1918 any more.
The Versailles treaty of 1919 blamed the only losing country still capable of paying reparations for the whole war, and forced a de facto disarmament on the whole country of Germany. The army was limited to 100,000 men and 12 year volunteers, preventing a large pool of reservists with short training. Arms production and development was also restricted.
It was still possible to keep Germany defensible at least against the new Eastern neighbours such as Poland or Czechoslovakia by supporting unregulated militias (Freikorps) and generally by mobilising World War veterans and equipping them with rifles "lost" during the chaotic demobilization of 1918/1919. There were hundreds of thousands of small arms and probably hundreds of artillery pieces and aircraft unaccounted for.

The support for the Freikorps was eventually revealed and the problem of unaccounted for guns realised, and the consequence was that these unofficial means of national defence were targeted. Germany had to outlaw small arms possession in 1920. This ban on small arms was ineffective due to a lack of gun registration and merely good as an excuse to the British, French and Belgian governments.

Then there were the 20's, during which the Freikorps were dissolved, the Ruhr area was first occupied by Frenchmen and Belgians and then left alone again. The veterans aged and became ever less relevant for national defence. Germany was by the late 1920's no threat any more, nor perceived as such in London or Paris. The interpretation of the Versailles Treaty had become less harsh; the victors were by 1928 rather interested in milking Germany for reparations than concerned about its military potential.

Then came the Gesetz über Schusswaffen und Munition vom 12. April 1928, a gun control law which enforced gun registration and permitted trade with and possession of guns. Please note; this was almost five years before Hitler became Chancellor!

The reasoning behind laws is usually supposed to be written in the preamble, but this is an exception. One could hardly expect the German legislative of 1918 to write into the preamble that the registration of all rifles and carbines in private possession makes a mobilization in case of a conflict with Poland much easier! Yet exactly this was likely the greatest benefit of this law; the state finally knew how many standard calibre (7,92x57 mm) rifles would be available in the event of war.

Gun control was enacted and largely enforced in Germany before the Nazis established their dictatorship in 1933.* Gun control is nothing Nazi-ish, it's not oppression per se. It's difficult to see why driver's licenses are less controversial than gun licenses when you were not exposed to decades of NRA propaganda.


*: Interesting detail: The gun control law of 1928 outlawed gun possession by gypsies AND folks moving around like gypsies (circus acrobats and homeless people, for example) as well as felons (for five years after the arrest), mentally retarded people and people under age 20. So in case you hear about how gun control was used to oppress gypsies - remember this may indeed have been about crime concerns regarding nomadic people in general.

Edit: Comments closed. This blog post is meant to bust a politically motivated myth about German history that's only known in the Anglosphere. It's not about any of the many behind the times cultural wars the USA is still fighting domestically. And it was certainly not meant to ask for ignorant insults.

edit 2015: I found this piece, which explains the story similarly.


  1. I seriously believe the "German model" of gun registration and (rather strict) requirements for storage is generally a very good idea.
    On the other hand I strongly believe that the (outdated) requirements for gun ownership ("sporting" license related to "gunclub" memberships etc) should be reworked. Personally I think there's no convincing reason to not allow private ownership of "reasonable" amounts of firearms and ammunition with "reasonable" personal requirements (criminal records, possible mental state?) and with (strict) registration and storage laws.

  2. A number of neototalitarians in the US are pushing gun control becausetheu want to micromanage our lives in minute detail and they are worried about getting shot. Oddly enough, if one reads both the federalist and anti-federalist papers, it becomes aparent that this is one of the intents of the seccond ammendment to the US constitution; that such men should be restrained by fear. It probably has some efficacy because the cruel are always cowards and so are micromanager's. However, given what we now know about Iraq, I wonder how much; but I digress.

    It is not that we are brainwashed, but that the average american is probably looking at Germany through an American perspective. Also, the right to keep and bear arms was never the primary or the most effective safeguard aginst tyranny, even in the US. Its current importance stems from it being one of the few left standing.


    1. The "right to bear arms" hardly ever existed; it is a new invention. The right to maintain well-regulated, armed militias was cast into the 2nd amendment.

      The 2nd amendment guaranteed the Southern states the right to maintain militias which hunted down escaped slaves with patrols. This was the only use for the 2nd amendment for generations.

      The belief that a small arms only-armed militia could keep a government in check that's supported by federal police and military is idiotic.

    2. Tell that to the Afghans....

  3. Militias balked at chasing after Pancho Villa, so they were rolled into the new National Guard.

    Deputizing people and creating militias are two different things.

  4. Again, read the federalist and anti federalist papers. They were wrote by the same men who wrote the constitution, the bill of rights, and formed our first government. The militia referenced in the seccond amendment is all able bodied men. E.g. the whole of the country. Though federally organized militias also have age restrictions.

    The runaway slave hunters were mainly sheriff's posies, whitch is a seperate entity. The ideal that the sheriff can arm his deputies and his reserve is not in dispute and probably never has been. The modern name for the sheriff's possie is the sheriff's reserve. The gentleman who recently shot the deranged beheader, Alton Nolen, in Moore, Oklahoma was a sheriff's reservist.

    Finally, it is not as idiotic as you think. The last time I heard a size estimate it was 2 million men, or roughly the same size as the military and reserve. It is not straightforward to get a count because a numbet of the active duty servicemen, reserves, police/sheriff's deputies, etc. are also militiamen and they generally don't want to be counted; think about it. Also roughly 1/2 the militias are veterans. The only thing I think is idiotic is the ideal we would somehow get a better government out of a fight. The odds are heavily aginst it.


  5. Well, the belief that a light skirmishing force could conduct recon and skirmishing in the face of heavy armoured formations sounds idiotic, until you realize the point is to work with other parts of the military establishment.

    The good ole boys with AR-15s aren't gonna achieve anything on their own, but their political awareness and associated interest groups feed the entire political machine.