by Alan W. Bock in Orange County Register, 9-11-94

This century now drawing to a close -- a century that at the beginning was marked by hope that it would be the culmination of a long historical process of progress that would lead to an era of peace and plenty for all -- could well go down in history as the century of war and genocide.

Prior to the 20th century wars happened with distressing frequency, of course, but many of them involved only small portions of the population and most were confined to limited geographical areas.

This century saw the rise of "total war," conflicts in which the entire populations of warring countries (rather than a limited number of professional soldiers) were either pressed into service or had their lives deeply altered by wartime emergency measures.

We also experienced two World Wars, battles of which were fought in strategic spots ranging across the globe, and a Cold War that affected many countries geographically far removed from the two superpowers who were the major scorpions-in-a-bottle antagonists.

Likewise, while ethnic and religious hatred and oppression were hardly a 20th-century innovation, this century saw the introduction of officially sanctioned murder of discrete groups on a scale that could justifiably be called genocide. This century has seen major genocidal incidents in seven different countries (including three episodes in communist China).

Everyone knows about the Nazi Holocaust directed against Jews, Gypsies, and others, and most people have some awareness of a Turkish genocide against Armenians (1915-1917) and the Cambodian campaign against all educated persons between 1975 and 1979. But official campaigns designed to exterminate all the people in a given group were also carried out in the Soviet Union, in China, in Guatemala (against the Indian population between 1960 and 1981), and in Uganda under the brutal regime of Idi Amin.

The total death toll from these episodes of officially-sponsored mass murder? About 56 million human beings.

Why have such brutal massacres taken place so often in what so many had hoped would be an enlightened century? Many reasons, including the improvement of communications, transportation, and weapons technology, the worldwide increase in state power, political stresses and miscalculations, have played a role. But the increasingly prominent organization called Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, headquartered in Milwaukee, has developed and documented an arresting hypothesis.

Each major genocide of the 20th century has had its own unique history, says the JPFO in a new book called "Lethal Laws: 'Gun Control' is the Key to Genocide" by Jay Simkin, Aaron Zelman, and Alan M. Rice. But each genocide has been preceded by major gun-control legislation that facilitated the confiscation of weapons from the targeted victims. The most important thing we can do to prevent future genocides, say the authors, is to eliminate gun-control laws from the arsenal of government weapons against the rights of the people.

Most gun-control laws are not specifically designed to facilitate genocide, although a couple of them in this century do seem to have been passed with that goal in mind. Several of the outlaw regimes that declared war against portions of their own populations used laws that had been passed by previous regimes, ostensibly in the interests of crime control, to pave the way for their murderous work.

But genocides have followed patterns. They have usually happened in severely stressed societies, whose officials need scapegoats (often to deflect attention from their own mistakes or blunders). They have been planned by specific people -- often one specific individual can be pinpointed. The targets have been carefully chosen. And the mass murders have been preceded by a systematic program of weapon confiscation, facilitated by gun-control laws.

Lest anyone think that this country or any country is too "advanced" or "civilized" to engage in such brutal policies in the future, the authors point out (as have many observers) that Germany at the beginning of the century was viewed as one of the most advanced, civilized, and generally tolerant countries in the world. And the United States, less than 50 years ago, carried out a systematic policy of deportation and imprisonment against a discrete minority group: Japanese-Americans living on the West coast, and especially in California, during World War II.

Some have noted that the Japanese-American internment, while objectionable, was not as brutal as what many governments did. But Simkin, Zelman, and Rice ask an arresting question. If U.S. forces had not won the Battle of Midway in 1942, and if Japanese naval forces were left powerful enough to raid the continental United States, as many feared at the time was possible, might pressure have built to exterminate the Japanese-Americans held in those "benign" prison camps?

The lesson of the 20th century is that almost any government can go bad or be taken over by brutal usurpers. The most effective deterrent to brutalization by such a government -- as was illustrated as recently as 1979 in Afghanistan -- is widespread ownership of weapons by the general populace. Any limitation on firearms ownership increases, however minutely, the possibility of genocide during some future time of stress or repression.

"Lethal Laws" is comprehensive and scrupulously documented. It contains the texts, in the original languages and in English translation, of the gun-control laws that preceded the seven major genocides of this century, and fascinating, revealing historical sketches of the run-up to each genocide (Jay Simkin is a diplomatic historian by profession, and his knowledge is evident). It's available for $24.95 from Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, 2872 Wentworth Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53207. Or phone (414) 769-0760. Get it. It will change your outlook (whatever is it) on gun control forever.

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