Tyranny and Resistance
Tyranny and Resistance
Nazi Germany invaded France in 1940. In every occupied town, Nazi soldiers put up posters that demanded that civilians surrender their firearms within twenty-four hours or else be shot. Despite the consequences, many French citizens refused to comply with the order. In Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France: Tyranny and Resistance, Stephen P. Halbrook tells this story of Nazi repression and the brave French men and women who refused to surrender to it.
Taking advantage of a prewar 1935 French gun registration law, the Nazis used registration records kept by the French police to easily locate gun owners to enforce their demand that firearms be surrendered. Countless French citizens faced firing squads for refusing to comply. But many French citizens had resisted the 1935 decree, preventing the Nazis from fully enforcing the confiscation order. Throughout the Nazi occupation, the French Resistance grew, arming itself to conduct resistance activities and fight back against the occupation.
Drawing on records of the German occupation and testimonies from members of the French resistance, Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France is the first book to focus on the Nazis efforts to disarm the French.
Table of Contents
1. Crisis in the Third Republic
2. Pierre Laval Decrees Firearm Registration
3. Blitzkrieg, Defeat, and Twenty-Four Hours to Turn in Your Gun or Be Shot
4. Occupation and Collaboration
5. Weapons Possession: The Core of Criminal Activities of the French
6. Amnesty or Execution
7. Arms for the Resistance
Credits for Illustrations
About the Author
Illustrations follow page 124
- Decades before gun control became a hot-button political issue in the United States, France on the eve of the Second World War struggled with and ultimately adopted firearm registration. In the 1930s, political unrest brought the nation to the brink of disaster, prompting Prime Minister Pierre Laval to impose restrictions on freedom of assembly, decree gun registration, and ban military-style firearms. The unintended consequences would be horrendous, as celebrated attorney and author Stephen P. Halbrook shows in the first-ever book devoted to gun control in a Nazi-occupied country.
- When France crumbled before the Nazi blitzkrieg in 1940, German soldiers mounted posters declaring that all firearms must be turned in within 24 hours under penalty of death. As the armistice that France signed had stipulated, the French police were to enforce all decrees issued by the German occupation authorities. And the French police had the registration records of firearm owners.
- Attempts to resist the Nazi occupation of France were ruthlessly crushed, but the executions of disobedient gun owners failed to sway countless citizens to turn in their firearms. The Germans debated whether to declare amnesties for the recalcitrant French, yet nothing seemed to work for hard-core patriots. As one German report explained, Weapons possession is the core of criminal activities of the French.
- French gun owners who refused to surrender their arms were a potential source of resistance to the occupation. Despite facing repression and terror, Resistance members armed themselves and conducted acts of sabotage, provided intelligence for the Allies, and helped pave the way to the Liberation. In the mountainous regions, the maquisyoung men who escaped labor conscriptionattacked German forces, particularly after D-Day.
- Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France: Tyranny and Resistance offers a new and unique window on modern European history. Based on newly discovered documents from German and French archives, diaries, newspapers of the time, and recent interviews with surviving members of the French Resistance, it shows how the Nazis made use of gun control to repress and enslave their subjectstactics rarely mentioned in previous books about World War II, despite the essential role this played in Nazi occupation policy, which aimed to prevent and wipe out any resistance.
- The Nazi occupation of France was a showcase of gun control in its most repressive form. When gun registration was originally decreed, no one anticipated that the records would be used to induce confiscation under threat of the death penalty. Yet many still refused to comply and hid their guns. Having all firearms restricted to the military and the police, and having no right to keep and bear arms, became the essence of a conquered people. There is a historical lesson herebe careful what you wish for.
Countless works have been written about the German occupation of France during World War II, but until now no book has focused on the repression of gun owners. With the publication of Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France: Tyranny and Resistance, author and attorney Stephen P. Halbook (Gun Control in the Third Reich, Securing Civil Rights, The Founders Second Amendment) tells a story long waiting to be told. Focusing on the years 1934 through 1945, Halbrook examines Frances political convulsions, its laws restricting free assembly and requiring gun registration, its invasion and occupation by Nazi Germany, repression, execution of gun owners, resistance, and finally liberation. Here at last is the key that unlocks the secret history of Frances occupation under a brutal regime and the developments that helped lay the groundwork.
Drawing on newly discovered documents from German and French archives, diaries, and newspapers of the time, Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France not only adds immeasurably to our understanding of history, but it also remedies a longstanding injustice: historys neglect of the men and women who risked the firing squad by defying German-issued decrees to surrender all firearms.
If nothing else, it is fitting to remember and pay tribute to the French gun owners who resisted as well as those who were executed for defying orders to surrender their revolvers and hunting guns, and who thereby contributed in one way or another to the Resistance, Halbrook writes. While not every French citizen caught with a gun was shot, the very real threat of the firing squad was not enough to induce every gun owner to comply, leading the Germans repeatedly to declare amnesties.
Path to Persecution
A German poster requiring all people to surrender their firearms within 24 hours or face the death penalty is on prominent display in Paris at the Musée de lOrdre de la Libération (Museum of the Order of Liberation). The burden of enforcing the edict, which was issued in 1940 shortly after the occupation began, fell on the Vichy government and its leading promotor, Pierre Laval.
Years before he became the most notorious collaborator with the German occupiers, Laval as prime minister decreed the registration of firearms in 1935 in response to political strife. Issued following several violent incidents, such as a 1934 massacre in which police and the Mobile Guard opened fire on protesters, gunning down 18 civilians, Lavals decree also restricted free assembly, increased the size of the Mobile Guard, and banned rifles and pistols considered military-style.
Compliance with the gun registration requirement was problematic, however. A case study of the Ardennes department revealed few registrants. With internal and external threats looming, more gun restrictions were imposed. Gun sales were halted. The press reported searches of houses in which arms were found belonging to persons rumored to be communists. While disarming her citizens, France reacted to Hitlers growing threat by imposing military conscription and building the Maginot Line.
Invasion and Occupation
Germanys 1940 blitzkrieg defeated France in a matter of weeks. In every town square, posters were nailed up declaring that persons who failed to turn in their firearms within 24 hours would be subject to the death penalty. The French government reconstituted itself in Vichy and negotiated an armistice in which it agreed to enforce the orders of the German occupation authorities. Among other repressive measures, the French police were now in charge of confiscating firearms, and they had the gun-owner registration records with which to do so.
The Vichy government reconstituted itself along authoritarian lines headed by Philippe Pétain and Pierre Laval, who would become the chief collaborator with Nazi Germany. They took orders from Otto von Stülpnagel, the German military commander headquartered in Paris. While many Frenchmen were turning in their firearms, others were hiding theirs. The Germans reported that cooperation with the French police was high. Periodic reports were issued of illegal weapons possession and other offenses against the occupation, as well as statistics on enormous quantities of arms being confiscated. Surrendered guns were supposed to be returned to their owners when peace came, but instead many were looted by or sold to German soldiers.
Gun Possession, Execution, and Resistance
Germanys attack on Russia released the French communists from their orders from Moscow under the Hitler-Stalin pact not to oppose the German occupation. The communists began a campaign to assassinate German soldiers, leading Hitler to order the execution of scores of French hostages. From his London exile, Charles de Gaulle warned against such random attacks. A more sustainable Resistance movement was forming, members of which were arming themselves, sabotaging infrastructure essential to the Germans, and providing intelligence to the Allies. Executions of gun owners were prominently announced.
In desperation, the Germans allowed a brief amnesty for the surrender of hunting arms, which supposedly would be tagged and returned after the war. Such measures didnt work either, so Hitler issued the Night and Fog Decreepersons caught with guns, anti-German leaflets, or other violations would disappear without any trace.
The Germans knew that many French held on to their guns, and thus amnesty continued to be debated, despite the incongruity of having shot so many for gun possession and then letting others turn in their firearms without punishment. The time also came to impose the death penalty on persons who failed to denounce others known to possess a firearm. The French police continued to use the registration records on behalf of the Germans, including to trace firearms used to attack German soldiers. The SS under Karl Oberg took over repressive measures from the German military.
Armed Resistance and Liberation
The Allied invasion of North Africa spurred the Germans to take over the previously unoccupied area of France. A new wave of gun confiscations, repression, and executions pervaded the country. The Vichy government issued its own siren song promising to return surrendered arms but threatening disobedience with death by guillotine. Afraid that Resistance members would break into depots of seized arms, the Germans considered shipping them to Germany but settled on the ruse of returning the barrels to their owners, while keeping the other gun parts so as to render them unusable. The Resistance seized back what it could and begged the Allies to air drop more arms, which were never enough. The SS rejected a new amnesty knowing that those organizing to fight back would never turn in their guns. Both sides were getting ready for the looming Allied invasion.
D-Day was the signal for resistance groups to escalate sabotage of rail and communications, and to launch armed attacks on German forces, which hit back at the French guerillas in the mountains and committed atrocities against the general population. In Paris, insurgents mounted the barricades and fought the Wehrmacht in the streets until Allied forces arrived, liberating the city. With most of France liberated, the time came for a reckoning. It was estimated that only a third of the hunting guns had been surrendered, a testament to massive disobedience to draconian gun control. Trials were held of traitors who denounced fellow citizens for anti-German offenses, including not turning in guns. The Vichy collaborators were brought to justice, most prominently Pierre Laval, who was shot at the same prison where his Nazi partners had executed countless citizens.
Repression in Retrospect
When Laval decreed gun registration in 1935, no one anticipated that five years later France would be overrun by and become a vassal state of Nazi Germany. Gun owners would join the ranks of others in all walks of life who would be subject to ruthless repression for failure to obey the occupation diktats. Many not caught and executed hid their firearms and waited until the time came to strike back. Just as the French army couldnt protect the country in 1940, the armed citizens who made up the Resistance could not overthrow the Nazi tyranny without the Allied invasion, but they contributed greatly to the Liberation. Frances nightmare in that era had many elements, but it suggests a telling lesson: history does not always repeat itself, but rue the day when it does.
Stephen Halbrook has done it again, broken new ground with meticulous historical gun control research. This is the harrowing story of Nazi and Vichy government savage repression of French gun owners, in part made possible by pre-war French firearms registration. Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France is an important and highly readable addition to scholarship on how dictators and invaders have disarmed conquered populations.
James B. Jacobs, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger Professor of Constitutional Law and the Courts; Director, Center for Research in Crime and Justice; New York University; author, Can Gun Control Work?
"In the outstanding book, Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France, Halbrook shows that although the French government did not intend to disarm the population when it mandated the registration of firearms, the very existence of registration records made it possible for the Nazis who occupied France during WWII to tighten their bloody grip on the country by hunting down gun owners. The applicable lesson here is that the intentions behind gun control measures aimed at the general population don't matter as much as the inevitable result: subtracting from the people's power to guard their own freedom. His mixture of anecdotes and statistics makes for sobering reading."
Angelo M. Codevilla, Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Boston University; author, Informing Statecraft, War: Ends and Means (with Paul Seabury), The Character of Nations, and Between the Alps and a Hard Place: Switzerland in World War II and the Rewriting of History
"In this detailed and fascinating book, Stephen P. Halbrook gives us a companion volume to his superb Gun Control in the Third Reich. Relying on French archival sources and German occupational records as well as a truly illuminating set of eye-witness questionnaire responses and more, Halbrook demonstrates the extent to which modern dictatorship relies on the control and confiscation of weapons and fears what French socialist Jean Jaurès once praised as 'the general arming of the people.' Like Halbrook's study of the Third Reich, Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France greatly expands our historical knowledge about the relationship between private gun confiscation and the Holocaust. As a work of scholarship, the book issimply putconclusive. But it is also an intensely interesting and at times inspiring account of how some French people collaborated with dictatorship and occupation, how some complied and just went along, and how some resisted heroically."
T. Hunt Tooley, Professor of History, Austin College; whose books include Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe, Battleground and Home Front in the First World War, and National Identity and Weimar Germany
The theme of Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France is new, and Stephen Halbrook conveys it with laudable precision. In the early 1980s, I spoke to French Resistance fighters who told me how difficult it was to hide weapons during the German occupation. But never before had I read anything about it. We owe Halbrook tremendous gratitude for illuminating a crucial issue that had not been addressed by either the Germans or the French.
Wieland Giebel, Founder and Curator, Berlin Story Museum, Germany; author, The History of Berlin, The Brown Berlin, Goebbelss Propaganda, and Hitlers Terror in Berlin
Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France is an impressive addition to the already vast literature on the Second World War. The book is filled with useful information from primary sources, much of it previously unpublished. Halbrook vividly depicts the terrible years of the occupation of France by German armed forces, in particular from the viewpoint of French owners of firearms, mainly hunting weapons but also miscellaneous military arms retained by the families of soldiers in prior wars. One of Hitlers major objectives was to see France (and other conquered territories) completely firearms-free, and major efforts to this end were expended by the German armed forces and their French collaborators. Two aspects of Halbrooks story are of obvious relevance for contemporary debates about civilian possession of firearms. First, although the Germans collected truckloads of firearms from all over France, they didnt get all of themor even, perhaps, most of them. Despite threatening the most draconian penalties (including the death penalty, which was carried out in thousands of instances), and despite unlimited powers to search any premises at any time without giving reasons, occupation authorities simply could not successfully disarm a population that was unwilling to cooperate with them. Second, many of the guns that remained in civilian hands found their way to the Resistance, which valued handguns in particular. It is not that people with side arms could credibly threaten to take on organized formations of the German army. But as Halbrook shows, guns played an indispensable moralizing role for the Resistance. Because its members were able to arm and protect themselves, the Resistance was able to survive and grow, and as it grew stronger it did play an increasingly important role in harrying occupation forces, providing vital intelligence to the Allied armies, and preparing the ground for Europe's eventual liberation.
Daniel D. Polsby, Professor of Law, Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University
"'Get your guns out of the straw, your stens, your grenades...' These words of the popular 1943 Chant des Partisans, by Joseph Kessel, Maurice Druon and Anna Marly, only make sense if there are hidden guns, sten guns, and grenades to fight against the evil Nazis in the first place. As Stephen P. Halbrook's splendid new book, Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France, makes perfectly clear, the not so-well-intended but comparatively harmless administrative registration of firearms by the French government before World War II made the goal of the Nazis to disarm the liberty-loving people of France much easier. The heroic fight of the resistance against the invader became harder. Until there are no more aggressionsand I fear we still have some distance in front of us until we arrive on that bright sunlit upland of human historyuntil there are no more wars, a lesson remains: When the battle cry of freedom is heard, people should be well-armed to respond."
Jürg F. Stüssi-Lauterburg, former Director, Library Am Guisanplatz BiG; former President, Foundation Council of the Foundation for Democracy
"Talk of Nazi gun confiscation has long been a staple of American gun debates, but until recently the scholarly work had not been done. In this book, Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France, Stephen Halbrook continues his extensively researched history of Nazi gun controls and gun confiscation, revealing in particular how prewar French gun registration laws made the Nazis' task easier, and how French disobedience to those laws preserved a reservoir of firearms that made the Resistance's task easier. Highly recommended!"
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Tennessee College of Law
"With Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France, Stephen Halbrook cements his position as one of the leading scholars on the right to bear arms. Halbrook provides us with an important cautionary tale. A seemingly harmless firearms registration measure enacted by France's prewar democratic government would allow a later sinister regime, the forces of the Nazi occupation and its collaborators, to round up firearms and to imprison and execute those who resisted confiscation. Anyone who doubts that disarming a people makes it easier to oppress a people would do well to read Halbrook's well-researched study."
Robert J. Cottrol, Professor of Law, History, and Sociology and Harold Paul Green Research Professor of Law, George Washington University; author, The Long, Lingering Shadow: Slavery, Race, and Law in the American Hemisphere
"Stephen Halbrook has done it again. Building on the case he made in Gun Control and the Third Reich that gun registration efforts in the Weimer Republic contributed to Hitler's rise to power in Germany, he demonstrates in his newest book, Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France: Tyranny and Resistance, that similar policies in pre-war France facilitated Nazi-occupation of France. Gun registration laws put in place in 1935 by then Prime Minister Pierre Laval made easy pickings of those who failed to surrender their arms under Nazi occupationa failure whose penalty was execution. But Halbrook also tells the other side of the storythat the many French people who refused to register their firearms in 1935, or who owned hunting guns not subject to the registration lawswere often key cogs in the resistance movement that contributed ultimately to France's restoration of freedom. 'Tis an important lesson that cannot be told too often: Tyrants seek to disarm the citizenry because a well-armed citizenry is the surest defense of freedom."
John C. Eastman, Henry Salvatori Professor of Law and Community Service, Chapman University; Founding Director, Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence
"After the conquest of France in 1940, the Germans made intensive efforts to remove guns from French civilians. French civilians took great risks to keep their guns. Secret caches of firearms provided weapons for guerilla bands in the last months of the occupation. They also bolstered the confidence and spirit of a wider range of resisters. Stephen Halbrook's Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France tells this story in vivid detail, drawing on official documents of that era and a range of post-war reminiscences."
Jeremy A. Rabkin, Professor of Law, Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University
"Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France makes evident several inescapable conclusions: first, a disarmed populace is a priority for tyrants; second, disarming a populace is an achievable bureaucratic process done with relative ease over a short span of time; third, once disarmed the populace must choose either submission to tyranny or death; fourth, the natural right to self-preservation is inextricably tied to the natural right to keep and bear arms; and fifth, effective resistance to tyranny does not start at the knock at the door, but at the politicians' call for gun registration. There was a time when most Americans understood these unpleasant truisms. Stephen Halbrook's timely book is an urgent reminder."
Marshall L. DeRosa, Professor of Political Science, Florida Atlantic University; author, The Ninth Amendment and the Politics of Creative Jurisprudence and The Politics of Dissolution and the Rhetorical Quest for a National Identity
"Stephen P. Halbrook's, Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France, will be received with the same controversy as his previous work, Gun Control in the Third Reich. Gun control advocates will hate it and gun ownership supporters will love it. Irrespective of what side of the gun control debate you are on, you should read it. It is meticulously research, but that will not deter critics from saying that an example from occupied France is as irrelevant as that of the Third Reich. But is it? The venerated sociologist Max Weber instructed us to look at the 'extreme case' as a way of understanding social reality, and Halbrook does precisely that. In the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting, do you want to seize guns? Well, even on pain of facing a firing squad, gun owners in Nazi-occupied France largely held on to their weapons. Seizing weapons is not as accessible a social policy as one might assume. An armed populace in Nazi-occupied France formed the foundation for the resistance to the brutality of the occupation. While the resistance could not overthrow the Nazi regime, it undermined it and was able to join the allied invasion force in pushing the Nazis out of France. Critics of Halbrook's earlier work have stated that since Jews were less than 1% of the population of Germany when the Nazis took over, what good would their armed resistance have been? This critique ignores the triumph of the human spirit in its desire to resist oppression, to make the oppression burdensome and odious. In his Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn argued for resisting the heavily-armed state organs with clubs in the absence of guns because resistance is important. Some of those who seek to join the oppressors will be deterred by the prospect of their own deaths. At a time when the debate over gun control is front and center on the political stage, Halbrook's meticulously researched work on Nazi-occupied France is a welcome contribution to that debate, and one that cannot be easily dismissed."
Abraham H. Miller, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, University of Cincinnati; Distinguished Fellow, Haym Salomon Center
"The sophisticated analysis in Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France shows how Nazi gun control enforcement was affected by military events, international law, civilian cooperation, and the special situation of the nominally independent Vichy government. Halbrook demonstrates how gun registration laws enacted by a democratic government may later be exploited by a tyrannywith registration leading to confiscation and then to mass murder."
David B. Kopel, Adjunct Professor of Advanced Constitutional Law, Sturm College of Law, University of Denver; author, Guns: Who Should Have Them?; Research Director, Independence Institute
I am reading a fascinating book by Stephen P. Halbrook from the Independent Institute called Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France. The book describes the history of how the registration of firearms by the French government before World War II made it easier for the Nazis to disarm the French people. . . . It is also a testament to the bravery of the French people who did not turn their guns in; some of those guns contributed to the Resistance and helped the Allies to win the war. . . . the only armed resistance in France until D-Day was conducted by civilians . . . Remember this the next time you hear someone mention that private citizens should not own guns.
Robert Ade, Communications Manager
|Assault Weapons Ban, or Assault on the Second Amendment? Sr. Fellow Stephen P. Halbrook, author of Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France speaks at The Federalist Society event in Mineola, NY||Tue., Apr. 24, 2018|