Who Needs a Semi-Automatic?

— By Jerry Cates. First published on 3 October 2017 and last expanded on 5 October 2017. © Govinthenews Vol. 8:10(1).

As I write this, Americans in general, and the inhabitants of Las Vegas, Nevada in particular, are still reeling at the horrendous aftermath of what presently amounts to the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The shooter was a 64-year-old millionaire gambler, pilot, and real-estate investor named Stephen Paddock. He fired thousands of rounds from multiple semi-automatic rifles, some of which were modified with bumpstocks that allowed them to function much like their fully automatic cousins.

Paddock chose as his target a concert, attended by as many as thirty thousand Country Music fans, that was going on below his two-bedroom suite in the Mandalay Hotel and Casino, on Las Vagas Boulevard. In a matter of minutes he rained hundreds of bullets down on the concert-goers below. At last count he managed to kill 59 and wound just short of 500. Now a host of shaken, angry, and frightened citizens and legislators clamors for Congress to address this tragedy by enacting new gun-control legislation.

Among them is a friend of mine, with whom I’d recently had a spate of discussions on the value and nature of the 2nd Amendment. She texted the following message to me the morning after the shooting:

“Remind me why people need semi-automatic weapons.” She asked.

We’d discussed that very issue earlier. I hastily replied to her with the following:

“If the inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto had semi-automatic weapons the Germans would have been powerless to destroy them. What more do you need to know?”

Why bring that up? Simple. My friend is Jewish, the daughter of a holocaust survivor. Multiple members of her close and extended family are direct or indirect victims of Nazi atrocities. It is likely she knows something about the Warsaw Ghetto where, beginning in 1939, the Nazis ultimately forced upward of 400,000 Jews  to live in squalor. In the summer of 1942 — when I was a brand-new baby boy (born in May of 1942) living safely and comfortably in America — some 254,000 Ghetto residents were forcibly moved to the Treblinka extermination camp, where most were gassed or shot to death. Though not a Jew, but as one who was born during so pivotal a period of WW-II, I found myself moved from an early age to study the holocaust with great interest. That study had a formative impact on my views on gun control.

The Nazis took steps, early in Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, to limit access to firearms by Jews and others they targeted as enemies of the state. Years later, they rounded these “enemies” up, and imprisoned them in concentration camps and ghettos so they could control their movements. Finally, they systematically transported them to extermination camps where many, if not most, were killed. The Nazis were able to do this because they, and they alone, were well supplied with firearms. The Jews were either poorly armed or entirely disarmed, which in either case left them essentially defenseless. Were I a Jew, I would hope that the lesson I’d learn from this period in history is that one must fight, ardently, against any attempt by a government to disarm its citizenry. Yet, today, some of America’s most strident anti-gun voices — i.e., voices clamoring for our government to disarm its citizens — are Jewish.

Why? That’s an excellent question. We might as well ask why so many people of all faiths automatically equate opposition to cruelty, brutality, and homicide with opposition to the ownership of the instruments that are so often used to facilitate such acts. To many the link seems so apparent it’s a no-brainer. Yet, not every apparent no-brainer actually is one. It matters who controls those instruments. While cruel, homicidal brutes often use guns to maim and kill innocent human beings, they are stopped if the innocents fight back with equal force. In the hands of innocent, law-abiding citizens, guns not only bring cruelty, brutality, and killing to a halt, they prevent them from happening.

History proves that it is difficult if not impossible to keep guns out of the hands of miscreants because — by definition — whenever laws are enacted to make gun possession unlawful, miscreants aren’t affected. Miscreants scorn such laws. On the other hand, it is easy to keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding innocents, because — again, by definition — whenever laws are enacted to make guns unlawful, the law-abiding innocents automatically do what the law requires.

Thus, as one old but true bromide puts it, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” It is a verifiable fact that between 1965 and 1995, when civilian ownership of guns in America was severely restricted, gun-associated homicide rates soared. By comparison, from 1995 to the present, as those restrictions were relaxed, gun-associated homicide rates have plummeted. Viewed from that latter perspective, automatically equating gun ownership with cruelty, brutality and homicide appears to contradict reality.

The disconnect between pro-gun and anti-gun Americans could not, today, be more stark. Each calls the other stupid or worse. Who is right? Neither, actually. It isn’t a matter of stupidity, but a result of one’s education on the subject, one’s preconceptions, and the distinctions between active and passive personalities.

Most of the anti-gun individuals I know are highly intelligent, so stupidity clearly does not drive their opinions. Still, with high intellect sometimes comes an unwarranted sense of self confidence, even a peculiar species of arrogance, particularly with respect to fields of study in which one has little or no genuine knowledge. For example, to intellectuals who have not dug deeply into the subject of self-defense, the argument for gun control seems so intuitively correct that debating the subject is viewed as a useless waste of time. Similarly, to such individuals the argument against gun control appears just as intuitively wrong. Yet, as with a number of other logical conundrums that humans face in life, it is the counterintuitive argument — in this case the one against gun control — that makes the most sense to those who have taken the time to give the subject the deep, thorough analysis it deserves. In the following I will explain why.

But first I should clarify the hasty reply I made to my friend’s question. The fact is, though the inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto didn’t have any semi-automatic weapons (not even the Nazis had many such weapons at the time, as the underlying technology was still in its infancy), they did have a small number of bolt-action rifles, and a smaller number of fully automatic weapons. They didn’t, however, have enough of any of them, nor did they have sufficient ammunition to mount much of a defense, even if they’d had lots of weapons to go around. Still, my thesis that a good defense against tyranny is greatly enhanced by having semi-automatic weapons available when the enemy knocks at the door remains squarely on track. The experiences of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto provides excellent proof of that assertion.

Let me explain.

The inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto were told, in 1942, that the 254,000 who were being forcibly taken from the Ghetto were en-route to labor camps where they would be put to work. Believing this, they and those left behind did not aggressively resist the Nazi orders. Later, however, those left behind learned they had been told a lie. Word soon reached the Ghetto that their neighbors and family members had been delivered to extermination camps, and that most had been killed shortly afterward.

In 1943, the Nazis resumed their efforts to transport the remaining Ghetto inhabitants to the Treblinka death camp. This time, however, many resisted the Nazis by mounting an uprising that amounted to the largest single Jewish revolt of WW-II. The uprising started on April 19th, when Ghetto inhabitants refused to surrender to the Nazi police commander, Jürgen Stroop. Stroop quickly retaliated, ordering his troops to burn the Ghetto. This they did, systematically incinerating the Ghetto’s structures, block by block, in a deadly process that continued until May 16th. By then some 13,000 Jews had been suffocated or burned alive, while the Nazi forces suffered no more than 300 fatalities.

Note that this was the largest Jewish uprising of WW-II. Though the uprising was unsuccessful, the resisting inhabitants still managed to inflict casualties on their Nazi tormenters. They did so because they were not entirely defenseless.

We know something about the weapons that had been secreted into the Warsaw Ghetto because of the presence of two underground organizations that fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. One, a left wing group known as Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa (ŻOB), was founded in July 1942 by Zionist Jewish youth groups. The other, a right wing group known as Żydowski Związek Wojskowy (ŻZW), was founded in 1939 by Jews who had been former Polish military officers with ties to the Polish Home Army. Though separate and mutually antagonistic, both organisations were officially incorporated into the Polish Home Army.

The latter provided each of them with small quantities of weapons:

According to some sources, the ŻZW, with some 400 fighters, had 2 heavy machine guns, 4 light machine guns, 21 submachine guns, 30 rifles, 50 pistols, and over 400 grenades. By comparison, the ŻOB had 220 fighters armed with handguns, a small supply of grenades, and a number of Molotov cocktails, and each Ghetto area with a ŻOB presence was also supplied with three rifles, two land mines and a submachine gun. Thus the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was carried out by some 620 fighters armed with about 270 handguns, 63 rifles, 36 submachine guns, 4 light machine guns, and 2 heavy machine guns. This amounts to one fighter for every 236 Ghetto inhabitants. But note that, of the 620 fighters, only 375 had access to firearms, and of those firearms, only 103 can be classified as transportable combat arms.

That sounds pretty bleak, doesn’t it? Indeed, it does. Yet, the Warsaw Ghetto fighters accomplished what can only be considered amazing feats with their limited supply of firearms. Here the history gets very interesting and, potentially, quite instructive. The number of fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto was small, but their ranks could have been swelled dramatically if only half the able-bodied men who were imprisoned with them had rallied to their aid, but that isn’t the half of it. Irrefutable facts, largely ignored by historians until now, show that the fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising could have defeated the Nazi onslaught, had they been supplied with sufficient firearms and ammunition. This belief gains strength from the unimaginable successes the resistance achieved against the Nazis despite being overwhelmingly outmanned and outgunned.

… more to come…

— Questions? Corrections? Comments? e-mail jerry.cates@govinthenews.info. You may also register, log in, and leave a detailed comment in the space provided below.

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