Fewer Guns, More Genocide: Europe In The Twentieth Century

23 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2020 Last revised: 3 Dec 2020

See all articles by David B. Kopel

David B. Kopel

Independence Institute; Denver University - Sturm College of Law; Cato Institute

Date Written: December 2, 2020


This Article compares the relative dangers of excessive gun ownership and of excessive gun control, based on the historical record of the twentieth century.

Part I presents homicide data for the United States and Europe during the twentieth century. First, the Article considers gun death rates from ordinary crimes—robberies, domestic violence, and so on. Based on certain assumptions that bias the figure upward, if the U.S. gun homicide rate from ordinary crime had been the same as Europe’s, there might have been three-quarters of a million fewer deaths in America during the twentieth century. The figure is a data point for the dangers of insufficient gun control.

Next, Part II presents data on mass murders perpetrated by governments, such as the Hitler or Stalin regimes. In Europe in the twentieth century, states murdered about 87.1 million people. Globally, governments murdered well over 200 million people. The figure does not include combat deaths from wars. As will be detailed, the death toll of all the people killed in battle in the twentieth century is much smaller than the number of noncombatants killed by governments—such as the Jews murdered by Hitler, or the Ukranians murdered by Stalin. The mass murder by government figures are, arguably, data points for the dangers of excessive gun control.

Part III shows that totalitarian governments are the most likely to perpetrate mass murder. Part IV argues against the complacent belief that any nation, including the United States, is immune from the dangers of being taken over by a murderous government. The historical record shows that risks are very broad.

The record also shows that governments intent on mass murder prioritize victim disarmament. Such governments consider victim armament to be a serious impediment to mass murder and to the government itself, as described in Parts V and VI.

Finally, Part VII consider the efficacy of citizen arms against mass murdering governments. Citizen arms are most effective as deterrents. If a regime does initiate mass murder, rebellions seeking regime change usually fail. However, even without changing the regime, the historical record shows that armed resistance can accomplish a great deal, including the saving of many lives.

Keywords: genocide, gun control, mass murder, right to arms, Europe vs. United States

JEL Classification: K42, Z18

Suggested Citation

Kopel, David B., Fewer Guns, More Genocide: Europe In The Twentieth Century (December 2, 2020). Northwestern University Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3705684 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3705684

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