Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

Michael Majchrowicz
By Michael Majchrowicz April 9, 2021

No direct link between ‘gun control’ and killings by authoritarian regimes

If Your Time is short

  • There is no evidence that suggests "gun control" was a causal factor in these events.

A previously debunked post that attempts to link gun control policies to genocide and extermination campaigns carried out by authoritarian governments has reemerged on social media, this time in the form of a widely shared Instagram post.

"This is why you never, ever let the government take away your guns," a preface on the post says, alongside an image of a steamroller driving over a sea of firearms. "Read up, educate yourself. Here's a LITTLE GUN HISTORY."

The post lists select examples of extermination campaigns carried out by authoritarian regimes at various points in the 20th century, including the Soviet Union, Cambodia and Nazi Germany, that it says occurred after they "established gun control."

It adds: "56 million defenseless people rounded up and exterminated in the 20th Century because of gun control."

The March 30th post was flagged as part of efforts by Facebook, which owns Instagram, to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Iterations of the Instagram post in question have resurfaced through the years and caught the attention of fact-checkers. Snopes published a Nov. 11, 2017, fact-check based on a similar post and called it mostly false. 

We found that while the governments cited in these societies did confiscate guns from certain people, there’s no evidence to conclude that those confiscations were directly responsible for the millions of deaths that happened afterward, as the post claims.

The central claim driving this post — that gun control enabled genocide — is a popular talking point for the National Rifle Association and other opponents of gun control.

But the theory has been disputed by historians and researchers as hypothetical, and as exaggerating the role personal gun ownership by civilians could have played in counteracting the power of authoritarian governments and their militaries.

The concept "suggests, for example, that the Holocaust could have been avoided if Germany's minuscule Jewish population had been better armed. It also argues that Ukrainian peasants could have defeated the Stalinist regime, backed by the NKVD and the Red Army, if they had possessed individual firearms," Mark Nuckols, an instructor with Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, wrote in The Atlantic magazine.

Under Nazi Germany’s 1938 regulations, Jews living under the Third Reich were forbidden to own or possess any form of weapons, including truncheons, knives, firearms and ammunition.

But the Nazis had already been raiding Jewish homes by then, and "the small number of personal firearms in the hands of the small number of Germany’s Jews (about 214,000) remaining in Germany in 1938 could in no way have stopped the totalitarian power of the Nazi German state," the Anti-Defamation League explained in 2013.

In the Soviet Union, "tens of thousands of people were shot by Soviet state police and hundreds of thousands deported," Yale University history professor wrote a March 2011 New York Review article. "Those who remained lost their land and often went hungry as the state requisitioned food for export."

However, the greatest casualty figure of the Soviet era had nothing to do with access to firearms. Instead, it stemmed from a government-imposed famine which killed at least 5 million people, Snyder wrote.

In Turkey’s 1915 offensive against ethnic Armenians, also cited in the post, the Armenians "were ordered to turn in any weapons that they owned to the authorities," according to a New York Times article, citing David Fromkin’s book "A Peace to End All Peace," about World War I, though it was mostly military members, not civilians, who were allowed to own firearms to begin with. 

"I don’t know of any evidence which shows causality" between gun confiscation and genocide, Philip Alpers, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Sydney who studies gun laws and regulations, told PolitiFact in an email.

Our ruling

A post on Instagram claims that "56 million defenseless people" were "rounded up and exterminated" in the 20th century because of gun control.

The claim conflates gun control with confiscation. And it rests on the theory that gun confiscation policies by authoritarian governments left citizens defenseless and enabled genocide. 

Researchers and historians say there’s no evidence to support the theory, and that it exaggerates the role armed civilians could have played in counteracting the power of authoritarian governments and their militaries. 

We rate this claim False. 


Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Michael Majchrowicz

No direct link between ‘gun control’ and killings by authoritarian regimes

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up