The Armenian genocide during World War I was perpetrated against a disarmed populace, whose own government took advantage of a registry of guns to confiscate the weapons from Christian minorities who would use them to defend themselves.
My family hails from the region of present-day Turkey that was ethnically cleansed of nearly all Christian minorities during the First World War. Thankfully, most of my direct ancestors escaped to the United States. But others were not so lucky.
While bigotry, nationalism and other factors contributed to the genocide, the gun registry was one of the most consequential reasons the Turks effectively carried out this barbaric act.
We know from the Ottoman Penal Code that the firearm registry was universal and instituted before the genocide. In addition to a gun registry, there were specific penalties put in place for Christians if they were caught openly bearing arms. Despite these restrictions, I’m proud that people in my ancestors’ village of Tomarza were known to openly carry guns in direct defiance of the tyrannical Turkish government.
Unfortunately, their defiance did not stop the Turks in the long run. My great-grandfather’s brother, an eyewitness, wrote in a letter that after the Turks declared that all registered guns would be confiscated, it resulted in “all weapons, even hunting guns, [being] surrendered to the government.” If anyone refused to do so, they would be put to death.
Recently, another relative uncovered a personal testimony from his father, John Armaganian, a survivor and another eyewitness to the Armenian genocide. In his recounting of events, not only did the Turks seek to confiscate “all military supplies and guns” but also “their knives and revolvers.”
In his testimony, Mr. Armaganian says his own father (my relative’s grandfather) was asked by the police how many guns and rifles he had, and he responded:
“’The ones I had were rusty and I turned them in already, and I haven’t anymore,’ but the officer didn’t believe him. He proceeded to ask about some buried underground. When he denied he had any, he was mercilessly beaten. Twice he was hauled into the police station and both times he was beaten worse than before, preventing him from walking for three weeks. Eventually, he was forced to work in a labor battalion and was never heard from again.”
Most Armenians were sent on death marches through the Syrian desert to die. The stated reason by the Ottoman Empire is because of the war, they needed to move “for their safety” — a common phrase also used as justification by gun control advocates to this day.
This recent historical example cannot paint a clearer picture of the immense danger of a gun registry and how gun confiscation would play out. Even without mass compliance, the authorities would know exactly who to target.
If the existence of a small minority within the Ottoman Empire could elicit such overwhelming violence from the regime, one can only imagine the lengths a modern regime would resort to against an armed minority here in America.
Some would argue that such an action would never happen here, but the groundwork is already being laid. Thanks to extensive Freedom of Information Act requests from Gun Owners of America, we can confirm that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (or the ATF), the federal agency charged with regulating guns, has amassed nearly 1 billion firearm transaction records into a digitized, searchable database. These records contain several personally identifiable data points, and the compiling of these records, in direct contradiction to federal law, absolutely constitutes a registry of many guns in America today.
Alarmingly, the current administration is actively working to expand the records the ATF collects though both the “frame and receiver” rule, which will add homemade firearms into the registry, and via the zero-tolerance policy, which is aggressively shutting down lawful gun dealers, whose records will then be added to the registry.
Just as was done to my ancestors, our own government right now has the tools to enact a mass gun confiscation. The same excuse will be given: It’s being done in the name of safety or under emergency authority.
My family’s greatest tragedy should be our country’s greatest warning. Do not give the government an inch — not just because it’s a constitutional right, but because gun registration opens the door to unspeakable government-imposed tragedy.
Right now, some in Congress are actively working to destroy the registry. Ultimately, however, it’s up to the people to ensure our government swiftly and wholly destroys these records and erects further barriers to prevent this from ever occurring in the future.
Alex Madajian is a federal affairs assistant for Gun Owners of America, a nonprofit grassroots lobbying organization with over 2 million members nationwide.
This was originally published in the digital and print edition of the Washington Times. To view it, click here.