In their 1994 book, Lethal Laws: Gun Control is Key to Genocide, the authors argue that, “governments cannot commit genocide except on effectively disarmed populations.” ¹

They obviously discuss many nations throughout the book, and I could certainly choose countries with higher body counts, but none with so many so recently as Cambodia. Almost 2,000,000 Cambodian citizens were murdered by the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, as registered gun owners were targeted and disarmed. ²

It seems to me that most gun-control advocates think that genocide at the hands of a peoples' own government is a conspiracy theory, and regard such atrocities to be relatively ancient history, with the most recognizable face for such actions being that of Hitler's.

I'm sure there are more examples, but the most notable examples within the last 35 years are the "silent genocide" of Guatemala's government against their people in the 1980s, under the direction and supervision of the American military, no less, and the slaughtering of Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge, as well supported and funded by the US. I would feel it goes without saying, but just to be clear, both of these countries instituted gun-control laws prior to their government's genocidal campaigns.

There were already gun control laws in place since the 1920s, passed by the Cambodian monarchy when they were under French colonial rule. As it usually happens, the Cambodian monarchy was friendly to their French overlords, as empires usually prefer to bribe their way into rule of any given country. We can certainly see how this would benefit the French, as occupiers would be endangered by an armed populace, but it also benefited the monarchy. Beginning around the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, there were many communist and anticolonial uprisings and insurgencies that occurred in Southeast Asia, and their majesties feared that they may very well be the next country on the list.

The laws that were passed began benignly enough, with the first law in 1920 dealing with how guns were to be carried, and culminated in a law that imposed a severe licensing system, where only hunters could possess firearms, and they were only allowed to own one.

In the midst of a coup and resulting civil war, Prince Norodom Sihanouk turned to the Khmer Rouge, a communistic guerrilla organization that inhabited Cambodia's northeastern jungles As soon as the Khmer Rouge took power, they immediately set out to disarm the populace. One Cambodian recalls that:

[Eang (a woman) watched soldiers stride onto the porches of the houses and knock on the doors and ask the people who answered if they had any weapons. "We are here now to protect you," the soldiers said, "and no one has a need for a weapon any more." People who said that they kept no weapons were forced to stand aside and allow the soldiers to look for themselves. . . .

The round-up of weapons took nine or ten days, and once the soldiers had concluded the villagers were no longer armed, they dropped their pretense of friendliness. . . .

The soldiers said everyone would have to leave the village for a while, so that the troops could search for weapons; when the search was finished, they could return.]

People being forced out of villages and cities were searched thoroughly, and weapons and foreign currency were confiscated. To the limited extent that Cambodians owned guns through the government licensing system, the names of registered gun owners were of course available to the new government.

The Cambodian genocide was unique in the twentieth century, in that its target was not a single ethnic, religious, or political group, but rather the entire educated populace. Lacking infrastructure for sophisticated Nazi-style extermination camps, the Khmer Rouge used the genocide methods which had been used by the Turkish government (internal deportations with forced marches designed to kill), the Soviet government (hard labor under conditions likely to kill), and the Guatemalan government (murders of targeted victims).

Like other victims of genocide, the Cambodians forced into slave labor were kept so desperately hungry that revolt became difficult to contemplate, as every thought focused on food. One slave laborer explained that:

[There was no possibility of an uprising. . . . Contact between many people was made impossible by the chlops (informers) . . . . Besides, we had no arms and no food. Even if we'd been able to produce arms and kill the fifty Khmer Rouge in the village, what would happen to us?

We didn't have enough food to build up any reserves to sustain a guerilla army. In our state of weakness, after a few days wandering in the jungle, death would have been inevitable.]

The authors estimate that Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge murdered about a million people, at least 14% of the Cambodian population. The percentage was about the same as the percentage of the Soviet population murdered by Stalin, except that Pol Pot accomplished in three-and-a-half years what took Stalin twenty.

The mass murders of the Khmer Rouge became well-known in the international community, but no nation made an effort to try to rescue the Cambodian people. Finally, Pol Pot was driven from power by a Vietnamese invasion that was motivated by imperialist, rather than humanitarian reasons.

Pol Pot's fate was thus similar to Idi Amin's - the world would tolerate genocide, but threatening the borders of a neighboring country would lead to the regime's demise. According to the New York Times, "Pol Pot is today a free, prosperous and apparently unrepentant man who, 15 years after his ouster from Phnom Penh, continues to plot a return to power. The calls for some sort of international genocide tribunal for Pol Pot and his aides have not been heard for years."

There are those that would claim that we don't need firearms to defend ourselves from our governments, and I would counter that their claim does not have the benefit of a proper historical knowledge of gun-control and genocide. There are yet others that would claim that we are so outmatched that our firearms would not make a difference, yet I say that I would rather have a fighting chance, than no chance to fight it all!!!

¹ Lethal Laws: Gun Control is Key to Genocide, Simkin, Zelman and Rice