Gun Bans & Genocide:
The Disarming Facts

by Dave Kopel

America's 1st Freedom, August 2006. PDF version on this article. This article is a condensed from David B. Kopel, Paul Gallant & Joanne D. Eisen, Is Resisting Genocide a Human Right? 81 Notre Dame Law Review 1275 (2006). More articles on gun prohibition and Sudan are available here. More articles on genocide and gun control.

The international gun prohibition lobbies and their United Nations allies insist that there is no personal right of self-defense--that people should be forced to rely exclusively on the government protection. The prohibitionists also insist that there is no human right for people to possess the means of self-defense, such as firearms. But what are people supposed to do when the government itself starts killing people? The genocide in Darfur, Sudan, is the direct result of the types of gun laws which the United Nations is trying to impose all over the world. Millions of people have already died because of such laws, and millions more will die unless the U.N. is stopped.

Like Iran today and Afghanistan under the Taliban, Sudan is ruled by a totalitarian, Islamist Arab government. The current regime took power in a military coup in 1989, and immediately began imposing Islamic law throughout the country, and perpetrating genocide. The genocide targets have varied: people in the central highlands were the first victim. Then the black Africans of south Sudan, who are mainly Christians or Animists. The most recent genocide victims are the people of Darfur, a Texas-sized region in western Sudan.

The Darfuris are Muslims, but like the majority of Sudan's population, they are black Africans, in contrast to the Arabs who control the government.

The foundation of Sudan's genocide is, as with almost every other genocide in world history, the disarmament of the victims.

In Sudan, it is virtually impossible for an average citizen to lawfully acquire and possess the means for self-defense. According to the national gun-control statutes, a gun licensee must be over 30 years of age, must have a specified social and economic status, and must be examined physically by a doctor. Females have even more difficulty meeting these requirements because of social and occupational limitations.

When these restrictions are finally overcome, there are additional restrictions on the amount of ammunition one may possess, making it nearly impossible for a law-abiding gun owner to achieve proficiency with firearms. A handgun owner, for example, can only purchase 15 rounds of ammunition a year. The penalties for violation of Sudan's firearms laws are severe, and can include capital punishment.

The practical application of the gun laws is different. If you are someone the government wants to slaughter--such as all the black Africans of southern and western Sudan, regardless of their religion--then you are absolutely forbidden to possess a firearm. A U.S. Department of State document notes: "After President Bashir seized power in 1989, the new government disarmed non-Arab ethnic groups but allowed politically loyal Arab allies to keep their weapons."

On the other hand, if you're an Arab who wants to kill blacks, then Sudan's gun control laws became awfully loose. In Darfur, there has been a long rivalry between camel-riding Arab nomads and black African pastoralists. The Arabs consider the blacks to be racially inferior, and fit only for slavery. In Darfur Rising, the International Crisis Group explains: "Beginning in the mid-1980s, successive governments in Khartoum inflamed matters by supporting and arming the Arab tribes, in part to prevent the southern rebels from gaining a foothold in the region….Arabs formed militias, burned African villages, and killed thousands. Africans in turn formed self-defense groups, members of which eventually became the first Darfur insurgents to appear in 2003."

The report states that what provoked the black African to rise up against the Khartoum tyranny was "the government's failure to enforce the terms of a tribal peace agreement requiring nomads of Arab background to pay blood money for killing dozens of Zaghawas [one of the African tribes in Darfur], including prominent tribal chiefs."

Likewise, Peter Verney, of the London-based Sudan Update, writes that the government armed the Arabs "while removing the weapons of the farmers, the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa." He points out that the disarmament of the Africans has been enforced ruthlessly: "Since 2001, Darfur has been governed under central government decree, with special courts to try people suspected of illegal possession or smuggling of weapons…The security forces have misused these powers for arbitrary and indefinite detention."

While the blacks are forbidden to possess arms, the Arabs are given arms by the government--five or six guns per person according to Amnesty International. The Arabs are then formed into terrorist gangs known as Janjaweed (literally, "evil men on horseback" or "devil on a horse").

In both south Sudan (Christian and Animist Africans) and western Sudan (that is, Darfur, inhabited by Muslim Africans) there were armed rebels groups. That these resistance groups had been able to acquire weapons illegally was a great affront to the United Nations and the gun prohibition lobbies, who denounce any form of gun possession by "non-state actors." A "non-state actor" is any person or group whose arms possession is not approved by the government; examples include the Sudanese who were fighting the genocidal dictatorship in their country, the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, and the American revolutionaries.

The Sudanese resistance movements, although able to acquire some arms for their own operations, did not have the resources to protect the many isolated villages in the vast nation.

So with the black villagers disarmed--thanks to Sudan's strict gun laws--and the Arab gangs well-armed (thanks to the government), the stage was set for genocide. Typically, the mounted Arab gangs would attack a village on the ground, while the Sudanese military provided air support and bombed the village.

In the south Sudan, the genocide program killed 2.2. million victims, and drove 4.5 million from their homes. Victims who were not killed were often sold into slavery. Rape was extensively used as an instrument of state terror.

Darfur was the next target

There, the Janjaweed have caused the deaths of up to 400,000 black Sudanese, have raped many thousands, and have forced over two million black Sudanese into refugee camps. After a village has been softened up by bombardment from the Sudan Air Force, the Janjaweed enter and pillage, killing and raping in order to displace the population and steal the land.

In the December 2004 issue of Commentary magazine, Roger Sandall writes that the Janjaweed attackers "unmistakably hurl racial abuse at their victims, alleging in particular that Africans are born to be slaves: ‘Slaves, run! Leave the country. You don't belong; why are you not leaving this area for Arab cattle to graze?'"

Notably, the majority of villages bombed were villages where there were no armed rebels. Thus, the destruction of the villages should be seen not as an overzealous form of counter-insurgency warfare, but rather as a deliberate attempt to destroy an entire society. The ethnic cleansing of Darfur has been so thorough that, literally, there are no villages left to burn.

The victim villagers are generally unarmed. Amnesty International reported the testimony of a villager who complained: "none of us had arms and we were not able to resist the attack." One under-armed villager lamented: "I tried to take my spear to protect my family, but they threatened me with a gun, so I stopped. The six Arabs then raped my daughter in front of me, my wife and my other children."

In cases when the villagers were able to resist, the cost to the marauders rose: Human Rights Watch reported that "some of Kudun's residents mobilized to protect themselves, and fifteen of the attackers were reportedly killed."

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review asked a U.S. State Department official why there were no reports of the Darfur victims fighting back. "Some do defend themselves," he explained. But he added that the perpetrators have helicopters and automatic rifles, whereas the victims have only machetes.

Darfur is one of those places where the government has implemented Rebecca Peters principle that crime victims should not use arms to protect themselves. The Sudan Organisation Against Torture (a human rights group based in London) reported on March 20 about an incident which took place on March 7:

Two men "in military uniform attacked four girls from Seraif IDP [refugee] camp, Hay AlGeer, West Nyala, Southern Darfur. The girls were attacked whilst collecting firewood outside the camp at 11:30. During the attack, one of the men assaulted one of the girls and attempted to rape her. The armed man touched the girl's breasts and attempted to forcefully remove her underwear. When she resisted, the man began to beat her. In defence she grabbed a knife that she had been using to cut the firewood and stabbed the attacker in the stomach."

"Following the stabbing, the girls managed to escape and returned to Seraif camp where they reported the incident to police officers inside the camp. The police refused to file the case."

One of the rapists died from a knife wound. "Following the news of the death, the officers immediately arrested the four girls inside the camp on suspicion of murder." They face execution by hanging. The girls are: Amouna Mohamed Ahmed (age 17), Fayza Ismail Abaker (16), Houda Ismail Abdel Rahman (17), and Zahra Adam Abdella (17).

Under intense pressure from President Bush, the Khartoum government signed a cease-fire treaty for south Sudan in late 2004. The government has promised that in 2010, the south Sudanese will be able to vote on a referendum for independence. In May 2006, the Khartoum government and the Darfur rebels signed a treaty,

But it would be foolish to invest too much hope in the Khartoum government living up to its treaty obligations. In 2003, Sudan ratified the international Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide--and went right on committing genocide in Darfur.

The United Nations has done nothing meaningful to stop the genocide in Sudan. An African Union "peacekeeping" force was dispatched, but that small and low-quality force was only assigned to protecting international aid workers at refugee camps. The AU is not supposed to protect the actual victims.

One reason for U.N. inaction is the Chinese, Russians, and French--each of whom have Security Council veto power--are apparently determined to protect their own lucrative commercial and oil development relations with Sudan's tyrants.

Because the international community has utterly failed to protect the Darfuris, they have every moral right to protect themselves. In an article in the Notre Dame Law Review, Paul Gallant, Joanne Eisen, and I argue that the Genocide Convention gives the Darfuris a formal legal right to arms. (The article is available on my website,, and contains citations for most of the facts in this First Freedom article.)

A teenage girl with a gun might not be the ideal soldier. But she is certainly not the ideal rape victim. It is not particularly difficult to learn how to use a firearm to shoot a would-be rapist from a distance of fifteen or twenty-five feet away. Would every one of the Janjaweed Arab bullies who enjoy raping African girls be brave enough to dare trying to rape a girl who was carrying a rifle or a handgun?

The United Nations, however, is hard at work to make sure that genocide victims in Sudan, and anywhere else in Africa, will not be able to resist.

Sudan is covered by a U.N.-backed treaty called the "The Nairobi Protocol for the Prevention, Control and Reduction of Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa." The protocol was signed on in 2004, by representatives of Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Uganda, and Tanzania.

The requires universal gun registration, complete prohibition of all civilian-owned semi-automatic rifles, "heavy minimum sentences for...the carrying of unlicensed small arms," as well as programs to encourage citizens to surrender their guns, widespread searches for firearms, educational programs to discourage gun ownership, and other polices to disarm the public.

The U.N. is, successfully pushing for gun control in East African nations with current genocides: Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ethiopia. Several others, such as Rwanda and Uganda, have recent histories of genocide against disarmed victims. Quite plainly, the U.N. believes that resisting an actual genocide in progress is not a sufficient reason for someone to want to own a gun.

A similar disarmament project is being pushed by the United Nations in the South African Development Community.

A set of mandatory anti-gun laws mostly similar to East Africa's Nairobi Protocol is also being pushed in southern Africa, for the nations in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Two of the SADC nations--Zimbabwe and Congo--are the sites current genocides.

Even more extreme U.N. gun prohibitions are being imposed in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Among the ECOWAS states where the U.N. has successfully pushed victim disarmament are the Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire) and Guinea. According to Genocide Watch, Ivory Coast  has entered the final pre-genocide phase of "preparation."

In Guinea, the National Alliance for Democracy and Development warns that, "There is a looming Rwanda-type genocide..."

The gun prohibition lobbies have so thoroughly penetrated the United Nations that, at the U.N. anti-gun conference which begins on June 26, gun prohibition lobby staff which actually be serving as delegates from various governments.

The prohibition lobbies and their U.N. allies will tell you that people never need guns for protection--not for protection from rapists, and not for protection from genocidaires. Governments and the United Nations will protect everyone. The tragedy of disarmed victims in the Sudan, and all over Africa, shows the deadly falseness of the prohibitionist promise. For decades, millions of Africans have been slaughtered by genocidal tyrants while the rest of the world stood idle. Now, the United Nations has become objectively complicit in genocide, by trying to ensure that never again will anyone targeted for genocide be able to use a firearm to save herself or her family.

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