We've seen a lot of assertions recently (from the NRA, Glenn Beck, batshit insane radio host Alex Jones, and a wide variety of gun rights absolutists) that our freedoms are at risk if we place any controls on gun ownership, and these assertions are "supported" by claims that various dictators began to opress their people by taking away their guns. Stalin and particularly Hitler are cited as exemplars of this risk. It's nonsense, and it deserves a response, so here it is:
The “argument” that Hitler began the Holocaust by disarming the
German people is taken from a book written in 1994 by the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre
called “Guns, Crime, and Freedom”, in which he said; “In Germany, Jewish
extermination began with the Nazi Weapon Law of 1938, signed by Adolf Hitler.”
That statement may be intuitively plausible, but it’s as wrong now as it was when it was written. All private firearms in Germany were banned and confiscated by the Weimar government in 1919 in order to comply with the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1928, the Weimar government relaxed that ban, but placed strict licensing and permitting requirements on all firearms, including separate permits required to: own, privately sell, carry, manufacture, or professionally deal in firearms and ammunition.
Please remember that the Nazis came to power five years later, in 1933. The 1938 law that LaPierre referred to did pretty much exactly the opposite of what he claimed it did. It completely deregulated the ownership and transfer of long guns and ammunition, lowered the minimum age of purchase from 20 to 18, and dramatically increased the numbers of people, including Nazi party members, who were entirely exempt from any gun regulations. A subsequent law did prohibit Jews from owning firearms, but very few Jews owned firearms anyway, or had since 1919. What’s more, the law wasn’t passed until after Kristallnacht and years of other beating and lynching of Jews, and after five years of anti-semitic legislation which banned Jews from participation in a wide range of professions, prohibited intermarriage between Jews and other Germans, stripped German Jews of their citizenship, and ordered forced sterilizations in the hundreds of thousands. With that history preceding it, to say that the firearms law was what started the Holocaust is dangerously wrong and frankly ridiculous.
Apart from the factual historical inaccuracy in LaPierre’s
assertion, it relies on a premise that’s also widespread in today’s argument –
that a persecuted subgroup could make an effective stand against an army
determined to destroy it by virtue of having guns. A few moments careful consideration
will reveal this premise to be tenuous at best. In the case of the Jews in
Germany, one historian has observed that the Russian army lost 7 million men
fighting the Wehrmacht, SA, and SS, despite having tanks, planes, artillery,
and an alliance with several other world powers. To imagine that German Jews,
armed with pistols, rifles, and shotguns, would have done better, is absurd on
Frankly, the same is true in the US today. Despite the mythology that we are so fond of steeping ourselves in, what protects our freedoms is public vigilance, not armed individuals. If the US military was ordered to take up arms against some subgroup of our citizens, with or without the acquiescence and support of the American public, and agreed to follow that order, that subgroup would be in a world of trouble. Anyone who tells you differently either has an agenda that makes them uninterested in the factual basis of the arguments they are presenting, has no idea about the value of actual military training, weapons, and tactics, or has been watching waaay too many Rambo movies.
<Correction: The argument that Hitler started the Holocaust by disarming German Jews is actually older than LaPierre's book, dating at least to 1989, when a gun rights group called Jews for the Preservation of Gun Ownership used it to argue against the imposition of a handgun ban in Chicago.>