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Thoughts on Gun Control - The Hitler Argument

Gun ControlI was talking to a coworker the other day, and the issue of gun control came up. I told him that I didn't have a very strong opinion on the matter, but that I find myself drifting towards wanting to see more restrictive regulations. His response was to bring up Hitler - Hitler took away the guns in Germany, and look what happened.

My coworker is obviously not the first person to make such an argument. If you do a Google image source for 'hitler gun control', you'll get lots of interesting results. Here are a couple examples, with the captions repeating part of the text for people still using text only browsers.

Hitler Gun Control Poster 1

"This year will go down in history. For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration. Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future!" - source

Hitler Gun Control Poster 2

Remember this quote? "To conquer a nation, first disarm its citizens" -Adolph Hitler - source

There are a several points to look at here which I've addressed below.

Are the quotes true?

Simply put, no. This article from The Straight Dope, Did Hitler ban gun ownership?, deals effectively with the first supposed quote, and this article from Snopes, To Conquer a Nation, takes care of the second. There's no record that Hitler said those quotes attributed to him, or anything close enough to consider those as even mangled versions of real quotes. They're completely fabricated.

Did Hitler institute strict gun control measures in Germany?

This gets a little more complicated, but basically, no. Very strict gun control laws were put in place in Germany following WWI and the Treaty of Versailles, long before Hitler came to power. In 1919 and 1920, the Weimar government passed the Regulations on Weapons Ownership and the Law on the Disarmament of the People that in effect banned private gun ownership. In 1928, the Law on Firearms and Ammunition was passed which greatly relaxed Germany's gun control laws. Private gun ownership was allowed, but it wasn't a complete deregulation. People were required to have permits to own guns, separate permits to carry guns, and still more permits for the various aspects of the gun industry.

Hitler's rise to power began with the Great Depression. In 1933, he was appointed as chancellor. Throughout that year, he consolidated power for himself. When the president died the following year, the powers of that office were combined with the chancellor, giving Hitler practically full control of the government.

In 1938, a new gun control law was passed in Germany, now under Hitler's regime, the German Weapons Act. So, how did this new law change gun policy in the country. Here's how Alex Seitz-Wald described it in an article in Salon, The Hitler gun control lie.

The 1938 law signed by Hitler that LaPierre mentions in his book basically does the opposite of what he [LaPierre] says it did. "The 1938 revisions completely deregulated the acquisition and transfer of rifles and shotguns, as well as ammunition," Harcourt wrote. Meanwhile, many more categories of people, including Nazi party members, were exempted from gun ownership regulations altogether, while the legal age of purchase was lowered from 20 to 18, and permit lengths were extended from one year to three years.

However, and this is a big however, the law did prohibit Jews and other oppressed minorities from owning firearms.

So, Hitler loosened up gun control for most German citizens, while extending his already existing policies of oppression of minorities to exclude them from owning firearms.

Did gun control make a difference for the Jews and other peoples oppressed by the Nazis?

Well, it certainly didn't help them, but it's questionable how much differently history would have turned out if the Jews had had firearms. For one thing, the gun restrictions were only one of the many policies oppressing the Jews. And several of those other policies had been put in place before the Jews were banned from owning firearms, so obviously guns weren't used to fight those initial stages. And when the Jewish people did begin to revolt forcibly, it's still questionable just how much more they could have achieved against trained troops if they had had guns. Germany had conquered entire nations and armies - how much hope would there have been for untrained civilians?

John Stewart had a segment on the Daily Show a few nights ago that addressed this very issue. I've embedded the video below. It's very entertaining, if you have the time to watch it.

To quote the most relevant portion (dashes used to indicate either Stewart trailing off or waiting for applause/laughter to die down):

Look, I wish- You can never with certainty know how history might have been different (unless, of course, you have a Delorean with a flux capacitor, but I don't think-). I wish arms used in the ghetto could stop Hitler, but my feeling was, France couldn't. And I'm pretty sure they had guns. Russia- Russia- Russia had kind of a lot of guns, and they couldn't stop Hitler, until you factored in the wind chill. It's an awful lot to put on an oppressed minority when it took the free world five to six years of all out total war to stop that mother #@$!*#. So let's stop arguing these what ifs.

And to put this in perspective of the the modern day U.S., our military is huge. According to the article, The FY 2009 Pentagon Spending Request - Global Military Spending, in 2008 the U.S. alone accounted for 48% of the world's military spending. And this article with slightly newer data, America's staggering defense budget, in charts, shows that in 2011, the U.S. spent more on its military than the next 13 nations put together. So even if the conspiracy theorists were right, and the U.S. were to all of a sudden become a horrible dictatorship, any rebels would be going up against a military the equivalent of practically every single other nation combined. And if it were a dictatorship like Hitler's, with massive popular support, their resistance would be pretty small, indeed.

Are there any analogs in American history for comparison?

America's not Germany. For one thing, we've always had guns. So, can we say that we've put our Second Amendment rights to good use to keep oppression and atrocities from happening in this country?

Well, one of the most obvious examples is slavery. This was a horrible, horrible practice, making human beings the property of other people. And obviously, the slaves themselves weren't allowed to have guns, but white American citizens still had their guns. The white citizens could have banded together, and stood up in opposition to this oppression of their fellow human beings. Granted, there were a few who did this, like John Brown, but they didn't have anywhere near the numbers to pose an actual threat to the institution. And in fact, when the Civil War finally broke out, the ones using their guns to fight against the U.S. government were the ones fighting to continue the oppression. It was the government that was on the side of freedom.

Another example involves the treatment of the American Indians. Ever since the European discovery of the new world, there were a series of American Indian Wars, with the Europeans fighting to take away land from the Indians, and the Indians fighting to defend their land. Now, the Indians were able to acquire guns and fight back against the U.S. But, just as with the few armed uprisings against slavery, they never had enough numbers to be effective against the U.S. As just one example of how tragic these incidents could be, an estimated 4000 Cherokees died during the Trail of Tears, nearly a quarter of their population. But again, there was no widespread support from American citizens to defend these people who were being oppressed.

Since this post was prompted by a discussion of politics surrounding WWII, let's look at another example from this country from that very time period - Japanese American Internment Camps These were nowhere near as horrible as Nazi Concentration Camps, but they still involved the removal of American citizens and residents from their homes, and their relocation to prison camps. And these camps were guarded. There are documented cases of guards shooting prisoners attempting to walk outside of the fences. But again, there was no widespread organized effort to stop the government from this oppression.

As one final example, not including as many people as the previous examples, but much more current, consider Guantanamo. Here is a situation where the U.S. has kidnapped citizens from other countries, placed them in a detention facility without a trial, and then declared that they will be held indefinitely. These are not prisoners of war in any conventional sense. In the 'War' on Terror, there's no opposing government that we can expect to some day sign a treaty with to end hostilities, at which point we'd release the detainees. These prisoners are suspects of crimes. To hold them without due process is shameful. But rather than widespread outrage at this miscarriage of justice, 70% of Americans approve of Obama keeping the prison open (source - Washington Post).


There are legitimate debates to have concerning gun rights and gun control. But let's stop pretending that protecting ourselves against the government is one of them. There is no grand tradition of armed American citizens standing together in opposition to oppression. The peoples who have been wronged have been too few in number to effectively protect themselves, and the rest of the country has either looked the other way, or been part of the majority calling for their oppression in the first place.

As an additional note, let me stress that I'm not advocating armed insurrection to fight these problems. The Civil Rights Movement had its greatest successes through the use of non-violent means, like boycotting and civil disobedience. The most effective uprisings in the Arab Spring were protesters, not armed revolutionaries. Heck, just look at the Wikipedia entry on Nonviolent Resistance for a long list of examples.

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