Nazi gun control theory

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The Nazi gun control theory is counterfactual history, which is a form of history that attempts to answer "what if" questions known as counterfactuals.[1] According to this theory, the gun regulations enforced by the Third Reich rendered victims of the Holocaust weaker to such an extent that they could have more effectively resisted oppression if they had been armed or better armed.

This theory is prevalent and primarily used within U.S. gun politics. Questions about its validity, and about the motives behind its inception, have been raised by scholars. Proponents in the United States have used it as part of a "security against tyranny" argument, while opponents have referred to it as a form of Reductio ad Hitlerum.[2] Various mainstream sources describe the theory as historically "dubious",[3] "questionable",[4] "preposterous,"[5] "tendentious",[6] and "problematic".[1]

Background and formation[edit]

Few citizens owned, or were entitled to own firearms in Germany in the 1930s.[1] The Weimar Republic had strict gun control laws.[7] When the Third Reich gained power, some aspects of gun regulation were loosened, such as allowing ownership for Nazi party members and the military.[4]:672 The laws were tightened in other ways. Nazi laws disarmed "unreliable" persons, especially Jews, but relaxed restrictions for "ordinary" German citizens.[4]:670,676 The policies were later expanded to include the confiscation of arms in occupied countries.[8]:533,536

According to gun rights activist Neal Knox, the Nazi gun control theory was first suggested by Jay Simkin and Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (JPFO) founder Aaron S. Zelman in a book they published in 1992. In it, they compared the German gun laws of 1928 and 1938, and the U.S. Congressional hearings for what became the Gun Control Act of 1968.[9][10]

In a 2000 article, author and attorney Stephen Halbrook said that he was presenting "the first scholarly analysis of the use of gun control laws and policies to establish the Hitler regime and to render political opponents and especially German Jews defenseless."[8]:485 In the article, he cites an Adolf Hitler quote: "the most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms."[8]:483[11]:403 In his 2013 book, Halbrook adds that such victims might have successfully resisted Nazi repression if they had been armed — or better armed.[12]

Gun rights advocates such as Halbrook, Zelman, and National Rifle Association (NRA) leader Wayne LaPierre have proposed that Nazi Party policies and laws were an enabling factor in the Holocaust, that prevented its victims from implementing an effective resistance.[4]:653–5[8]:484[13]:87–8,167–8 Associate professor of criminal justice Dyan McGuire wrote in his 2011 book: "It is frequently argued that these laws, which resulted in the confiscation of weapons not belonging to supporters of the Nazis, rendered the Jews and other disfavored groups like the Gypsies, homosexuals, Poles, and their potential allies defenseless and set the stage for the slaughter of the Holocaust that followed."[14]

Use and support[edit]

Halbrook, LaPierre, and Zelman have asked the counterfactual history question: What if the Nazis had not disarmed the German Jews and other groups?[1][6][12][15] The Nazi gun control theory has been used as a "security against tyranny" argument in U.S. gun politics.[15][16]

Legal scholar and historian Robert Cottrol cites other authoritarian regimes such as the Khmer Rouge, and proposes they could have been inhibited by more private gun ownership. In a newspaper piece, he wrote:[16]

Could the overstretched Nazi war machine have murdered 11 million armed and resisting Europeans while also taking on the Soviet and Anglo-American armies? Could 50,000-70,000 Khmer Rouge have butchered 2-3 million armed Cambodians? These questions bear repeating. The answers are by no means clear, but it is unconscionable they are not being asked.

A 2011 open letter from Dovid Bendory, who was the rabbinic director of JPFO, to then New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, asked: "Are you aware that the Nazis disarmed Jews prior to Kristallnacht and that those same Nazi gun laws are the foundation of the U.S. Gun Control Act of 1968?"[17][18]

In October 2015, Republican U. S. Presidential candidate Ben Carson said that Hitler's mass murder of Jews "would have been greatly diminished" if Germans had not been disarmed by the Nazis.[19]

Reaction and opposition[edit]

In a 2011 magazine piece, law professor Mark Nuckols says Nazi gun control theories are part of a "shaky intellectual edifice" underlying "belief in widespread gun ownership as a defense against tyrannical government." He says the idea is "gaining traction with members of Congress as well as fringe conspiracy theorists."[3] In his 2011 book, fellow law professor Adam Winkler says: "This radical wing of the gun rights movement focuses less on the value of guns for self-defense against criminals than on their value for fighting tyranny."[15] He says the militia groups that grew in number across the U.S. after the early 1990s organized "to fight off what they saw as an increasingly tyrannical federal government and what they imagined was the inevitable invasion of the United States by the United Nations."[20] Winkler wrote that "[to] some on the fringe," the Brady Bill "was proof that the government was determined to deprive Americans of their constitutional rights."[21]

Because mainstream scholars argue that German gun laws were already strict prior to Hitler,[1][4][6][22] gun-control advocates may view the theory as a form of Reductio ad Hitlerum.[2] In a 2004 issue of the Fordham Law Review, legal scholar Bernard Harcourt said Halbrook "perhaps rightly" could say that he made the first scholarly analysis of his Nazi-gun-registration subject, but as a gun-rights litigator, not as a historian.[4]:669–670 Harcourt called on historians for more research and serious scholarship on Nazi gun laws. "Apparently," Harcourt wrote, "the historians have paid scant attention to the history of firearms regulation in the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich."[4]:679–680 According to Harcourt, "Nazis were intent on killing Jewish persons and used the gun laws and regulations to further the genocide,"[4]:676 but the disarming and killing of Jews was unconnected with Nazi gun control policy, and it is "absurd to even try to characterize this as either pro- or anti-gun control." If he had to choose, Harcourt said, the Nazi regime was pro-gun compared with the Weimar Republic that preceded it.[4]:671,677 He says that gun rights advocates disagree about the relationship between Nazi gun control and the Holocaust, with many distancing themselves from the idea. Political scientist Robert Spitzer said (in the same law review as Harcourt, who stated the same thing) the quality of Halbrook's historical research is poor.[6] In reference to Halbrook's theory that gun control leads to authoritarian regimes, Spitzer says that "actual cases of nation-building and regime change, including but not limited to Germany, if anything support the opposite position."[22]:728

White nationalist William L. Pierce wrote in his 1994 pamphlet: "When you have read [and compare the 1928 and 1938 German gun laws], you will understand that it was Hitler's enemies, not Hitler, who should be compared with the gun-control advocates in America today."[4]:667–8[23]

Regarding the Nazi gun control theory, anthropologist Abigail Kohn wrote in her 2004 book:[1]

Such counterfactual arguments are problematic because they reinvent the past to imagine a possible future. In fact, Jews were not well-armed and were not able to adequately defend themselves against Nazi aggression. Thus, reimagining a past in which they were and did does not provide a legitimate basis for arguments about what might have followed.

In the encyclopedic 2012 book, Guns in American Society, Holocaust scholar Michael Bryant says Halbrook, LaPierre, Zelman, Dave Kopel, and others' "use of history has selected factual inaccuracies, and their methodology can be questioned."[6]

In January 2013, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) director Abraham Foxman said in a press release: "The idea that supporters of gun control are doing something akin to what Hitler’s Germany did to strip citizens of guns in the run-up to the Second World War is historically inaccurate and offensive, especially to Holocaust survivors and their families."[24] Later that year, Jewish groups and Jersey City, New Jersey, mayor Steven Fulop criticized the NRA for comparing gun control supporters to Nazi Germany.[25] The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ released a statement saying: "Access to guns and the systematic murder of six million Jews have no basis for comparison in the United States or in New Jersey. The Holocaust has no place in this discussion and it is offensive to link this tragedy to such a debate."[25]

In October 2015, and in response to comments made by Ben Carson, history professor Alan E. Steinweis wrote in a New York Times opinion piece:

The Jews of Germany constituted less than 1 percent of the country's population. It is preposterous to argue that the possession of firearms would have enabled them to mount resistance against a systematic program of persecution implemented by a modern bureaucracy, enforced by a well-armed police state, and either supported or tolerated by the majority of the German population. Mr. Carson’s suggestion that ordinary Germans, had they had guns, would have risked their lives in armed resistance against the regime simply does not comport with the regrettable historical reality of a regime that was quite popular at home. Inside Germany, only the army possessed the physical force necessary for defying or overthrowing the Nazis, but the generals had thrown in their lot with Hitler early on.[5]

The view that had Jews been armed they could have stopped the Holocaust not only has little support among legal scholars and historians, it also has little support among human rights activists like Richard Lutz who wrote: “It is farcical for gun rights advocates to assert that Jewish civilians could have stopped the Holocaust if only they had ready access to firearms as they only constituted a tiny disorganized minority in areas under Nazi control, though some able-bodied Jews would undoubtedly have been able to put up more resistance as in the case of the Bielski partisans.”[26]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Kohn, Abigail (2004). Shooters: Myths and Realities of America's Gun Cultures. Oxford University Press. p. 187. ISBN 0-19-515051-1. 
  2. ^ a b McMorris-Santoro, Evan (January 9, 2013). "Opponents Play The Hitler Card On Gun Control, Supporters Say It's Not Gonna Work This Time". Talking Points Memo. Retrieved 2015-04-21. 
  3. ^ a b Nuckols, Mark (January 31, 2013). "Why the 'Citizen Militia' Theory Is the Worst Pro-Gun Argument Ever". The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group. Retrieved 2015-08-19. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Harcourt, Bernard E. (2004). "On Gun Registration, the NRA, Adolf Hitler, and Nazi Gun Laws: Exploding the Gun Culture Wars (A Call to Historians)". Fordham Law Review. 73 (2): 653–680. 
  5. ^ a b Steinweis, Alan (October 14, 2015). "Ben Carson Is Wrong on Guns and the Holocaust". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-03-15. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Bryant, Michael S. (May 4, 2012). "Holocaust Imagery and Gun Control". In Carter, Gregg Lee. Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture and the Law. 2 (2nd ed.). Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 411–415. ISBN 9780313386701. OCLC 833189121. Retrieved 2014-03-21. 
  7. ^ Alex Seitz-Wald (January 11, 2013). "The Hitler gun control lie". salon.com. Retrieved 2013-01-19. 
  8. ^ a b c d Halbrook, Stephen P. (2000). "Nazi Firearms Law and the Disarming of the German Jews" (PDF). Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law. 17 (3): 483–535. 
  9. ^ Knox, Neal (2009). The Gun Rights War: Dispatches from the Front Lines 1966 - 2000. Phoenix, Arizona: MacFarlane. p. 286. ISBN 9780976863304. 
  10. ^ Winkler 2011, p. 339.
  11. ^ Trevor-Roper, Hugh R. (2008). Hitler's Table Talk 1941-44: His Private Conversations ("new" ed.). Enigma Books. p. 321. ISBN 1936274930. 
  12. ^ a b Halbrook, Stephen P. (2013). Gun Control in the Third Reich. Independent Institute. ISBN 978-1-59813-162-8. 
  13. ^ LaPierre, Wayne (1994). Guns, Crime, and Freedom. Washington, D.C.: Regnery. OCLC 246629786. 
  14. ^ McGuire, M. Dyan (2011). "Gun Control Laws". In Chambliss, William. Courts, Law, and Justice. SAGE. p. 119. ISBN 1412978572. 
  15. ^ a b c Winkler 2011, p. 83.
  16. ^ a b Cottrol, Robert (November 7, 1999). "The Last Line of Defense". Los Angeles Times (opinion). 
  17. ^ Coscarelli, Joe (March 9, 2011). "Jewish Firearms Group Compares Bloomberg Gun Control to Genocide, Nazis". The Village Voice. Retrieved 2016-08-22. 
  18. ^ "Rabbi Defends Comparison of Gun Owners to Holocaust Victims" (Press release). Chicago: Fox 32 News. May 3, 2011. Retrieved 2016-08-22. 
  19. ^ Williams, Vanessa (October 8, 2015). "Carson suggests that gun rights might have changed history for Jews in WWII". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-08-21. 
  20. ^ Winkler 2011, p. 84.
  21. ^ Winkler 2011, p. 85.
  22. ^ a b Spitzer, Robert J. (2004). "Don't Know Much About History, Politics, or Theory: A Comment". Fordham Law Review. 73 (2): 721–730. 
  23. ^ Pierce, William L. (1994). Gun Control in Germany, 1928-1945. Hillsboro, WV: National Vanguard Books. ISBN 0937944076. 
  24. ^ "ADL Says Nazi Analogies Have No Place In Gun Control Debate" (Press release). New York: Anti-Defamation League. January 24, 2013. Retrieved 2016-08-22. 
  25. ^ a b Giambusso, David (December 17, 2013). "Jewish groups, Jersey City Mayor Fulop slam NRA for Holocaust comments". Star-Ledger. Retrieved 2015-04-19. 
  26. ^ Lutz, Richard (February 2016). "Nazi Gun Laws" (PDF). Human Rights Coalition (Australia). Retrieved 2016-09-01. 

Bibliography[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Works that endorse Nazi gun control theories

Works that criticize Nazi gun control theories