This country’s bitter battles over gun control and gun rights never end, it seems — they only get worse. Last year, just a few weeks after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, when President Barack Obama responded by promising to address some relatively minor, but important, points of gun regulation by using his executive order powers, the conservative news site Drudge Report reacted by comparing Obama to Adolf Hitler.
Obama’s proposals would have made no dent in any gun owner’s ability to own and use a gun. But Drudge‘s Hitler analogy was not a new one. In fact, gun rights advocates have made a practice of invoking the Nazi dictator, claiming that Hitler himself was a gun control advocate who enacted strict gun laws in Germany — and that’s how he was able to come to power and carry out his atrocities against humanity.
As one top gun rights advocate, David Kopel of the Independence Institute stated the case: “Simply put, if not for gun control, Hitler would not have been able to murder 21 million people.”
But is that really true? Did Adolf Hitler ban gun ownership, and was that the true basis of his power?
As noted by political journalist Alex Seitz-Wald, gun rights advocates often cite a couple of quotes from Hitler to back up their point. There’s the one you see in the graphic at the top of this article, and the following one, attributed to Hitler and supposedly spoken in a speech the Nazi dictator delivered in 1935:
“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!”
But like much of the mythology swirling around Adolf Hitler and gun control, that quote is simply false. Law Professor Bernard Harcourt, author of the 2004 Fordham Law Review article, “On Gun Registration, the NRA, Adolf Hitler, and Nazi Gun Laws,” dismisses the bogus quote, cited widely in pro-gun publications and internet postings, on as “probably a fraud and likely never uttered.”
The site The Propaganda Professor, a blog dedicated to sniffing out phony quotes and fabricated facts that turn up in political debates left and right, also tackled the supposed Hitler quote, saying, “Hitler never made such a speech in 1935. Nor is there any record that he ever spoke these particular words at all.”
In fact, Hitler would have had no reason to make such a speech because there was no gun law introduced in 1935 in Germany. There was, however, a strict gun registration requirement that had been instituted under the Weimar Republic, before anyone knew who Adolf Hitler was.
The “gun control” law that Hitler did enact three years after the fictional speech, in 1938 — a law cited by National Rifle Association chief Wayne La Pierre and many others as evidence of the evils of gun control == was in reality anything but “gun control,” at least not for people favored by Adolf Hitler.
“The 1938 revisions completely deregulated the acquisition and transfer of rifles and shotguns, as well as ammunition,” Harcourt explained in his article. Quite the opposite of what gun rights advocates like LaPierre say the law accomplished. The 1938 law allowed Nazi Party members and certain other groups favored by Hitler to own and carry guns with no restrictions at all. And the legal age for gun ownership was dropped from 20 to 18.
On the other hand, the law stripped gun ownership rights from Jews as well as other “non-Aryan” minorities persecuted by Hitler and the Nazis. Of course, the Nazis not only stripped Jews of their gun rights, they stripped Jews of all of their rights, including the right to live.
The quote in the graphic atop this article, was — more or less — spoken by Hitler. It’s more of a paraphrase. But the important point is that the “nation” referred to by Hitler was not the German nation, it was the “nation” of Jews, and any other “nation” Hitler considered one of the “subject races.”
Hitler indeed realized that if you are planning to brutalize and ultimately exterminate a specific group consisting of millions, your job will be a lot easier if those people have no access to weapons. But it would not be impossible. Historians believe gun ownership by European Jews would have ultimately made zero difference in their resistance to Nazi genocide.
“The [Russian] Red Army lost 7 million men fighting the Wehrmacht, despite its tanks and planes and artillery,” Brown University historian Omer Bartov — a former member of the Israeli army — said in an interview with online magazine Salon. “The Jews with pistols and shotguns would have done better?”
While there may be rational arguments both for and against various forms of gun control, it appears that the argument citing Adolf Hitler as history’s most notorious gun control advocate is not one of them.