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Hullabaloo


Sunday, January 13, 2013

 
The "Hitler passed gun control" myth. Also wrong.

by David Atkins

The NRA and their allies throw out so much bullshit in order to increase sales of guns to their shrinking but deeply paranoid customer base that it's hard to sort fact from fiction, even for careful students of politics and public policy. One of the less intelligent but more prevalent right-wing stories frequently used to attack gun control advocates is that the Nazis also confiscated guns. The idea being that gun control and confiscation is the first step on the road to totalitarian tyranny--conveniently ignoring the fact that every other decent industrialized democracy with gun control in the world has not, in fact, fallen in despotism and the slaughter of millions in recent memory.

So as arguments go, it's foolish and irrelevant. But even I had believed it on the factual merits. But it turns out, like so many monsters dredged from the rightwing swamp, that not even the basis on the argument is true on the merits. Alex Seitz-wald explains:

University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt explored this myth in depth in a 2004 article published in the Fordham Law Review. As it turns out, the Weimar Republic, the German government that immediately preceded Hitler’s, actually had tougher gun laws than the Nazi regime. After its defeat in World War I, and agreeing to the harsh surrender terms laid out in the Treaty of Versailles, the German legislature in 1919 passed a law that effectively banned all private firearm possession, leading the government to confiscate guns already in circulation. In 1928, the Reichstag relaxed the regulation a bit, but put in place a strict registration regime that required citizens to acquire separate permits to own guns, sell them or carry them.

The 1938 law signed by Hitler that LaPierre mentions in his book basically does the opposite of what he 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.
So Hitler actually relaxed gun ownership laws.

Now, it's true that Jews and other minorities were prevented from having access to firearms, no doubt as a way to stop them from fighting back. One of the more disgusting rightwing memes out there, in addition to the if slaves had been armed they wouldn't have been enslaved theory, is that if the Jews had been better armed they could have defended themselves from the Holocaust. The resistance of the fairly well-armed Warsaw Ghetto is often cited. Yeah, about that:

Besides, Omer Bartov, a historian at Brown University who studies the Third Reich, notes that the Jews probably wouldn’t have had much success fighting back. “Just imagine the Jews of Germany exercising the right to bear arms and fighting the SA, SS and the Wehrmacht. The [Russian] Red Army lost 7 million men fighting the Wehrmacht, despite its tanks and planes and artillery. The Jews with pistols and shotguns would have done better?” he told Salon.

Proponents of the theory sometimes point to the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising as evidence that, as Fox News’ Judge Andrew Napolitano put it, “those able to hold onto their arms and their basic right to self-defense were much more successful in resisting the Nazi genocide.” But as the Tablet’s Michael Moynihan points out, Napolitano’s history (curiously based on a citation of work by French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson) is a bit off. In reality, only about 20 Germans were killed, while some 13,000 Jews were massacred. The remaining 50,000 who survived were promptly sent off to concentration camps.
Bottom line: the Warsaw Ghetto resistance didn't work. It never had a prayer of working. Those who fought back should be celebrated for their bravery, but the example shouldn't be used as a matter for public policy. The denizens of the Warsaw Ghetto faced the worst of the Nazi wrath for their trouble. And the exact same fate would befall any pathetic armed resistance against U.S. armed tanks, air forces and trained military personnel if, heaven forfend, a dictatorship were to arise here. Gun control or lack thereof would make little difference to those in charge--which is why it's critically important to engage the ugly business of political checks and balances to make sure it never happens. One good way to stop the rise of despotic dictatorship would be to stop the austerity train in its tracks, since austerity and economic shock are the single biggest causes of the transformation from democracy to autocracy.

And what about left-wing dictatorship and gun control?

“As for Stalin,” Bartov continued, “the very idea of either gun control or the freedom to bear arms would have been absurd to him. His regime used violence on a vast scale, provided arms to thugs of all descriptions, and stripped not guns but any human image from those it declared to be its enemies. And then, when it needed them, as in WWII, it took millions of men out of the Gulags, trained and armed them and sent them to fight Hitler, only to send back the few survivors into the camps if they uttered any criticism of the regime.”

Bartov added that this misreading of history is not only intellectually dishonest, but also dangerous. “I happen to have been a combat soldier and officer in the Israeli Defense Forces and I know what these assault rifles can do,” he said in an email.

He continued: “Their assertion that they need these guns to protect themselves from the government — as supposedly the Jews would have done against the Hitler regime — means not only that they are innocent of any knowledge and understanding of the past, but also that they are consciously or not imbued with the type of fascist or Bolshevik thinking that they can turn against a democratically elected government, indeed turn their guns on it, just because they don’t like its policies, its ideology, or the color, race and origin of its leaders.”
Not unusual. Right wingers are not only morally askew, they're also famously ignorant of science and history.


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