Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Does Nazi Germany show that citizens need guns?

Eighty years ago today, Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.

One of the arguments used by gun lobbyists in the US is that Hitler took away people's guns in Germany, and we see where that went. Until Newtown, I had not heard the argument, and I certainly haven't come across it in my 20+ years in Germany – so I wondered why it was new to me.

A closer look – and all of this is available in English online – reveals that it is all based on a misunderstanding. The Nazis did not take guns away from all Germans. In fact, in 1938 they actually made gun ownership and purchases easier in a number of ways.

Hitler did, of course, take guns away from his political opponents starting in 1933 and from the Jews in 1938. He also made it illegal for them to work, have pets, and all sorts of other things before sending them off to death camps (starting, again, with his political opponents in 1933).

That year, he had already rounded up 45,000 of his political opponents. In 1932, public support for his party dropped from the all-time high of 37 percent down to 33 percent in the November elections. Historians generally agree that the Nazis were on their way to becoming irrelevant politically, and Hitler managed to grab political control by force just in time. One newspaper even wrote in December 1932, when top ranking party members began stepping down and the Nazis lost large blocs of voters in local elections, that "the tremendous Nazi assault on the Democratic state has been repelled" (see this report in German).

He did so largely with his SA, which basically consisted of disgruntled young men who bullied Hitler's political opponents on the street. The organization might well fall under what the Second Amendment describes as a "well regulated militia," but I have not seen that comparison before. What ever the case, by the time the Nazis took power, the SA – remember, this is just a bunch of guys who got together to put on uniforms and carry weapons – was bigger than the Reichswehr, as the German Armed Forces were known under the Weimar Republic that Hitler toppled.

A number of things make a comparison with current events in the US inappropriate. First, no one in the US is calling for gun ownership to be banned for certain groups – such as, say, Hispanics or disgruntled white guys; rather, we are talking about where restrictions, which already exist (a normal citizen cannot own missiles), should be for everyone, not for particular groups.

Second, if any comparison is to be made, I would like to see a discussion on whether the SA provides good evidence that "well regulated militia" are actually fairly dangerous. There has always been a debate on what that wording means – is it just the military, or can private citizens arm themselves in small groups? – but I'm not asking for clarification of what the Founding Fathers meant.

No, what I'm trying to figure out is whether the Nazis do not demonstrate that all citizens need to be armed, but rather that we should not allow fringe groups to go ballistic.

As for the idea that the Jews could have prevented the Holocaust had they had weapons, Jon Stewart has already dealt with that.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this clarification! Like you, I first came across that strange argument after Newtown and found it puzzling that as a German, I had never heard about it. They actually have quite a list of countries that first introduced gun control and shortly thereafter committed some sort of crime on their citizens. Oh, well. This is the same craziness as those Facebook posts that compare Obama to Hitler. I just hate those so much!