Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Hitler Lie

The pro-gun forces in this country are, understandably, in a near-frenzy of late.  Fear of gun regulation has become so intense that they are using all their tropes at once:  the claim that President Obama is legally unfit for office because he is a foreigner/a secret Muslim/a Socialist; the threat to start an armed rebellion against the American government if they don't get their way; the specious claim that the 2nd Amendment is mean to empower such a rebellion; and -- most predictably of all -- the story that any gummint that regulates our guns is just like Hitler.

The Hitler claim is fairly straightforward.  For about 20 years, NRA mouthpiece Wayne LaPierre has been claiming that "In Germany, Jewish extermination began with the the Nazi Weapon Act of 1938, signed by Adolf Hitler."  The idea idea is simple:  a totalitarian government restricted gun ownership; ergo, any government that restricts gun ownership is totalitarian.

There are two things that must be said about this story.

First, it calls for an immediate application of Godwin's Rule, which says that as any online discussion [or here, we might say "heated argument among people uninhibited by either facts or mutual respect," which is the same thing] grows longer, the probability of a comparison to Nazis grows stronger.  In other words, unless there is a grownup in the room, somebody will always wind up saying "Your side is just like Hitler, nanny-nanny-foo-foo."

Now, that doesn't mean the accusation is always wrong.  If you're arguing against, say, somebody who wants to kill Jews, gypsies and gay people, then the comparison is pretty damned apt.  But it does mean that, for the most part, dubious comparisons to the Third Reich are an inevitable component of public discourse in our morally and intellectually debased society, and that therefore they should be taken with a massive grain of salt.

The second thing, though, is this:  the claims made about the Nazis and gun control are demonstrably false.  In fact, the control of personal firearms was much tighter under Weimar than under the Reich.  (Read an excellent article in Salon here; scholarly details here).  Private weapons had been banned and confiscated after World War I; later, they were permitted, but permits were required to own, sell or carry them.  The effect of Hitler's law was to overthrow this fairly strict regime, and to deregulate long guns, ease handgun restrictions, lower the age limits, and lengthen permits.

Basically, Hitler gave people access to more guns -- at least as long as those people were not Jews.

There remains, of course, the argument that if the Jews had enjoyed the same gun-ownership rights that other German citizens did, they would have been able to defend themselves against the Holocaust.  This is specious.  As Salon says:
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.
So, yeah, the Hitler story is a load of malarkey.

In any case, let's be clear about what the pro-gun extremists are really proposing.  They envision taking up arms against a democratically-elected government because they do not approve of its policies.  This is not even secession, a movement against which the nation has already defended itself decisively.  No, there is another name for what these people are proposing:  domestic terrorism.


Mark C. Christianson said...

Domestic terrorism would imply that it was violence designed to create terror and fear. It may be highly targeted (including potentially toward some individual or group of government officials) or against the population at large. But what these sorts of claims about how we need guns so that the population my rise up and overthrow some hypothetical tyrannical US government are advocating is something else. That sort of line is saying we need guns so that someone can undertake something called treason, as in the first half of the US Constitution's definition: "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort." The idea that the Second Amendment is there to make allowances for acts of treason is preposterous and absurd. The odd thing is that so few people, much less news and media sorts, are willing to point out that this is what the gun extremists are actually saying.

Father Anonymous said...

That's an excellent point.

On the other hand, since the sort of "war" these people envision has absolutely zero chance of military success, I can't see it as anything more than an effort to affect (or circumvent) democratic processes by frightening people.

Could we settle on treasonous terrorism?