More on the Myth of Hitler’s Gun Ban (Part 1)

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Thanks to a routine gun massacre at a school, a plug of this blog by Randi Rhodes, and the routine level of rabidly hateful insanity spewing out of the Second Amendment crowd, my previous post on The Myth of Hitler’s Gun Ban, written more than a year ago, has suddenly been catapulted through the stratosphere, at least by my readership’s usual standards: more than 32,000 hits in one day alone. And I’m pleased to see that, for the most part, the new comments have been civil, informed, and sometimes thought-provoking. This even applies to many individuals who chose to challenge my research.

And then there are the others: the gun fanatics who resent being deprived of one of their pet myths, and come out with hardware blazing in an effort to hold onto it. Some have accused me of being “misleading”, though they haven’t been able to tell me exactly how I’ve misled. Some have suggested that I’m an admirer of Hitler myself; or that I want to take away their guns like he didn’t; or that I’m anti-Semitic for pointing out that the Jews were unable to resist Nazi oppression.

For some of these folks, it’s very, very important to believe that Hitler banned guns, because their window on the universe looks something like this: (1) President Obama is trying to ban guns; (2) Hitler banned guns; (3) therefore Obama is Hitler reincarnate; (4) therefore we need to prepare for the day when he’ll come banging our door down and dragging us off to a FEMA concentration camp, where we’ll be either converted to Islam, or will be tortured and killed; (5) thus, we must stockpile as many weapons as possible and coincidentally stack up some healthy profits for Lord LaPierre and company.

“The first thing a tyrant does”, they often say, “is take away people’s guns”.  Whereupon they point to a string of historical dictators who supposedly did just that, and proclaim that President Obama belongs in that nefarious procession himself. They’re quite mistaken on every count (for one thing, tyrants seldom attach as much significance to “gun control” as gun nuts do), but as one gathers from their frequent attempts to politicize the gun debate to the nth degree, it doesn’t matter whether you have the right facts, so long as you have the right ideology.

I recommend reading the comments on the original post, but the following is an attempt to address objections, shed some additional light, and summarize and reiterate some salient points:

Salient Point # 1. Hitler did NOT ban guns. Did not, did not, did not.

No amount of devious spin can alter that fact. Sorry. Get over it, already.  Even GunCite (a pro-gun website that, unlike other pro-gun websites, generally does some solid research) acknowledges as much. The Nazis inherited a system of firearm registration and regulation that was already quite strict, though it also did not, by any means, amount to a gun ban. And the gun law they passed in 1938 actually loosened those existing regulations considerably.  Regulations were still stringent. But to call it a “gun ban”, is… well, misleading at the very least.

Okay, I admit it: I may have goofed. In debunking the popular Hitler gun “quote” (you know, the one beginning “This year will go down in history”), I noted that he did say this:

“The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to permit the conquered Eastern peoples to have arms. History teaches that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by doing so.”

From which I deduced:

So it’s fair to conclude that he believed “gun control” had its uses.

Okay, but a great deal depends on what you  mean by “gun control”.  I may have goofed by cutting Der Fuhrer off too soon. Just a couple of sentences later, he added this:

“So let’s not have any native militia or native police. German troops alone will bear the sole responsibility for the maintenance of law and order throughout the occupied Russian territories, and a system of military strong-points must be evolved to cover the entire occupied country.”

This suggests that his real concern about “conquered peoples” having arms was really about them having organized armed forces, not merely armed citizens. And he was referring specifically to governing the conquered “Eastern peoples” (i.e., Russians) rather than Germans.

The Nazis loved their guns. They loved guns almost as much as today’s American Gun Worshiping Cult that compares Obama to Hitler. They loved guns so much, they taught children to march and drill with them, starting as early as five years of age. The nursery rhymes these children heard encouraged them to play with guns. Does that sound like something Nazis wanted to outlaw?

While I’m hesitant to consult white supremacist organizations on anything, it’s interesting to note that the National Alliance, which has a certain amount of reverence for both firearms and fascism/white nationalism, has this commentary ,which lays out some of the specifics of the 1938 law. It’s excerpted from a book that includes the complete text of the law, both in English translation and in the original German.  For what it’s worth, the commentary concludes with the declaration that it was not Hitler, but his enemies, who advocated for “gun control”. Quite the reverse of the claim made by gun enthusiasts who (presumably) do not admire Hitler.

Salient Point # 2: Yes, the Jews were barred from gun ownership. So what?

They were barred from a lot of things. Like voting, owning businesses, working in professions, attending schools, patronizing cinemas or theatres, and visiting public parks or “Aryan” areas. Jews were not considered citizens in Nazi Germany (and in a very real sense they weren’t even considered human), and gun ownership was one of the perks of citizenship. The fact that the gun culture considers the Jews’ lack of guns of more consequence than their lack of far more basic civic rights says a great deal more about the gun culture than it does about the Nazis or the Jews. And even when they get it right about what the German gun laws did or didn’t do, they misrepresent the significance and consequences of those laws.

And we say laws in the plural because there were indeed more than one. We’ve been discussing primarily the German Weapons Act of 1938, passed in March of that year, which as we’ve noted before, significantly deregulated firearms. It also prohibited Jews from manufacturing and selling them; one gets the impression that the intent was to prevent Jews, whom the Nazis regarded as subhuman, from handling the sacred implements of power that they later would touch with their own hands. Even so, note that this law itself did not expressly ban Jews from owning guns.

It wasn’t until November of that year that a different law, The Regulations Against Jews’ Possession Of Weapons, did what its name suggested. That’s right: even though they’d subjected the Jews to just about every form of degradation and brutal oppression possible, it took the Nazis  five years before they actually got around to barring Jews from owning guns. Gives you some indication just what an all-consuming priority it was, doesn’t it? Furthermore, this law was passed only after Kristallnacht, which might have given Jews an incentive to retaliate violently.

“Aha”, says the gun fanatic, “so obviously the Nazis were concerned about the threat of an armed populace”. Well sure, to some degree; but let’s not blow it out of proportion. Just because they wanted to prevent a few of their own from getting killed or wounded in the line of duty didn’t mean they gave any credibility to the Tea Party wet dream of a small contingent of armed citizens overthrowing their government. As one of my readers so astutely observed, if they’d encountered armed resistance at the first two houses they came knocking at, then at the third house they would have stopped knocking and just started shooting.

In a statement issued by the Anti-Defamation League, national director Abraham Foxman, a survivor of the Holocaust (you know, the one that didn’t really happen), said:

“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.”

The ADL statement also says:

“the small number of personal firearms in the hands of the small number of Germany’s Jews (about 214,000) remaining in Germany in 1938 could in no way have stopped the totalitarian power of the Nazi German state.”

But hey, just because someone was there and actually lived through it doesn’t mean they can match the expertise on the subject exhibited by Glenn Beck or Ann Coulter, does it? Incidentally, the ADL has politely urged people to refrain from using Hitler as a political scarecrow. Do you really think anyone’s gonna listen?

(More to come on this, alas.)

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Propaganda Prop # 6 : The Straw Man

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Once upon a time when I was a teenager and didn’t know any better, I got into a discussion (i.e. argument) with a relative on a topic that he had strong beliefs about. That topic was the hazards posed by certain chemicals used in growing and processing food — a hazard which, he was convinced, was nonexistent, but was merely a fraud concocted by devious scientists, or the government, or some other “them” who couldn’t be trusted. At one point, he said to me, ” if it wasn’t for chemicals, you couldn’t live.” Although I wasn’t even familiar with the term at the time, this was my first real awareness of the straw man tactic, which is the sixth in our series of propaganda techniques.

A straw man is an oversimplified substitute for an actual issue or another person’s actual position on an issue.  Although the term’s origins are unclear, the apparent idea is that metaphorically, someone constructs a cheapened likeness of another person (or position) and knocks it down, then claims to have struck down the real person (or position). I’d never said that all chemicals are harmful; I was perfectly aware, in fact, that the human body is made of them. What I was saying was that it’s a good idea to be informed about what chemicals are harmful and to avoid them if possible.  That’s an argument that’s much harder to dismiss than the watered-down version my relative threw back at me.

You’ve surely had plenty of straw men thrown in your face; there’s not much way to avoid it. If you mention to anyone, for example, that you’re opposed to the war (any war) you’re quite likely to hear someone say “How can you not support the troops?” Or “Why do you hate America so much?”. Or something like that. Mention that you favor reproductive choice, and you’ll surely be labeled “pro-abortion”, and you may even hear someone say that you support “killing babies”.  Either of which constructs a straw effigy in front of the real problem of how to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

In April 2010 the state of Arizona passed Arizona Senate Bill 1070, putatively aimed at curbing illegal immigration. Many citizens, not only Arizonans, expressed concern and outrage because some provisions of the bill opened the door to harassment of legal immigrants or even natural-born citizens of darker complexion.  (Do you suppose it’s just a coincidence that the bill has connections to white supremacists?) But ideological extremists who spoke of opponents to the bill almost uniformly characterized them as being anti-immigration reform, or pro-illegal immigration, or some other such straw personage, often even suggesting that those bleeding-heart libruls who didn’t like the bill should just invite all the filthy scum illegals to come and live in their neighborhoods. Now it’s certainly possible that some of these people honestly don’t know the difference between objecting to a specific law and objecting to the broad objectives the law supposedly addresses (I’m glancing in your general direction, Ms. Malkin). But some of them did a deliberate switcheroo, replacing substance with straw. Well, after all, they were taking their cue from the straw twins embedded in the bill’s official name: The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, which implies that law enforcement officials strongly support the measure, and that brown people from south of the border are responsible for higher crime. Both of which are, to say the least, unsupported conclusions.

Chances are that at some time during the past few months you’ve seen this graphic making the rounds on the Internet:

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The idea, of course, is to suggest that the participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement are sniveling hypocrites for being anti-corporation when, like the rest of us, they use products manufactured by corporations. Trouble is, the Occupy movement was not organized to protest against corporations. It was organized to protest against corporate greed, corporate crime and corporate domination of government policy. Those are things that many Americans are concerned about, including many who revile OWS.  But it’s a lot simpler and a lot more effective just to dumb down the OWS position as being “anti-corporation”. Don’t strike a match with so much straw flying around.

Almost every criticism/ attack I’ve heard directed at OWS has been a straw man. Indeed, if you’re one of those who are generally classified as “liberal”, you surely get attacked by scarecrow platoons on a regular basis.  “Liberalism” is a rather broad and nebulous concept — much more so than “conservatism”, which is itself a rather imprecise label. And since the lifeblood of propaganda is oversimplification, it makes sense that those who smear “liberals” will dumb down their talking points and employ vast hordes of straw figures to make their case. (“Conservatives”, by the way also tend to invoke reverse straw men to present their own convictions — which is to say they oversimplify them in a positive direction. They might attire their belief, for example, in a supposed Second Amendment right to own guns as “supporting the Constitution”. What they mean in is that they support their own dubious interpretation of one little segment of the Constitution.)

In fact, my absolute favorite single source of straw men is Liberal Logic 101, which has the avowed mission of pointing out the inconsistencies and stupidities of “liberals”; but the site would be more accurately called Straw Man of the Day. Let’s look at a couple of recent examples of its wit and wisdom:

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This one’s a double whammy: it suggests, first that “responsible adults” are the main target of firearm regulation, and second that it really matters whether teenagers “think premarital sex is okay”.  Comparing an innate biological drive with a culturally conditioned addiction,  this cutesy graphic sidesteps two genuine issues: (1) The dividing line between “responsible” and “irresponsible” adults (as if adults were the only ones affected by guns) is often crosshair-thin; and a gun blurs that line faster than just about anything else in the known universe, and (2) Teenagers already think sex is pretty okay; and they’re going to go on thinking it’s okay unless adults inflict some extremely heavy psychological damage; and it just might be prudent to be more concerned with preventing pregnancy and potentially fatal disease than with trying to reprogram their hormones. It’s an artificial dichotomy (something straw-sculpting propagandists just love) to suggest that one must choose between discouraging premarital sex or being prepared for lapses in judgment.

Here’s another gem:

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Is there really anybody out there who honestly doesn’t realize that President Obama has been subjected to more “background checks” than the Pope? Apparently so; and this straw men seems to be an attempt to recruit more devotees to birtherism. Or any of the other Photoshop conspiracy theories accumulating around the president. If gun owners were scrutinized with a microscope even a fraction as big as the one that has been trained relentlessly on Barack Obama, gun regulation advocates would be ecstatic. And chances are that just about everyone would be a lot happier, because there’d probably be far less gun crime.

Gosh, these are like eating peanuts — once you get going, it’s hard to stop. Let’s try one more for good measure:

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The notion that “Obamacare” entails the government “making medical choices for you” has been a heavily used straw man since day one, and not one sliver of its straw has worn off. “Government takeover” is the straw phrase of choice that has been brandished against the Affordable Care Act ever since “socialized medicine” started wearing thin.

These priceless bagatelles from Liberal Logic 101 always end with the observation that “Yes, they are that stupid.” Well, it does appear that somebody is trying very hard to be “that stupid” — or else just very crafty. In any case, I recommend perusing the pages of that website if you’re seeking some textbook examples of straw men.

But really, you don’t have to seek them out at all. They’ll seek you out instead. It seems that straw men are breeding faster than mosquitoes in a swamp. I seem to hear more and more and more of them all the time. Ironically, I also seem to hear more and more instances of “phantom” straw men — i.e., people falsely claiming that someone else has used a straw man.  (See, for example, the attack on one of my previous posts at TheTruthABoutGuns.com and/or my response to it.) Yes, we’ve reached that bizarre point in the so-called evolution of our species when the concept of a straw man has become itself a straw man.