The Myth Of Hitler’s Gun Ban

Whenever a politician, or anyone else, starts talking about regulating guns, it’s a safe bet that someone will bring up how Hitler supposedly outlawed guns in Germany, which supposedly enabled him to do all the mischief he did.  As we’ve noted before, Adolf is a staple reference among propagandists. It’s become an automatic response to compare anyone you don’t like to Der Fuhrer, on the grounds that since he was evil incarnate, everything he ever said or did must also be evil. People have even been known to suggest that since he was a vegetarian, vegetarians are evil. It’s not surprising, then, that you often see this quote pop up:

“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!”  –Adolf Hitler, 1935

Trouble is, Hitler never made such a speech in 1935. Nor is there any record that he ever spoke these particular words at all.  This little “speech” was obviously written for him, many years after his death, by someone who wanted you to believe that gun registration is Hitler-evil.

What he did say, seven years later, was 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.” So it’s fair to conclude that he believed “gun control” had its uses. But that’s quite a different thing from claiming that “gun control” was instrumental in the Nazi rise to power.


And the truth is that no gun law was passed in Germany in 1935. There was no need for one, since a gun registration program was already in effect in Germany; it was enacted in 1928, five years before Hitler’s ascendancy.  But that law did not “outlaw” guns, it just restricted their possession to individuals who were considered law-abiding citizens, and who had a reason to own one. And there’s no reason to consider that law particularly significant, either; the Nazis didn’t seize control of their own country with gunpowder. They used a much more potent weapon: propaganda.

Jews comprised less than one percent of the German population. Why didn’t the other 99 percent come to their defense and fight off Nazi tyranny? Quite simply, because they didn’t want to. They’d been persuaded that what was happening was best for their country, and that the Jews deserved what they got. It was propaganda, not firepower, that made the difference.

Under Nazi reign, Jews were prohibited from owning guns, just as they were prohibited from doing many things. And it has become an article of faith among the gun culture that had they been armed, the Holocaust would not have happened (that is, among those members of the gun culture who know that the Holocaust really did happen). But the concept of a handful of citizens armed with hunting rifles and Saturday night specials fending off an army is delusional hubris peculiar to gun addicts. On American soil, its most glorious day in the sun has been perhaps Waco. And we all know how well that turned out.

The gun culture is right about one thing, however. Hitler really did enact a new gun law. But it was in 1938, not 1935 – well after the Nazis already had the country in its iron grip. Furthermore, the new law in many ways LOOSENED gun restrictions. For example, it greatly expanded the numbers who were exempt, it lowered the legal age of possession from 20 to 18, and it completely lifted restriction on all guns except handguns, as well as on ammunition.

Given all of this, it’s pretty hard to make a case that “gun control” played a significant role in Nazi conquest. In fact, one might well say that when gun addicts brandish Hitler as a weapon, they are unwittingly arguing against their own cause.

(NOTE: Paragraph 5 of the above post was added after initial publication. For a more detailed discussion of this topic, see More on the Myth of Hitler’s Gun Ban, Part 1 and More on the Myth of Hitler’s Gun Ban, Part 2. Because the above post was deluged with comments, a few of them somehow were overlooked and did not get approved and published until later. Apologies to those who posted them. Comments on this article are now closed.)

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (and Nazi Values)

Just finished reading “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”, a children’s (?) book by Irish novelist John Boyne. It’s a poignant look at the Holocaust, particularly effective because events are viewed through the innocent eyes of Bruno, a 9-year-old boy. He’s the son of the (fictitious) commandant of Auschwitz who befriends a Polish boy on the other side of the barbed wire. It may be dramatic license, but Bruno is unaware of the horrors unfolding right under his nose; he doesn’t know what a Jew is, or even that the people in the “striped pajamas” on the other side of the fence are being held prisoner.

In a way, Bruno’s naivete simply reflects the moral disconnect of the adults around him. The Nazis are not portrayed as monsters, but as normal people fiercely devoted to an ideology, people convinced that they are doing the right thing. Bruno’s father is a dedicated family man and a kindly soul who goes out of his way to help others in need – even as he oversees the extermination of an entire race. Ideology triumphs over reason and compassion, transforming human beings into us-versus-them creatures.

In my time I have known many, many people who were immersed in some hateful ideology or other: they were racists, homophobes, jingoists, religious bigots, and of course liberal-bashers, among others. Generally, they were all of these things at the same time. But not one of them was really a bad person; in fact, most would have given you the shirts off their backs between their rages against THEM. An astounding number were devout Christians who could always pull up a Bible verse or two to prove that God structures the universe around their prejudices.

So what would it take to transform these kindly acquaintances into assassins who bomb clinics or hijackers who drive planes into buildings while praising God the whole time? In some cases, probably just personal tragedy and/or the right kind of propaganda. But even without hatred, anger, grief, a campaign of persuasion, or even loyalty to an ideology, people are always quite capable of rationalizing their me-versus-them mindset.

Many years ago while I was working for the library of a major city, it was my duty to deliver books and donated magazines to inmates. I became acquainted with and stood face to face with them (sometimes even without bars between us), some of the sleaziest characters ever to make headlines: cold-blooded killers, pedophiles, even an IRA terrorist awaiting extradition. All were congenial and likable if you could just forget what you’d read about them. The terrorist was especially soft-spoken.

One of them had stabbed two college students to death in a petty altercation. A devout Christian, he turned down an offer of girlie magazines because he thought it was improper. Another was a hit man who admitted having killed 57 people. He chatted amiably about how he got into his “line of work” because his father had done it, and he’d retired with two cars and a boat so obviously it was a good life. He seemed upset at having been caught, and having “no parole eligibility whatsoever”. It didn’t occur to him that there was anything morally questionable about his profession.

The world’s great atrocities are generally not committed by people who set out with the intent to do evil. On the contrary, they are committed by people who absolutely know they are right.