The “Hitler Argument” is one of the most successfully used tactics in American politics. Denuded of specifics, the argument goes something like this: “My opponent is in favor of X, Hitler was also in favor of X, therefore anyone who supports X or my opponent is in favor of the holocaust.” With some sections of the population, it works every time.
The Hitler Argument is commonly used when the topic of gun control arises. “First Hitler took the guns, then when the population couldn’t defend itself, he took over everything.” I’m so used to hearing the argument used against gun control, I didn’t bother to question whether it was even true. So, I was surprised to run across this article, first in the AP and then in Huffington Post. The article based on the work of an historian who specifically studied gun laws under Hitler, claims that, while Hitler did take guns from the Jewish population, he was a complete “gun nut” for the population at large.
Soon after Hitler was named chancellor in 1933, he used the arson of the Reichstag as an excuse to push through a decree allowing for the arrest of many Communists and the suspension of civil rights including protections from search and seizure. But as the Nazis increasingly targeted Jews and others they considered enemies, they moved in 1938 to loosen gun statutes for the loyal majority, said Bernard Harcourt, a University of Chicago professor of law and political science who has studied gun regulations under Hitler.
The 1938 law is best known for barring Jews from owning weapons, after which the Nazis confiscated guns from Jewish homes. But Harcourt points out that Hitler’s gun law otherwise completely deregulated acquisition of rifles, long guns and ammunition. It exempted many groups from requiring permits. The law lowered the age for legal gun ownership from 20 to 18. And it extended the validity of gun permits from one year to three years.
“To suggest that the targeting of Jews in any of the gun regulations or any of the other regulations is somehow tied to Nazis’ view of guns is entirely misleading,” Harcourt said, “because the Nazis believed in a greater deregulation of firearms. Firearms were viewed, for the good German, were something to which they had rights.”
With the 1938 law, Nazis seized guns from Jewish homes. But few Jews owned guns and they composed just 2 percent of the population in a country that strongly backed Hitler. By the time the law passed, Jews were so marginalized and spread among so many cities, there was no possibility of them putting up meaningful resistance, even with guns, said Robert Gellately, a professor of history at Florida State University and author of “Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany.”
Of course, if we were to infer that people who support gun rights have anything else in common with Hitler, we would equally fall into the fallacy of Hitler Argument.
I’m not saying any argument based on Hitler is invalid, only that such arguments are easily misused when lifted out of context. It is much safer to look at the larger themes of history if we wish to avoid repeating Hitler’s attrocities. From that larger context, I actually agree that an American version of Hitler might poll quite well in certain parts of the United States. Remember, an American Hitler would replace German self-worship, with American patriotism. He would replace the swastika with an American flag. And, he would replace scapegoating the Jewish population with villification of Muslims. With that platform, would you want to run against him in parts of the South?