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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Comparing Nazi gun policies to US is outrageous

Published: April 12, 2013
Section: Opinions

I recently read an article from the AP discussing comparisons between gun control policies of the United States and firearm restrictions in Nazi Germany. While I’m sure that the majority of people do not believe that these two cases are comparable, it’s unfortunate that even a small portion of the population would compare arms policies in a free democratic America to one in a tyrannical dictatorial Third Reich.

Every controversial topic has had its advocates relate their cause to far-reaching and distant comparisons. Evidence and support for a cause can be dug up from any source and adjusted to fit the situation, even when it does not directly or even indirectly relate to the subject. No example may be more notable than opponents of gay rights using “proof” from the Bible.

Comparisons between Hitler and President Obama have also been inaccurately made. I don’t have a strong opinion about gun policy in the United States, but to make any comparison of current policies to those in Hitler’s Germany is illogical. Ken Jacobson, the deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League agrees.

“Such an absurdity and so offensive and just undermines any real understanding of what the Holocaust was about,” Jacobson said. “If they do believe it, they’re making no serious examination of what the Nazi regime was about.”

The main difficulty in comparing the two cases is that the political and social environments of the two nations are vastly different. Some have commented that the strict U.S. gun controls can lead to the rise of tyrants, as occurred in Germany. The weapon policies of Nazi Germany and its occupied nations were convoluted and did not attempt to provide the best living situation for all. In 1938, during Hitler’s reign, gun laws were actually loosened for the vast majority of the German population. Weapons for Jews were concurrently strictly forbidden.

The institution of these policies was not related to the German states’ philosophy or ideals of weapons; it was based on the racial ideologies of the Nazi party and the attempt to take away all power from those deemed undesirable, particularly the Jews.

Heavy restrictions were placed on the purchasing and ownership of arms after World War I when the Treaty of Versailles was put into place. In addition to other major impositions that Germans were upset about, German conscription was abolished, the number of active troops was limited, naval forces were limited and the import and export of weapons was prohibited.

The treaty was primarily put together by American, British and French leaders. President Woodrow Wilson put forward his “Fourteen Points,” which took a liberal position toward the future of Germany and did not advocate harsh treatment against them. In 1919 this won him the Nobel Peace Prize. France’s close proximity to Germany caused them to take a very combative attitude and to advocate for heavy restrictions on the German state so that they would not be able to go to war again anytime soon.

Even if citizens having more guns would have helped Jews in Nazi Germany, the ownership of these weapons were looked down upon by the Treaty of Versailles and forbidden by Hitler. Jews composed a very small segment of the German population prior to and during the Nazi takeover. Less than 2 percent of the German population consisted of Jews. In a state where the vast majority of the population was allowed weapons and 2 percent were not, the availability of weapons for the 2 percent would not have made a significant difference in the long-term effects of the Holocaust. This in addition to the growing popularity of the Nazi and anti-Communist movements provided a culture of escalating anti-Semitism in Germany.

Some say that increased arms usage may have even been harmful to the sustenance of the Jews in Europe. While millions of Jews perished from the Nazi destruction, the process would have likely been carried out more quickly if the Nazis’ saw the Jews as being an immediate threat: by having weapons. If the small and spread out population of German Jews were to have banded together, the results may have been even more catastrophic.

If Jews had been armed, they may have been able to resist attack from unarmed instigators, but despite the restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, militarism and weapon ownership was a rampant part of the post-war German culture. Many of the soldiers who returned from World War I to the devastated economic and political landscape of Germany joined armed militias to fight communism. While technically illegal, militias for this purpose were not dissuaded.

A popular example of successful Jewish resistance is the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This revolt is the most notable resistance against the Nazis but resulted in the deaths of thousands of Jews and few Nazis. Following the revolt, the ghetto was razed and destroyed and the Jews that remained were sent to outside camps. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is a better symbolic example of defiance than of effective resistance. While many of those involved in the uprising saw it as their last chance at survival, many perished because of it. We cannot know for sure if the death toll would have been different if the uprising hadn’t taken place, but scholars have purported that if the Jews had limited resistance, the Nazis may not have destroyed the ghetto which would have allowed for more Jews to escape.

The supposition that the weakening of gun restrictions in Nazi Germany would have lessened the intensity or even prevented the Holocaust is not supported by facts. Arms restrictions were not strong and were not imposed on the majority of the population. Gun policies in Nazi Germany do not relate to gun policy in the United States, but relate to the racial ideologies of the Nazi party. Even if some American gun laws are worded similarly to those that were instituted in Nazi Germany, they were created for vastly different purposes and are countered by contrasting living situations in the two nations.