Dean Traylor splits his time being a special education teacher and a freelance writer.
Here’s a quote that just won’t go away:
“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!”
— Quote attributed to Adolph Hitler, 1935, 1936, or 1938?
Maybe you’ve seen it pop up as a meme on Facebook or emblazoned onto somebody’s T-shirt. Or you’ve observed it on a bumper sticker or political banner. You may have given it some thought and bought into its intended message. You probably asked yourself: “Adolf Hitler and the Nazis believed in gun control?" And you may have come to the conclusion that gun control was for evil tyrants.
Before you pass judgment, however, you may want to take this in for good measure: It’s not true. Hitler never uttered or wrote these words—nor was he ever an ardent supporter of gun control policies. On top of that, the statement has been debunked numerous times since it first appeared nearly four decades ago. Even some pro-gun rights groups have distanced themselves from it.
Still, the quote manages to rear its head every time the debate on gun control heats up. And it still has the type of persuasive sting that pro-gun rights groups have wanted.
So where did it come from, and is there any truth behind gun policies made during Hitler’s reign? Surprisingly, the truth is complex and involves the way things were in Germany during the years between the two World Wars. It is also a reflection of the ongoing debate that exists in the United States on the matter.
Some Red Flags
For years, the Hitler quote circulated throughout the pro-gun rights community. Some claimed the quote came from Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Others reported that it was made during a speech in Berlin to commemorate the passing of a gun registration law. The quote is sometimes accompanied with specific details such as the name of the reporter who covered the speech and the newspaper that printed it.
However, when one does some investigation of the sources associated with the quote, things don’t seem to add up. The quote can’t be found Mein Kampf. Also, the commonly referenced newspaper that supposedly reported the speech—Berliner Tageblatt—doesn’t mention anything about a speech on the dates this particular speech was believed to have been given.
The reporter’s name is a bit of an enigma, too. The name often given is Eberhard Beckmann, but there are no records of him working on the newspaper at the time of the supposed speech. According to “David,” the Straight Dope columnist who wrote about the matter in 2000, a person with the name later emerged as a writer of introductions for photography books. Also, he “had worked for a German broadcaster after World War II.”
The authenticity of the quote gets even murkier when the dates associated with it are examined. As mentioned, the closest thing to a dated source for it, the newspaper, stated it as happening on April 15, 1935. However, other sources put it in 1936, 1937, or 1938.
The dates, if correct, also bring up another matter. If the speech actually happened, it would have been totally unnecessary in the first place. As researchers at the pro-gun website GunCite.com point out, the most significant date given (1935) “has no correlation with any legislative effort by the Nazis for gun registration, nor would there have been any need for the Nazis to pass such a law, since gun registration laws passed by the Weimer government were already in effect.”
Another red flag is the wording in the quotes. It has changed over the years with each telling or posting. Here is an example, as reported in the Straight Dope column in 2000: "This year will go down in history!” which was the first line in the quote would alternate with, "1935 will go down in history!"
Yet another issue with the quote is its timing. It often pops up when the United States is in the midst of a national discourse on gun rights and/or regulation of firearms. The last time this quote was mentioned was in the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s speech in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary Shootings. In this tragedy, more than 20 elementary school children, teachers, an administrator, and a counselor were gunned down by a deranged—and well-armed—person.
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Obama pleaded for better gun regulations and legislation. Soon afterward, the Hitler quote reemerged on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, as a meme. Also, conservative websites such as the Drudge Report published it. As a result, the Hitler quote went viral.
Origin of the Quote
If it wasn’t uttered by Hitler, then who said it? That’s not easy to answer. There’s no doubt it was around during the 1980s. Some accounts put it in the 1970s, coming from an out-of-print book. Still, there is no definitive evidence to suggest who created it. In many respects, it has become a hallmark of a typical urban legend, which is often passed along by word of mouth (or in this case, through social media, e-mail chains, and chat rooms).
Still, one group has been associated with it. They have been actively perpetuating and circulating the quote through various media sources. Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership has been mentioned in several articles as a source. According to Alex Seitz-Wald in his Salon article on the matter, the group is “built almost exclusively around” the notion that Hitler was a supporter of gun control. They have gone as far as to circulate a popular poster/meme showing Hitler giving the Nazi salute. Included in large black letters is the following statement: “All in favor of gun control raise your right hand.”
Also, Clayton Cramer (a gun rights supporter who helped debunk the myth and was interviewed for the Straight Dope article) referenced a book in which the Jewish pro-gun group made “curious parallels between the U.S. Gun Control Act of 1968 and the 1938 Nazi weapon control law.” The 1938 law has been credited in the past as a source or inspiration for the Hitler quote.
...the laws actually loosened existing gun registration laws in Germany for most of the general population
Not surprisingly, the notion found new life in 1994 when NRA vice president Wayne La Pierre made reference to it in his book Guns, Crime, and Freedom. In it, he wrote: “In Germany, Jewish extermination begins with the Nazi Weapon Law of 1938, signed by Adolf Hitler.”
The Truth about Gun Control in Nazi Germany
While the quote is a fake, gun control in Germany during the years between the world wars did exist. However, it had little or no bearing on Hitler and the Nazi’s rise to power. In fact, the Nazis had little to do with the passage of the first and most restrictive gun control measure during that era.
The Weimar Republic—which preceded Hitler’s regime—was struggling through harsh sanctions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. The peace treaty may have ended World War I, but it also forced Germany to take the blame for starting the war and to deal with the harsh consequences.
In 1919, as part of the war reparations and sanctions established by the treaty, the Weimar Republic passed a law that effectively banned private gun ownership. According to University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt, who wrote about it in a 2004 article published in the Fordham Law Review, the gun laws the Weimar Republic passed during this time were much tougher than anything the Nazis had when they came to power.
The law, Harcourt stated effectively, “banned firearm possession, leading government to confiscate guns already in circulation.” The law was softened in 1928 when the Reichstag (German legislature) allowed gun ownership by private citizens with some stipulation: citizens had to register firearms and acquire permits to own, sell or carry them.
Ironically, the law still imposed a ban on certain groups—in particular, extreme fringe groups such as the Nazis. As history has shown, Hitler and the Nazis didn’t need the help of gun laws to obtain power in Germany anyway.
Once in power, the Nazis imposed their brand of gun control. In 1938, the Nazi Weapon Law was passed. Despite the claims made by LaPierre, the laws actually loosened existing gun registration laws in Germany for most of the general population. Also, it lowered the age for individuals to purchase and own guns.
There were exceptions made by the Nazis. While a majority of the Germans now had the right to bear arms, those of Jewish and Gypsy origins didn’t. This may sound like definitive proof that Hitler was a gun control advocate; however, by the time 1938 weapon law was passed, the two groups, as well as other “undesirables” in the Nazi regime, were systematically losing their rights in nearly every way possible. Losing their right to own a gun was merely one in many rights taken away.
Some have argued that an armed Jewish population would’ve helped prevent the Holocaust. Not so, say some experts. Robert Spitzer, who chairs SUNY-Cortland’s political science department— as well as an expert on the matter of gun control politics—stated that gun ownership in post-World War I Germany was never widespread enough for civilians to revolt against Nazi rules.
The gun control issue is a contentious one. While there are civil discourse that’s based on facts and evidence out there, it’s the bogus stuff such this Hitler quotes that muddies it.
Also, according to a report from Mother Jones, Spitzer stated if the Jews had been better armed, it would only have “hastened their demise.”
“But guns didn’t play a particularly important part in any event,” Spitzer was reported to have said on the matter. “Gun policy wasn’t’ the defining moment that marked the beginning of the end for Jewish people in Germany. It was because they were persecuted, were deprived of all their rights, and they were a minority group.”
The gun control issue is a contentious one. While there is civil discourse that’s based on facts and evidence out there, it’s the bogus stuff such this Hitler quotes that muddies it. Thus, if something is passed along through social media, political posters or bumper stickers, be wary of where it came from. It may well be an urban myth being used as a talking point.
An Example of Godwin's Law
“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” —Mark Godwin, 1990
When it comes to the debate on gun control, the bogus quote and Hitler, himself, will be brought up. But, this is not necessarily a good tactic.
Mark Godwin spotted a pattern within internet forums and chat rooms. As soon as the discussion became heated, one will pull out the Hitler/Nazi comparison as a rhetorical weapon. In many respects, the gun control issue—as well as the bogus Hitler quote on the matter—has become a prime example of Godwin’s Law.
A Rationalwiki page on the matter states: “In its purest sense, the rule has more to do with completely losing one’s sense of proportion rather than just mentioning Nazis specifically.” It also states that many view the use of this rule as a sign that an online discussion has been “effectively finished” when Hitler or the Nazis are evoked for comparison.
It’s not just the Nazis, either. Other despots and totalitarians such as Joseph Stalin, the Communists, Mao Xing Tong, and Saddam Hussein have been used in the same fashion. Also, the argument is not merely used by gun rights groups. Some gun control advocates have been evoking the lawlessness and anarchy in Somalia as a prime example of a country with full gun rights.
Ironically, there are some neo-Nazi groups that seem compelled to utter a form of this law. In their case, however, they replaced Hitler or the Nazis with the Jews and other ethnic or racial groups. Possibly, comedian Lewis Black’s take on the law is enlightening, albeit humorous. He states: “It’s like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, except there’s just one degree, and Kevin Bacon is Hitler!”
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2014 Dean Traylor