Just the facts, please
February 28, 2013
In debates about important social issues impassioned advocates often employ fallacious arguments, i.e., arguments that appear to be correct, but prove upon scrutiny to be logically invalid. Even when they are logically invalid, however, fallacious arguments can still be insidiously effective, especially when they rely on a powerful emotion such as fear.
The fog of fallaciousness, as University of Memphis law professor Andrew Jay McClurg described it, lies heavily over the argument that any attempt to regulate guns in America will turn the country into a Nazi-like totalitarian state.
This argument is not new; in 1995, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre asserted that President Clinton’s ban on assault weapons “gives jack-booted Government thugs (referring to Adolph Hilter’s paramilitary organizations) more power to take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property and even injure and kill us.”
During the three last elections this argument appeared frequently, often illustrated by a mustached image of President Obama in a Nazi uniform.
Hitler was indeed a ruthless dictator who created a brutal totalitarian state, but gun laws had little to do with it. Continuing to promote this fear-driven and long disproven argument is a pointless distraction in an important public debate.
This month the argument has resurfaced on Matt Drudge’s website, and closer to home, in The Union.
The argument has three flaws that make it unworthy of our consideration.
For starters, it often begins with an improvable quote attributed to Adolph Hitler: “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!” Although advocates on both sides of the gun debate have tried mightily to document the source of the statement, there is no proof that Hitler ever made it.
Secondly, the argument asserts that Hitler introduced highly restrictive gun laws that allowed him to turn Germany into a totalitarian state.
According to University of Chicago law professor Bernard E. Harcourt restrictive German gun laws had been put in place in 1919 imposed by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I. Hitler’s Weapons Law of March 1938 loosened, rather than tightened many gun controls, at least for people the Nazis perceived to be “law-abiding” and “trustworthy” citizens.
The new law deregulated the acquisition and transfer of rifles, shotguns, and ammunition; exempted anyone with a hunting permit, many government workers, and members of the Nazi party from restrictions on acquiring or transferring firearms; lowered the legal age for firearm ownership from 20 to 18 years; extended the period of permits from one year to three years; and lifted limitations on the number of guns and ammunition that could be owned.
To be sure, there was one area in which Hitler did tighten gun control laws; Jews were prohibited from acquiring, possessing, and carrying firearms.
Had German Jews retained their guns, goes the third flawed element of the argument they could have stopped the Nazis in their tracks.
Is this a plausible argument? In 1932 the Nazi party had been voted into power by 17 million Germans; Hitler had been granted full dictatorial powers within three months of his appointment as chancellor in 1933; he had an army, air force, and navy at his disposal; and, by 1939, there were over 5 million card-carrying members of the Nazi party who were newly empowered by law to own firearms.
By contrast, the Jewish population of Germany was approximately 505,000 people out of a total of 67 million, less than .75 percent of the population.
About 70 percent of the Jewish population was urban, with half of the urban population scattered across 10 German cities.
As much as we may admire the bravery of the fighters in the Warsaw ghetto and other examples of Jewish resistance, it is not plausible that an armed rebellion by such a small and geographically scattered population could have stopped Hitler.
To the contrary, the task of stopping the Nazis required the combined might of the Allied Forces over six years of fighting, the firebombing of Germany’s cities, and 1.5 million Allied military dead in the European theater alone.
Hitler was indeed a ruthless dictator who created a brutal totalitarian state, but gun laws had little to do with it.
Continuing to promote this fear-driven and long disproven argument is a pointless distraction in an important public debate.
And the use of Hitler-like images to portray President Obama serves only to reinforce that the argument’s advocates must resort to fear rather than facts to make their case.
Linda Jack lives in Grass Valley.