Gun control has, after far too many deaths and massacres, finally started to be discussed by the public at large. It is an understatement to say that the pro-control side of the debate getting wind in its sails was long overdue; after all to have a debate there must be people willing to discuss it and until recently people had fallen into a pattern of:
-People proclaim it is 'too soon' to discuss any kind of efforts to ensure it doesn't happen again
-Time elapses, tempers die down
-No one discusses it again and the massacre becomes a statistic
There is an understandable emotional reasoning for not wanting to discuss political implications immediately following a tragedy like Newtown. People just died. Emotions are still raw. Investigations are just starting up, we can't assume we know what caused this one.
But now the genie is out of the bottle, and the death of innocent children and teachers is finally forcing a conversation. And so it has come to the Hitler card being deployed.
In any sane world, a pundit would invoke Godwin's Law. But we're in something else, aren't we? Below the ornate orange ornament, the results of a quick Wikipedia (and other sources) research bit on German gun control - and why invoking the Nazis is not only laughable, but wrong.
To really understand the state of German gun control during Hitler, one has to understand the state of Germany immediately following World War I. Namely, that it was utterly broken and defeated. The war itself had ravaged the French and German countryside, with able-bodied young men killed or maimed in warfare and tactical ploys that were considered highly ineffective (like trench charges).
The end of the war was signaled by the Treaty of Versailles in 1918. France in particular wanted Germany to pay hand over fist for what they'd done, and while Britain recognized that reparations could be costly it demanded its fair share. The two countries essentially trounced Wilson and the US delegation, and punished Germany severely and in numerous ways.
One of the terms of the Treaty, Article 169, stated the following:
"Within two months from the coming into force of the present Treaty, German arms, munitions, and war material, including anti-aircraft material, existing in Germany in excess of the quantities allowed, must be surrendered to the Governments of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers to be destroyed or rendered useless."
This equated to an outside power forcing Germany to surrender its weapons, similar to how modern-day conservatives fear that the UN will force the US to surrender its.
And so it was in 1919, Germany passed the Regulations on Firearm Ownership to comply with the Treaty. Firearm ownership was banned because the Allied Powers demanded they disarm. The ban was so strict that, as mentioned by Stephen Halbrook in 2000, that in times of unrest the mere possession of a handgun could result in immediate execution.
It was only in 1928 that Germany started to restore gun ownership with the Law on Firearms and Ammunition. This removed an outright ban on gun ownership, and instead required licenses for a multitude of firearms uses. A license on ownership. One to carry a gun with you. One to buy and sell. And gun sellers now were required to keep information about who they sold to and what serial numbers were sold.
It was an utter rebuke of the 1919 law, and restored gun ownership rights. Germany had gone from 'taking people's guns' to 'regulating gun ownership'.
And all of this before the Nazis took power in 1933.
That is not to say that the Nazis did not pass any laws relating to gun ownership while in power. In 1938, the German Weapons Act was passed to replace the 1928 law. So how much of a restriction was this on gun ownership?
The short answer: It was mostly an expansion. The longer answer: It was mostly an expansion as long as you weren't a Jew.
The only new restrictions in the law related to buying guns: you had to be someone whose 'trustworthiness is not in question' and could 'show a need for a permit'. Essentially there were background checks and you couldn't just buy a gun because it's a Tuesday and that's what you do on Tuesdays.
Also, Jews were now excluded from firearms manufacture, and in a law later that year would have the right to bear arms stripped from them.
The rest of the law?
-Lowered the age you could buy guns to 18.
-Lengthened how long firearm permits could go before expiration.
-People who held hunting permits or were members of the Nazi party were made immune from regulation.
-Permits to manufacture and sell guns were eliminated. The ability was no longer regulated by permits.
And interestingly the law deregulated all non-handgun purchases. If you wanted a shotgun or a rifle and ammo to boot, you didn't have any problems with the Nazi government.
After World War II, gun ownership was banned again. The ban was to such a degree that German police could not bear arms. By request of the Allied Powers. In 1956, private firearm ownership rights were restored to what was essentially the 1928 law.
So, what can be discerned from this massive block of text?
First, that Germany approached the gun control debate from the opposite end that we approach it in the modern day. They were deciding how to let people safely obtain guns, not how to restrict unsafe acquisitions.
Second, that the only time that Germany 'came to take people's guns' was at the request of outside powers following its defeat in the World Wars. On its own, Germany gravitated back towards a highly regulated gun control scheme- but a scheme that still made owning a gun legal.
Third, that the Nazis themselves did not really restrict German gun ownership. True, you needed a reason for a gun. But it loosened restrictions on so many other fronts that it would be more accurate to say that the Nazis made it easier to own guns.
The only real asterisk to this statement is relating to the Jewish people, whose gun ownership rights were taken away two days following the 'Night of Broken Glass'. But even a few years earlier, the Nazi Party was starting to put pressure on the Jewish community. So while restricting gun ownership was certainly part of the Nazi's beginnings of its 'Final Solution', it is at best an ancillary piece of information when placed next to the seizure of businesses and property and the displacement of people from their homes.
Also keep in mind that this post is largely due to researching on Wikipedia, so all due caution to that.
The time is now to discuss gun control, and what sensible measures can be taken. And while there are things that can and should be done that don't involve changing gun laws, let's not tolerate false Nazi comparisons with a mere 'Godwin's law' and tell them just how wrong they are.