Gun Control And Holocaust Appropriation
Via priceofliberty, I encountered this quote from Gus Cotey Junior of Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership :
“[…] The inalienable and fundamental right to keep and bear arms which is enumerated by (but actually predates) the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is not about hunting, gun collecting, or target shooting. Its purpose is to ensure that every responsible American personally possesses the means to defend the Republic from all forms of tyranny, within and without. It is what permits the other nine Amendments in the Bill of Rights to be more than mere hollow phrases on a piece of paper. Its free exercise is the antithesis of serfdom and the only meaningful form of holocaust insurance known to man. We must never insult and degrade the spirits of our Founding Fathers by permitting the Second Amendment, the pillar of freedom, to be destroyed by the cold flame of legislative ink.”
Whatever the merits of gun ownership, I have to push back against the idea of gun ownership as “Holocaust insurance.” It’s problematic for a number of reasons.
Referring to the Second Amendment as “Holocaust insurance” is insulting to the survivors of the Shoah. It assumes that if the Jews of Europe had simply armed themselves, they could have prevented their own genocide. This necessarily implies that the Jews of Europe who did not seek to arm themselves must not have had the will to forcefully resist Hitler’s Reich (if they did, why didn’t they do so?).
Ari Kohen once referred to this sort of thing as "playing politics with Auschwitz." Michael Moynihan wrote a great article last year explaining why invoking the specter of Nazi Germany is a bad argument against gun control:
In his book It Is Dangerous to Be Right When the Government Is Wrong, [Andrew] Napolitano argues that Kristallnacht, the 1938 orgy of anti-Jewish violence that killed 1,000 people across the Reich, could only have happened to an unarmed minority. He further claims that the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising demonstrates that “those able to hold onto their arms and their basic right to self defense were much more successful in resisting the Nazi genocide.” According to Napolitano, members of the Jewish resistance in Warsaw “were able to kill about three hundred members of the German military and hold them off for almost a month,” from which he concludes that if other Jews “were able to maintain arms and fight for their lives like those of the [resistance] did, then perhaps the six million Jews would never have suffered their tragic horrific fate.”
Regardless of one’s view of Napolitano’s broader defense of gun ownership, his invocation of the Holocaust is factually and logically flawed. First, only around 20—not 300—Germans were killed during the Warsaw Uprising (historian Peter Longerich estimates that the Nazis “suffered several dozen fatalities”), while approximately 13,000 Jews were killed in the ghetto, and the 50,000 surviving captives were quickly deported to concentration camps. Second, it is optimistic to think that revolt from poorly armed, poorly trained, and undermanned citizens against the mighty German military would have substantially altered the fate of German or Eastern European Jews.
What people often forget is that Hitler’s scapegoating of Jews could not have happened without the latent anti-semitism that still existed in most of Europe at the time. Oppression of Jews in Nazi Germany thrived on a critical mass of popular consent that derived its existence from anti-semitism, which was exacerbated by the political and economic humiliation of Germany after World War I. As Herman Goering said at Nuremburg:
We repeatedly called on the people to express unequivocally and clearly what they thought of our system, only it was in a different way from that previously adopted and from the system in practice in other countries. We chose the way of a so-called plebiscite. We also took the point of view that even a government founded on the Leadership Principle could maintain itself only if it was based in some way on the confidence of the people. If it no longer had such confidence, then [we] would have to rule with bayonets, and the Fuehrer was always of the opinion that that was impossible in the long run-to rule against the will of the people.
When your own neighbors are conspiring against you to mobilize State power to your detriment, it becomes difficult to argue that an armed minority of citizens can somehow break their chains if only they had guns to defend themselves. This would have simply given the Nazi regime all the justification it needed to exterminate the Jews wholesale, rather than slowly over time under the pretense of “labor camps.” Uniform armed resistance by European Jews would have simply validated Nazi propaganda about Jews being a subversive element in German society, and made genocide that much easier to accomplish with the consent or toleration of non-Jewish European citizens.
This is why gun ownership would not have saved European Jews from the Holocaust. The State was not the only enemy of the Jews during the Third Reich. The oppression of European Jews during the Third Reich was a product of both private anti-semitism as well as State oppression. Furthermore, several well-armed and adequately supplied European military forces were unable to stop Nazi Germany. It is therefore strange to suggest that a few gun-owning Jews could have stopped them. An organized armed Jewish rebellion would have simply sped up the genocide through direct confrontations with a superior military force—and it would have been done with the fuller consent and toleration of non-Jewish citizens.
Again, this is not an argument for or against gun control per se. It is simply an argument against the idea that gun control was the reason 6 million Jews died during World War II. There is a reasonable case to be made that broader gun rights are a good thing. The idea that it could have prevented the Holocaust is not one of them.