Have a cause you really hate? Want to discredit it? Well, fortunately for you, there’s History’s Worst Dictators™.
Whether it’s banking, corporations, evolution, abortion, gun control, gun rights, atheism, or vegetarianism, these villains can be dredged up whenever you need cast the specter of mass murder on your opponents’ intentions. Just make up a quote, make up a date, attach one of their names to it, and post it anywhere online. Your particular community’s echo chamber of self-confirmation, self-reinforcement, and self-congratulation will take it from there.
Although the internet has spawned epidemics of this kind of egregious dishonesty, telling bold-faced lies to score cheap political points has a long and storied past. Here we critically examine two famous quotes attributed to Adolf Hitler about gun registration and confiscation: one almost true and one totally bogus.
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!
— Adolf Hitler, 1935
This quote actually has quite a history, appearing over 100 times, in various forms, in different print sources. Its message is not subtle: gun registration leads to gun confiscation which leads to Auschwitz. And in case you weren’t clear about the connection between Nazis and contemporary gun control advocates, the last sentence spells it out: people in “the future” (i.e., the present) who advocate registration are literally “following Hitler’s lead.” That sound you hear is civilization being throttled by the hands of limousine liberal legislators.
Only two problems: one, there’s not a shred of historical evidence that Hitler ever said this, and two, it wouldn’t have made any sense even if he had.
First, no source for this quote (if people bother citing any) checks out. It is generally sourced to an address from Hitler to the Reichstag: Adolph Hitler, ‘Abschied vom Hessenland!’ [‘Farewell to Hessia!’], [‘Berlin Daily’ (loose English translation)], Apr. 15, 1935, page 3, Einleitung Von Eberhard Beckmann [Introduction by Eberhard Beckmann].
Bernard Harcout, political science chair at the University of Chicago, writes, “[This] infamous quote is probably a fraud and was likely never uttered. The citation reference is a jumbled and incomprehensible mess that has never been properly identified or authenticated, and no one has been able to produce a document corresponding to the quote. It has been the subject of much research, all of it fruitless, and has now entered the annals of urban legend.”
That alone should be enough to bury this quote, but, as the promoters of things for which there is absolutely no evidence continuously remind us, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Although I don’t buy this burden-shifting maneuver, there are a few other reasons to think this quote is probably fake.
First, there was no Nazi gun registration measure enacted in 1935: major reforms were passed in 1919, 1920, 1928, 1931, and 1938. Second, Hitler wouldn’t even have needed such a measure because of strict licensing laws that had already been passed under the Weimar Republic — ironically, designed to disarm the Nazis and Communists who were shooting each other in the streets, and prevent an armed coup d’état such as Hitler’s 1923 “Beer Hall Putsch.”
In fact, private gun ownership was almost completely banned by the Weimar regime following the end of World War I and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. In January 1919 and August 1920, measures were passed requiring citizens to surrender all firearms to the government, in compliance with rules imposed by the Allies in Versailles. It wasn’t until 1928 that the prohibition was lifted and a strict registration program imposed — all prior to the Nazi takeover.
The 1938 law, which did take place under the Nazi government, prohibited Jews from owning guns, but simultaneously liberalized gun restrictions for most everyone else. The law totally deregulated the sale of rifles, shotguns, and ammunition, as well as expanded the number of people exempt from permit requirements. It also lowered the age requirement for purchase and carry permits from 20 to 18, and extended the period permits were valid from 1 to 3 years.
It’s utterly implausible that Hitler would have been praising laws passed by the previous administration to disarm his Brown Shirts and counter his revolutionary ambitions. The equally implausible narrative of Germany as a free gun-owning paradise until “liberal fascists” took over and imposed gun registration in 1935 is complete fantasy. This quote has Hitler claiming that “for the first time ever” a civilized country had gun registration — are we to suppose that he forgot the previous 15 years of his own country’s gun laws?
Conquest and Disarmament
To conquer a nation, first disarm its citizens.
— Adolph Hitler, 1933
This pithy fabrication, repeated thousands of times, is at least based on something. There’s no evidence he ever said these words, but it looks like a bad paraphrasing of Hitler’s opinion that disarming occupied nations was imperative to maintaining control of them.
In “Hitler’s Table Talk,” we find the Führer making this statement in 1942, regarding the colonization and denationalization of conquered territories:
The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the supply of arms to the underdogs is a sine qua non for the overthrow of any sovereignty.
So let’s not have any native militia or native police. German troops alone will bear the sole responsibility for the maintenance of law and order throughout the occupied Russian territories.
While this is clearly a gun control argument, and even sounds vaguely similar to the made up quote, there are a few points to be noted about it. First, it would not make any sense to claim (as the dubious quote does) that one must disarm a nation prior to conquering it, because in order to seize their guns it would have to already be conquered — thus kind of proving its guns to be ineffective as means of preventing conquest. This shows the confusion of the fabricator.
Second, Hitler is making a point about occupied Eastern Europe, fighting for liberation, not Germany. He didn’t consider himself a “conqueror” of Germany, and he wasn’t claiming that gun confiscation was the key to his seizing power or maintaining it.
This brings up an uncomfortable point we generally ignore about the citizens of the Third Reich: they thought they were free. Hitler was paranoid about assassinations, Communists, and even internal coups, but the Nazis were popular with the German people, and it’s not clear that they ever seriously threatened by the idea of an armed populist revolution.
Hitler did think that disarming conquered peoples was key to maintaining control of foreign territory, but that case aside, he did not claim disarming Germans was a key part of the Nazi program.
The Moral of the Story Is…
There’s plenty of good arguments against gun control, but invoking the Nazis every time you need a trump card is lazy and dishonest. The Hitler card is worn out. If you’re worried about a fascist dictator arising in America, you should be looking for hawkish, ultra right-wing, hyper-nationalist, xenophobic, racist, authoritarian, war-mongering populists with major public support.
Those kinds of people don’t need to seize everyone’s firearms to create a totalitarian regime, and they didn’t. If the Third Reich had been so unstable it had to worry about disarming every German, it never would have been in a position to carry out its wars and atrocities with such ruthless efficiency. It relied upon wide public support for both.
The reality is that Adolf Hitler was not a poster child for gun control, and making up quotes to suggest otherwise does nothing but discredit the Second Amendment activists who recite them. The moral of the story is quite simple: don’t lie.
- Gun Control and the Holocaust, by Michael Moynihan
- The Hitler gun control lie, by Alex Seitz-Wald
- On Gun Registration, the NRA, Adolf Hitler, and Nazi Gun Laws, by Bernard E. Harcourt