The Right-Wing Exploitation of the Holocaust to Argue Against Gun Safety

A recurring trope in right-wing disinformation (particularly regarding gun safety regulation) is the false invocation of the Holocaust as a justification for resisting more stringent legislation.

An early example of this type of disinformation was memes boasting the caption, “To conquer a nation, one must first disarm its citizens” — a fabricated quote attributed to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler:

The Leibniz Institute For Contemporary History, which is devoted to studying German national history, told Reuters in December 2020, “Whoever invented this quote, it was not Hitler and it has never been written in Mein Kampf.”

Another online attempt at appropriation of the Holocaust began spreading in 2018, when right-wing Facebook users posted graphics comparing photographs of shoes belonging to people killed at Nazi concentration camps (labeled “shoes left by victims of gun control, Germany, 1945”) with shoes placed outside the Capitol as part of a public memorial for the children killed by a mass shooting attack against Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut nearly six months earlier (labeled “shoes left by supporters of gun control, 2018.”)

The claims that “gun control” directly led to the massacre of more than 6 million Jews at the hands of the Nazis have been consistently debunked as both policy and rhetoric. For example, Columbia University Law School professor Bernard Harcourt analyzed the laws in effect during Hitler’s rise to power in a 2004 paper saying:

If you read the 1938 Nazi gun laws closely and compare them to earlier 1928 Weimar gun legislation – as a straightforward exercise of statutory interpretation – several conclusions become clear. First, with regard to possession and carrying of firearms, the Nazi regime relaxed the gun laws that were in place in Germany at the time the Nazis seized power. Second, the Nazi gun laws of 1938 specifically banned Jewish persons from obtaining a license to manufacture firearms or ammunition. Third, approximately eight months after enacting the 1938 Nazi gun laws, Hitler imposed regulations prohibiting Jewish persons from possessing any dangerous weapons, including firearms.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has also repeatedly rebuked similar claims. The group said in a 2013 statement:

The small number of personal firearms in the hands of the small number of Germany’s Jews (about 214,000) remaining in Germany in 1938 could in no way have stopped the totalitarian power of the Nazi German state. When they had weapons, Jews could symbolically resist, as they did in the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and elsewhere, but could not stop the Nazi genocide machine. Gun control did not cause the Holocaust; Nazism and anti-Semitism did.

Two years later the ADL publicly criticized Dr. Ben Carson — who was at that time seeking the Republican Party’s presidential nomination — for invoking the same false claim during an interview with CNN.

“When you manipulate the history of the Holocaust and use it to score political points, its wholly inappropriate and offensive,” the ADL said. “Especially for the sake of the victims of the Nazi onslaught and their memory, it must stop.”

Update 1/27/2022, 4:30 p.m. PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. -ag