The claim swimming in recent conservative talking points that gun control is what led to the rise of the Nazis has been determined “False” by Politifact.
Presidential candidate Ben Carson is especially fond of Nazi references, warning that liberals, progressives, President Obama, Democrats, etc. could or are already turning America into a Nazi-esque state. Basically, everyone who disagrees with him is suspiciously, and abstractly, the “them” in an Us-Vs.-Them dichotomy where conservatives are the Good Germans.
Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon wrote a fine piece explaining why this claim is bogus, and shares a nice history lesson. The reality is that the Nazis loosened gun control as a whole rather than constricted it and that gun control laws before the Nazis’ 1938 legislative reform were legislated in 1919 according to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, well before the Nazis took power.
The real reason that Nazis could take over Germany so completely was that so many German citizens had guns and that large paramilitary groups were formed in the political upheaval of inter-war Germany. The Treaty of Versailles allowed Germany to keep an army of only 100,000 men, and this left many armed ex-soldiers forming Freikorps groups that contributed to the Weimar Republic’s instability. The Nazi Party was itself just one of many paramilitary groups experimenting in blends of revolutionary anarchy with legitimate legislative authority, and political parties militarized themselves against perceived societal enemies all across the political, and eventually ethnic, spectrum.
Following its WWI defeat, Germany’s economy was still relatively healthy since most of the western front fighting took place in Belgium and France. However, Germany was pummeled with reparation costs, and it induced economic hyperinflation that crippled German society. This in turn led to a domino effect ending in rampant social violence, in the cyclical pattern of gangs: without economic opportunity people do what they feel they have to do for security.
The German police, conservative in their politics like most groups concerned with security, eventually accepted the Nazis’ state terrorism in order to crack down on crime, and the police and other adaptive paramilitary groups were folded into the Nazi Party apparatus. The resulting police state of storm troopers allowed the Nazis to eliminate political opposition, and even the leaders of the SA, the Nazi Party’s original militia group Sturmabteilung, were purged to consolidate Hitler’s power on the Night of the Long Knives. With guns, and Germans willing to use them, so abundant, the natural hierarchy of German politics was bound to realign along authoritarian measures. And it clearly did.
But the reason that there was no effective Good German coup in the Third Reich was because, just like Carson and other conservative extremists love doing, the Nazis fanned the embers of populist social fears. In Nazi Germany, this blatant racism became legislative reality protected by a judicial system run effectively by the executive branch of government. The Gestapo maintained an infamous disregard for due process as the single party, Nazi government reinforced a unified, indoctrinated ethos in which totalitarian governance saw no need for checks and balances with the groups of people scapegoated by Nazi propaganda. The concentration camps of the Holocaust were the horrific outcome of such a heavily armed society convinced with societal paranoia to oppress perceived enemies.
Now this is the history lesson for contemporary American society: the militarization of society leads to authoritarian government; demilitarization does not. When society becomes an arms race for the most physical and destructive power, it is psychopaths, who do not have typical human compassion, who take over because they are willing to be the most physical and destructive. If the existing Weimar gun laws were actually enforced, and Nazis and other paramilitary groups were unable to go around assassinating perceived political enemies with ease, they could never have taken over. The Nazis were one of the most psychopathic groups, and they thrived because of the German gang culture resulting from the social and political upheaval.
And despite this, the German police and national military turned a blind eye to the Nazi’s state terrorism for political and social benefit. History shows that militarizing a culture is what leads to authoritarianism. Militant dictatorships are impossible if political parties do not have literal, military strength.
This is why conservatives who call for wholly unrestricted gun rights to prevent a Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton dictatorship have learned the wrong lessons from history. Already gun rights groups in America are increasingly spouting views of paranoia, and mass shootings, occurring on a dizzyingly regular basis now, are immediately questioned and considered fake by increasingly popular sources. Here is a Snopes.com look into the claim that the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Connecticut was a hoax.
Personifying the paranoia that federalists, liberals, or President Obama himself, will take away people’s guns by frequently orchestrating fake mass shootings, militia groups are growing in popularity in response to what they see as federal tyranny. The Oath Keepers are one such group, and they see themselves as an extra-judicial, sola scriptura organization loyal only to the Constitution. As seen historically in the Weimar Republic, this sort of paramilitary culture is not healthy for actual freedom, especially as paramilitary groups are prone to insularity.
The efforts of Second Amendment “defenders” to find evidence that the FBI, media, and federal government are all collaborating to orchestrate mass shooting hoaxes, as analyzed by the Snopes piece, is an indication of the ballooning echo chambers of paranoid political groups. And because the large majority of Americans, 92%, actually support basic gun control laws such as having background checks when purchasing guns, these militant anti-gun reform groups are only going to turn more radical. They already believe that the media is complicit with the government in brainwashing society, so overwhelming public disagreement with their views further proves their point in a paradox of what they view is minority suppression.
The real problem is that the entire debate over gun laws is too wrapped up in emotion rather than logic. The NRA’s political hegemony on the issue prevents any gun laws reform at all, despite the fact that the sacred Second Amendment itself calls for a “well-regulated” right to militias. And the constant fears of the government confiscating law-abiding citizens’ weapons is entirely unfounded because President Obama himself has lamented the impossibility of gun laws reform. The big reform idea is to mimic Australia’s successful gun control law, and to implement a voluntary gun buy-back program. This is hardly the totalitarian disarming of an oppressed populace that gun rights groups claim.
But disinformation, unfortunately, is very prevalent in the digital age, and perhaps nothing is more dishonest than the prevalent insult of Democrats as Nazis. Ben Carson is plain wrong and even potentially dangerous to casually and routinely tell people that America resembles Nazi Germany.
This is an unfounded smear, and the implication that American left-wing politics is Nazism illustrates a lack of education in political science. Nazism, despite a plethora of misinformation on the Internet (just Google “are liberals Nazis?”) is on the right side of the political spectrum, and insulting Democrats, President Obama and Bernie Sanders as Nazis is historically ignorant. The Nazi Party’s official title, the National Socialist German Worker’s Party, does have the word “Socialist” in it, but the Nazis never focused much on the social aspect of the Third Reich government. They were much more in favor of the Nationalist part of their titular politics, and the exclusionist, racially purist society the Nazis developed is anything but socialistic.
However, Republican politics is increasingly becoming exclusionist, and the embers of social fears are being fanned by the Republican presidential candidates for political gain. This is bad for democracy and freedom. The common idea that America needs to be “taken back” is much more reminiscent of Nazi Germany than the idea to prevent psychologically unstable people from acquiring machine guns.