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January 24, 2013

Holocaust Imagery Taints Gun Control Debate

Update 1/17/14: The polit­i­cal debate over gun con­trol con­tin­ues to be marked by the inap­pro­pri­ate use of Holo­caust imagery by some gun advocates. Musi­cian and gun advo­cate Ted Nugent com­pared film pro­ducer Har­vey Wein­stein to a Nazi pro­pa­gan­dist.

Update 3/5/12: The list of inappropriate Holocaust analogies regarding gun control continues to grow. NRA President David Keene defended the depiction of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo as Hitler at a rally in Albany protesting new state gun regulations. In an interview on March 1, Keene said, “Folks that are cognizant of the history, not just in Germany but elsewhere, look back to the history, and say we can’t let that sort of thing happen here.”

The charged political debate over gun control in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting continues to be tainted by inappropriate invocations of Hitler, Nazis, and general Holocaust imagery.

These comparisons, made by political pundits on national news programs as well by others outside politics, are not only misplaced and offensive, relying on factually incorrect premises and exaggerations, but also deflect attention away from an important national discussion.

One analogy suggests that President Barack Obama is somehow reminiscent of Hitler because of his gun control proposals. For example, on January 9, the homepage of The Drudge Report featured an image of Hitler and Stalin with the caption “WHITE HOUSE THREATENS ‘EXECUTIVE ORDERS’ ON GUNS.”

A similar comparison was made by Ohio State Board of Education President Debe Tehrar, who posted a number of pro-gun and anti-Obama messages on her Facebook page, including a photo of Hitler with the caption: “Never forget what this tyrant said: ‘To conquer a nation, first disarm its citizens.’ — Adolf Hitler.”

Another common theme that has emerged in recent weeks is that if only the victims of the Holocaust had better access to guns, the Nazi regime would not have been able to systematically murder so many people.

For example, Fox News’ Andrew Napolitano made this argument in a January 10 column on FoxNews.com. Napolitano wrote that, “If the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto had had the firepower and ammunition that the Nazis did, some of Poland might have stayed free and more persons would have survived the Holocaust.”

Individuals on the fringes of the political debate also have weighed in with this narrative. In a January 15 column for the website WorldNetDaily, disgraced former Major League Baseball pitcher John Rocker wrote that “the Holocaust would have never taken place had the Jewish citizenry of Hitler’s Germany had the right to bear arms and defended themselves with those arms.”

It should be noted that 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 Uprising and elsewhere, but could not stop the Nazi genocide machine. Gun control did not cause the Holocaust; Nazism and anti-Semitism did.

Invoking the Holocaust in discussions of controversial issues is nothing new. Conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche, leader of a fringe political cult that defies categorization, and his supporters have contributed to the divisiveness surrounding the public debate on health care reform by producing and disseminating materials comparing President Barack Obama and other government officials to Hitler, Nazis and fascists.

Offensive Holocaust analogies have also been used by Democrats and Republicans alike on a number of issues, and by public figures from various sectors of society when discussing topics ranging from abortion to animal rights to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to LGBT rights.

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