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On March 13, 2018, gun control activists laid 7,000 pairs of shoes on the lawn outside the Capitol in D.C. to represent the victims of gun violence since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. Soon after, gun-supporting social media users created an image meme to compare it to Nazi Germany.
The viral image shows the shoes on the Capitol lawn along with the words, "shoes left by supporters of gun control, 2018." Below that is a photo of a pile of thousands of shoes belonging to concentration camp victims, with a caption beside it that says "shoes left by victims of gun control, Germany 1945."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
The images are authentic and not altered – both are from the time and places that the captions designate (the concentration camp image is from a facility in Dachau, Germany) – but the message that gun control measures helped cause the deaths of Holocaust victims is wrong.
Let's make something clear: The Nazis did deny guns specifically to Jews. But, given the size of their forces and their methods of confiscation and extermination, this is a trivial factor. The notion that it would have made any difference is unreasonable.
PolitiFact previously looked into the theory when Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson linked the Holocaust with U.S. gun control laws when he was running for president in 2015. We rated that claim False.
So how is it false? Let us explain.
First, strict German gun regulation was in place before Hitler rose to power and he later oversaw gun laws that loosened many firearm restrictions.
According to a 2004 analysis by Bernard Harcourt, a professor at Columbia University, after the Germany’s defeat in World War I, the Weimar Republic, the government that preceded Hitler’s, passed very stringent gun laws that essentially banned all gun ownership in an attempt to both stabilize the country and to comply with the Treaty of Versailles of 1919.
By the time the Nazi Party came around in the early 1930s, a 1928 gun registration law had replaced the total ban and, instead, created a permit system to own and sell firearms and ammunition.
But Dagmar Ellerbrock, an expert on German gun policies at the Dresden Technical University in Germany, told PolitiFact in 2015 that the order was followed "quite rarely, so that largely, only newly bought weapons became registered. At that time, most men, and many women, still owned the weapons they acquired before or during the first World War."
The Nazis used the records to confiscate guns from their enemies, but Ellerbrock also said the files included very few of the firearms in circulation and that many Jewish people and others still managed to stash away weapons into the late 1930s.
In 1938, the Nazis adopted the German Weapons Act, which "deregulated the acquisition and transfer of rifles and shotguns as well as ammunition," Harcourt wrote.
Under this law, gun restrictions applied only to handguns, permits were extended from one year to three years, and the legal age of purchase was lowered from 20 to 18.
Moreover, many more categories of people, including holders of annual hunting permits, government workers and members of the NSDAP (the National Socialist German Workers' Party), were no longer subject to gun ownership restrictions.
Regulations were introduced, though, to impose limits on Jews.
On Nov. 11, 1938, the Regulations Against Jews' Possession of Weapons was issued. Under it, Jews living under the Third Reich were forbidden to own or possess any form of weapons, including truncheons, knives, firearms and ammunition.
But the Nazis had already been raiding Jewish homes by then, and the Anti-Defamation League, an organization founded to fight anti-Semitism, explained in 2013 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."
Omer Bartov, a historian at Brown University who studies the Third Reich, told Salon in 2013 that even if they had weapons, Jews probably wouldn’t have had much success fighting back: "Just imagine the Jews of Germany exercising the right to bear arms and fighting the SA, SS and the Wehrmacht. The (Russian) Red Army lost 7 million men fighting the Wehrmacht, despite its tanks and planes and artillery. The Jews with pistols and shotguns would have done better?"
Some supporters of the theory point to the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising as evidence that Jews with guns were successful in resisting Nazis. But, in that uprising, about 7,000 Jews died and 50,000 were sent off to concentration camps. Though the number of German losses from the uprising is in dispute -- ranging from estimates of less than 20 to a several hundred -- even the highest ranges come to just a fraction of the number of Jews who died.
In the same 2013 statement, the Anti-Defamation League said the comparison of U.S. gun laws to the Holocaust inappropriate and offensive.
"We know that the national debate over gun control is one of the most divisive issues in the land, and while Americans are entitled to have strong opinions, there is also language that is inappropriate and offensive in any such discussion," said Abraham H. Foxman, Holocaust survivor and ADL’S national director at the time. "The idea that supporters of gun control are doing something akin to what Hitler’s Germany did to strip citizens of guns in the run-up to the Second World War is historically inaccurate and offensive, especially to Holocaust survivors and their families."
Harcourt also told PolitiFact the suggestion is not a tenable claim.
"There’s no empirical evidence for it," he wrote in an email. "Moreover, Hitler was in favor of gun possession, and relaxed gun control laws in Germany for everyone, except Jews of course. It makes no sense to compare Hitler to the present situation in the US because all of Hitler's actions can only be interpreted through the lens of the final solution, which is not relevant here in the US."
On social media, images showing the shoes of victims of gun violence in present-day America and those of Holocaust victims suggest that gun control in Nazi Germany exacerbated the Holocaust and that the genocide could have been lessened or avoided if victims had been armed.
This theory has been repeatedly debunked and refuted. German citizens as a whole were not disarmed by the Nazis, but enjoyed looser gun restrictions than in previous years. There was no lack of guns in the country, and if German citizens had wanted to use guns to revolt against the Nazis they could have, but they didn’t.
As well, comparing a dictator’s regime that treated weapon possession according to racial identity to democratic procedures of gun regulations is irresponsible.
This claim is False.
Facebook post, April 1, 2019
PolitiFact, Fact-checking Ben Carson's claim that gun control laws allowed the Nazis to carry out Holocaust, Oct. 26, 2015
Fordham Law Review, On gun registration, the NRA, Adolf Hitler and Nazi gun laws by Bernard Harcourt June 2004
National Review, How the Nazis Used Gun Control, Dec. 2, 2013
Dallas Morning News, Texas lawmaker shares Facebook meme connecting gun control protesters to Holocaust victims, March 26, 2018
Washington Post, Facebook post claiming guns could have prevented the Holocaust met with backlash, April 1, 2018
Anti-Defamation League, ADL Says Nazi Analogies Have No Place In Gun Control Debate, Jan. 24, 2013
Shooters: Myths and Realities of America's Gun Cultures By Abigail A. Kohn, Oxford University Press, Accessed April 5, 2019
Salon, The Hitler gun control lie, Jan. 11, 2013
The Atlantic, Why the 'Citizen Militia' Theory Is the Worst Pro-Gun Argument Ever, Jan. 31, 2013
New York Times, Ben Carson Is Wrong on Guns and the Holocaust, Oct. 14, 2015
Email interview, Bernard Harcourt, professor of law, Columbia University School of Law, April 5, 2019
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