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Misinformation: Hitler cracked down on gun ownership

Hitler Youth salute during review by their feuhrer

Hitler Youth salute during review by their feuhrer at a mass Nazi rally at 10th annual congress of the National Socialist Party in Nuremberg, Germany. Credit: AP, 1938


Did Adolf Hitler say, "To conquer a nation, one must first disarm its citizens"?

"Hitler's infamous quote ... is probably a fraud and was likely never uttered." (Vol. 73, Issue 2 Article 11, 2004), according to University of Chicago law professor Bernard E. Harcourt, writing in the Fordham Law Review.

He offers an exhaustive, 28-page history of gun registration laws in Germany, with the surprising bottom line that Hitler was actually easier on gun ownership than his predecessor, the Weimar Republic.

Here's what Harcourt has to say: "Following Germany's defeat in World War I, the Weimar Republic passed very strict gun control laws essentially banning all gun ownership, in an attempt to both stabilize the country and to comply with the Versailles Treaty of 1919."

He goes on to cite William L. Pierce, author of "Gun Control in Germany, 1928-1945":

"German firearms legislation under Hitler, far from banning private ownership, actually facilitated the keeping and bearing of arms by German citizens by eliminating or ameliorating restrictive laws which had been enacted by the government preceding his."

Pierce urges people to compare German gun laws from 1928 and 1938 as proof.

Last July, after the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting that killed 12 people, Newsday readers began submitting the ersatz Hitler quote about disarming citizens. They were arguing against stricter gun laws and claiming that confiscating citizens' firearms could lead to Nazi-like tyranny.

I wrote a blog post saying that I have never been able to find proof that Hitler uttered those words. Since then -- and especially in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre -- thousands of people have visited that blog post. No one has been able to document the quote. However, several people have emailed to say that, even if Hitler didn't use that exact phrase, his actions had the same effect. Apparently, that's not true.

Many thanks to my former colleague Ben Kaufman of Cincinnati for his help with this reasearch.

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Ever submitted a letter to the editor and wondered why it wasn’t published? Sometimes – not always – it’s because Newsday’s research revealed that the information in the letter wasn’t quite accurate. So the letter disappears into a void, which may leave writers wondering what happened. That's why we're introducing this regular feature, “Misinformation,” on our blog -- to try to set the record straight about a wrong fact or impression.