Professor Buzzkill, The Great Debunker
Professor Buzzkill, one of a legion of history podcasters, is one of the must-listen podcasts for the history buff and laypeople alike. In his real life, Buzzkill is Joseph Coohill, a scholar of modern Britain and Ireland. Across hundreds of episodes, along with experts, Coohill exams myths common and uncommon and picks them apart. Those myths trend with historical myths resurgent in popular discourse. Lately, the Lost Cause and other Southern historical mythmaking have figured prominently, given the debates around Civil War monuments in the light of the protests across America.
I listened to them all, wrote about them, and continue to be interested in the Buzzkill podcast for bite-size deconstructions of wrong assumptions of the public about historical facts.
Why review an episode about Hitler and gun control? Guns have taken a political backburner to more recent outrages, such as the Lost Cause, though guns remain a central part of the psychology of Americans on either side. One of the primary arguments among gun owners selling protection from tyranny is that Hitler took guns away from Germans and German Jews so they could not resist Nazi terror. A key quote comes from one of Hitler’s table talks to his staff, exhaustively recorded by transcribers present, where Hitler said that weapons should be taken away from subjugated races.
As with any quote from anyone, especially a leader, context matters. By 1942, the Nazi regime was firmly established in Germany, and their war machine was presenting an existential crisis to Europe. This was accomplished without a restriction on gun laws in Nazi Germany. Mostly.
Joseph Coohill, along with guest expert Phillip Nash, had much to debunk.
Hitler was democratically elected and made Chancellor of Germany in 1932. By 1934, the Nazi party was in absolute control of the German state. Not until 1938 did Hitler begin restricting weapon ownership and then only against Jews under German occupation or citizenship; for other Germans, there was a liberalization of gun laws.
A gun-rights advocate might point out that the Jews were precisely the people who needed the weapons the most. They had them, without restriction, in an intensely and legally sanctioned anti-semitic society for six years. Removing arms was not the Nazi path to power and subjugation of Jews and other populations the Nazis saw as a threat to its power. Hitler pushed the gun restriction law after a shooting involving a Jew. Pretense is part of the toolbox of a dictator, and Hitler often used it masterfully, as he did here.
Throughout the history of the Nazi regime, pockets of resistance occurred. Famously, the Warsaw ghetto uprising occurred, a valiant effort by Polish Jews fighting their Nazi oppressors. Despite an armed resistance, the Germans lost almost no one and all but wiped out the resistance.
Most telling is Nash’s quoting of another historian, an expert on the war years of Nazi Germany, positing that if the guns, planes, and tanks of the Red Army could not stop the German armed forces then how could a population armed with hunting guns and pistols and mostly lacking organization and military training and gear do so? The Red Army lost seven million men to the Wehrmacht.
How then does an armed population resist the Armed Forces, the SA, the SS, the Gestapo, and National or local police? They don’t and could not. The most damaging assumption of Hitler’s Germany is that he came to power and removed Jewish rights the next day. He did not. The Nazis took a patient, albeit diabolical, approach to restricting Jewish rights. When Kristallnacht finally came, the SA ransacked Jewish Germany. Despite evidence of strong non-Jewish German opposition to the looting and violence, the armed Germans, of which there were many, did nothing to stop the broad tyranny against their countrymen.
Hitler and the Nazi party had no issue with armed Germans. Nor did an armed population, included his eventual millions of victims, ever muster an active resistance.