So last week, “Joe the Plumber,” now an Ohio congressional candidate, was reported to have been running a campaign video in which he suggested that Nazi gun controls contributed to deaths during the Holocaust, and Jewish Democrats are not amused. (No, seriously, did anyone expect Democrats to be amused at Republican electoral progress, and vice versa? If Jewish Republicans would be angry, now THAT would be newsworthy).
While he subsequently wisely kind-of-apologized for, what should I call it, oversimplifying the Holocaust, he does raise the legitimate question of whether gun control may sometimes contribute to the oppression of the innocent and the propping up of despots and dictators.
This reminds me of a session at a recent meeting of the European Council of Religious Leaders, of which I am a member. A well meaning religious leader pointed out that worldwide, more people die annualy from handguns than from missiles and bombs, and proceeded to strongly push for a ban on handguns.
Now that may be true, but really, if my grandparents and a significant portion of other Polish Jews had been armed to the teeth when Germans came in, WWII may have taken a very different turn (and I may have known my grandparents). True, first came the Blitz, and handguns could do nothing against the bombs falling from the sky, but afterwards, the Germans quickly paralized the country and prevented Jews and Poles from either fleeing or organizing an effective resistance, and that would have been very different had the victims been armed.
Fast forward to today, with my interlocutor’s plan in place and properly implemented, the people of Lybia would never have overthrown Ghaddafi. Indeed, the people of Syria who are up against a better armed despotic regime, are suffering tremendous losses, and arguably, they have a right to better armaments to throw off the yoke of Assad and his henchmen.
So yes, Joe the Plumber is right, under certain circumstances, gun control oppresses the innocent and even turns them into helpless victims.
But what about the argument that handguns kill, lots and lots of people? I agree and sympathize with some gun control, but one size does not fit all. Only where the rights of the population are adequately protected from murderers, robbers and from their own governments, only there and then is gun control arguably morally acceptable.
To state it differently, yes, handguns kill, and civil uprisings kill. But imagine if German Jews in 1935 (when it had become clear that the Nazis are not going to become civilized, but were only showing their true colors more and more, and that they were no more than the lowest type of barbaric animals around) were stocking up hand guns and other weapons en masse, organized a deadly resistance, and started a civil war in which they would have killed ten thousand SS, Wehrmacht and police officers, could that conceivably have changed the course of the War? Remember, I suggest that for 1935. Would that, in retrospect have been the right thing to do?
I posit it would have been the righteous and right thing to do. One cannot and may not wait until a despotic regime become so powerful that it cannot be fought, and civil war becomes legitimate long before the government, against which the civil war is being fought, engages in genocide. Otherwise, we would be forcing people to become helpless victims, and it is that which is truly immoral.
The US, on the other hand, has strong civil protections. People are protected from much criminal harm and from the government. As a country with strong democratic values, it is not seriously at risk of becoming fascist or despotic. Hence, I do not see the relevance of Joe the Plumber’s arguments to gun control legislation in the US.
And by the way, there is no evidence that Jews could have and would have acquired the needed number of guns and the training to kill thousands of German antisemites during 1935-38.
But still, to prevent the downtrodden and oppressed from acquiring guns to free themselves from their despotic governments is not any less immoral (actually, it’s far worse, because they live under very direct threats to their life and limb).