National Rifle Association president David Keene excused pro-gun activists at a New York rally last week whose signs depicted New York governor Andrew Cuomo as Adolf Hitler, saying that the attendees were "cognizant of the history" of supposedly anti-gun Nazi Germany and did not wish to see it repeated in the United States.
Keene was the featured speaker at the February 28 rally in Albany, New York against newly enacted gun violence prevention laws in that state. The rally drew controversy because some attendees brought signs portraying Cuomo as Hitler. In a March 1 interview with conservative radio host Fred Dicker, Keene agreed that the attendees were making a reference to "a 1935 law passed by the Reichstag [The Third Reich parliament] that took away people's rights to own firearms." Keene added that "Folks that are cognizant of the history not just in Germany but elsewhere look back to that history and say we can't let that sort of thing happen here."
But while gun activists commonly claim that Hitler implemented tougher gun laws to pave the way for his tyrannical reign, the Nazis actually loosened gun restrictions. In fact, the "1935 law" referenced by Dicker reportedly does not exist.
FRED DICKER: Some of the signs may have been a little over the top from the point of view of some people. But they fail, I think a lot of the people fail to have a sense of history that many the demonstrators have. And when they use the Adolf Hitler image they're not thinking of Adolf Hitler the monster of the Holocaust and of world domination. Many of them are thinking in terms of, I guess it was a 1935 law. It was passed by the Reichstag in Germany that took away people's rights to own firearms.
DAVID KEENE: That's right, and folks that are cognizant of the history not just in Germany but elsewhere look back to that history and say we can't let that sort of thing happen here.
As Alex Seitz-Wald wrote in an article for Salon, "the notion that Hitler confiscated everyone's guns is mostly bogus." Seitz-Wald summarized a 2004 law review article on the myth by University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt to note that the German parliament essentially banned firearms in 1919 to comply with surrender terms in the Treaty of Versailles. The law remained in effect until 1928 when the Reichstag allowed private gun ownership with a registration requirement. In 1938 Hitler signed into law new discriminatory firearms laws that did away with restrictions for individuals aligned with the Nazis while outlawing Jews and other persecuted peoples from possessing weapons. As Seitz-Wald points out, the fact that Hitler loosened gun laws for some while banned firearms for others is not an indictment of gun violence prevention laws, but instead of fascistic policies
Seitz-Wald also investigated claims of a significant change in German gun policy in 1935, probably the law referenced by Dicker on his radio show, but found these assertions to likely be based on a fabricated Hitler quote:
[M]uch of the Hitler myth is based on an infamous quote falsely attributed to the Fuhrer, which extols the virtue of gun control:This year will go down in history! For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration! Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future!
The quote has been widely reproduced in blog posts and opinion columns about gun control, but it's "probably a fraud and was likely never uttered," according to Harcourt. "This quotation, often seen without any date or citation at all, suffers from several credibility problems, the most significant of which is that the date often given  has no correlation with any legislative effort by the Nazis for gun registration, nor would there have been any need for the Nazis to pass such a law, since gun registration laws passed by the Weimar government were already in effect," researchers at the useful website GunCite note.
Keene was not the only NRA employee to defend Nazi imagery seen at the February 28 rally. During the March 1 edition of NRA News' Cam & Company, NRA News investigative reporter Ginny Simone praised a sign that reportedly compared Gov. Cuomo to Hitler, saying that it was one of the "great signs" that she saw at the rally:
GINNY SIMONE: And we've got tons of video. You'll see some of it coming up on the Sportsman Channel hour. But they had all sorts of great signs there. You know things like "only criminals and dictators want gun bans." All sorts of analogies with Cuomo, saying you know, "Adolf Cuomo."
Later on the televised edition of Cam & Company on The Sportsman Channel, NRA board member Ronnie Barrett, who founded a sniper rifle manufacturing company, compared New York and other states' efforts to strengthen gun laws to Nazi Germany and predicted that "the death of millions" could occur in the United States as a result of gun law reforms.
NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre has also made ahistorical Nazi comparisons. In his 2011 book,America Disarmed: Inside the U.N. & Obama's Scheme to Destroy the Second Amendment, LaPierre equated the United Nations Small Arms and Light Weapons Destruction Day to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels' order that books authored by Jews be publicly burned. He then suggested that the burning of guns at the U.N. event could "help set the stage for mass executions of gun owners" just as Goebbels' order precipitated the mass killing of Jews and other persecuted people.