Of course, attempts to equate gun control with fascism are bogus. But the “Hitler took the guns” argument has long had a prominent and fairly effective role in America’s gun control debate despite its obvious reductionism.
Its origins can be traced back to at least the early 1980s, when opponents of a Chicago proposal to ban handguns invoked it in the largely Jewish suburb of Skokie by “reminding village residents that the Nazis disarmed the Jews as a preliminary to sending them to the gas chambers,” the Chicago Tribune reported. In 1989, a new pro-gun group called Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership began arguing that the 1968 federal gun control bill once favored by the NRA’s old guard “was lifted, almost in its entirety, from Nazi legislation.” (That false claim is still being repeated.)
In 1994, JPFO founder Aaron Zelman implored the NRA’s board to seize on the alleged Nazi connection:
Some of you may even have figured out that unless the NRA changes its strategy, the law abiding firearm owner in America will go the way of the Jews in Nazi occupied Europe: extermination…The choice is yours; you can turn your back on a failed strategy—one of compromise with evil-doers—and attack the concept of “gun control” by exposing the Nazi roots of “gun-control” in America. Or, you can persist in a failed strategy, and accept your own extinction.
Whether or not the NRA was influenced by his advice, that same year its CEO, Wayne LaPierre, published Guns, Crime, and Freedom, in which he claimed, “In Germany, firearm registration helped lead to the holocaust,” leaving citizens “defenseless against tyranny and the wanton slaughter of a whole segment of its population.” The following year, President George H.W. Bush famously resigned from the NRA after LaPierre attacked federal law enforcement officials as “jack-booted government thugs” who wore “Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms.” More recently, Stephen Halbrook, a lawyer who has represented the NRA, argued (PDF) that “If the Nazi experience teaches anything, it teaches that totalitarian governments will attempt to disarm their subjects so as to extinguish any ability to resist crimes against humanity.”