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News and notes on guns in America

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Witness for Republicans Deregulating Silencers Has Championed a Holocaust Gun Myth

To build their case for a bill that would scrap restrictions on gun silencers and ease several other firearms regulations, Republicans in the House yesterday invited testimony from a Second Amendment lawyer with a history of pushing a noxious myth about gun control facilitating the Holocaust.

Stephen Halbrook was one of four witnesses at a Tuesday hearing convened by the Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Federal Lands to discuss the SHARE Act, a package that if adopted would hand the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups their broadest legislative victory of the Trump era.

In exchanges with representatives, Halbrook dismissed concerns about the risks to public safety presented by making it easier to buy silencers. “If you go to the United Kingdom or Finland or France, you can buy silencers basically over the counter,” he said, eliding the fact that sales of firearms themselves are subject to far more scrutiny in those countries than in the United States.

Halbrook’s presence on Capitol Hill “alarmed” the Anti-Defamation League, which seeks to combat anti-Semitism and extremist hate. As the ADL noted, Halbrook is the author of the 2015 book Gun Control and the Third Reich, which falsely argues that Nazis were better able to exterminate Jews because anti-Semitic laws stripped Jews within Germany of their gun rights.

The trope has been cited for decades in insurrectionist-minded defenses of the Second Amendment: that gun control is a tool the state uses to make it easier to slaughter innocents. Ben Carson repeated the Holocaust gun control claim during his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination for President.

The Nazis were hardly in favor of gun control. They loosened possession and carrying laws for non-Jewish Germans. And because of spotty gun-registration records, many Jews kept their firearms, as well, according to Dagmar Ellerbrock, a German historian.  

The suggestion in Halbrook’s book, featured in the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine soon after its release, that individual Jews or small communities could have held off the Holocaust had they been armed, beggars common sense. After all, some did fight back. In April 1943, Jewish partisans in the Warsaw Ghetto erupted in revolt. But after an initial retreat, the Nazis crushed the fighters, razed the ghetto, and built a concentration camp on the site of the former Jewish hideouts.

Put simply, the rise of the Third Reich, and the Holocaust, had nothing to do with gun control.

That Halbrook would grossly distort the facts of one of the most heavily studied events in history has apparently not damaged his standing with gun-rights activists or the Republicans who invited him to testify.