US: Gun control debate fired further by Holocaust remark | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 02.03.2018
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US: Gun control debate fired further by Holocaust remark

The debate about stricter gun control has escalated after US President Donald Trump made a surprising appeal for tougher laws. But pro-gun organizations are taking the fight further, as DW's Alexandra von Nahmen reports.

Republican Congressman Don Young is known in Washington for his skewed analogies and provocative remarks. Once, he apparently threatened to bite a fellow party member "like a wild mink." Since the Parkland school shooting in Florida last month, the debate about stricter gun control laws has heated up in the US —  and once again, Young has elicited public anger.

At a conference in his home state of Alaska, Young claimed that more Jews would have survived the Holocaust if they had been armed. "How many millions of people were shot and killed because they were unarmed?" he asked his audience. "How many Jews were put into the ovens because they were unarmed?"

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Absurd claims

Civil rights organizations and Young's political opponents were outraged. "It is mind-bending to suggest that personal firearms in the hands of the small number of Germany's Jews could have stopped the totalitarian onslaught of Nazi Germany when the armies of Poland, France, Belgium and numerous other countries were overwhelmed by the Third Reich," said Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League, a US-based NGO that fights against anti-Semitism. 

Young's spokeswoman, Murphy McCollough, told DW that the statements had been taken out of context. She said "his intended message is that disarming citizens can have detrimental consequences," apparently meaning that the people would then be at the mercy of their governments.

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How the NRA misappropriates the Holocaust

It's not the first time the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its members have misappropriated the Holocaust. Referring to a 1938 Reich Law, they claim that the Holocaust could have been prevented if the Nazis had not prohibited Jews from possessing weapons. 

"This notion that if Jews were somehow armed it could have somehow altered or staved off the killing of Jews is utterly absurd," said political scientist Robert J. Spitzer, who specializes in weapons legislation. "This is an old claim pushed by the NRA and other gun rights people who are trying to show that when a civilian population is armed, it can prevent tyranny, and that tyrants begin their rise to power by disarming the population. The fundamental problem with these claims is that they are ignorant about how and why dictators like Hitler and the Nazis came to power." 

Read more: Trump open to arming teachers after Florida high school shooting

An easy way to disparage enemies

"Are Americans more willing than Germans to use the Holocaust in political debate?" said historian Peter Hayes. "Yes, I think so, partly because comparing something to Hitler or the Holocaust is surest way to vilify an opponent, to arouse people's fears, and to turn reasoned debate into name-calling; partly because Americans are less embarrassed by the subject than Germans are; and partly because Germans are more sensitive to "Verleumdung" ("slander") than Americans."

The debates held in the aftermath of the Florida shooting show that pressure is growing on the powerful NRA. Many Americans are touched by the way survivors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are campaigning for stricter gun laws. Now a large majority of Americans are demanding restrictions on the sale of weapons.

Trump's latest U-turn

The message has evidently reached the White House: President Trump has performed a 180-degree turn on gun legislation. A list of measures he is now demanding includes a more comprehensive review of potential weapon purchases, and a higher minimum age for firearm purchases. Businesses have also reacted to the demands. US retail giant Walmart has already raised the minimum age for buying weapons and ammunition to 21. Dick's Sporting Goods, another leading retailer in the US, has taken assault rifles out of its product range.

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Several companies, including Delta Air Lines, have announced they will no longer grant discounts to members of the NRA, a move that will have consequences.

"I will kill any tax legislation that benefits Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with NRA. Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back," tweeted Casey Cagle, deputy governor of the state of Georgia where the airline is based.

True to the threat, Georgia's state legislature has scrapped tax breaks on aviation fuel to punish Delta. The NRA finds itself under increasing pressure — but it is not going down without a fight.

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