It has been nearly six months since Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik brought international terrorism to California. The horror in San Bernardino irrevocably changed our perspective on the threat we face from ISIS-inspired attacks in our communities. We have demanded action from public officials and they have responded at the local, state and federal level.
But amidst the many good ideas for stopping terrorism, Gavin Newsom has offered California a sneaky attempt at disarming law-abiding citizens. His ballot proposition is the worst kind of response we can offer to these threats. Under the guise of regulating ammunition and preventing terrorism, Newsom’s initiative is little more than a backdoor, authoritarian plan for disarmament of minorities, something that California’s 1.2 million Jews know all too well.
Newsom is positioning his plan as “common sense” gun control that will use background checks and registration for ammunition sales to help prevent another attack like the one in San Bernardino. He neglects to mention that Farook and Malik’s guns were legally purchased by individuals who passed background checks. More importantly, he shows surprising ignorance about the dark history of registration and restriction of ammunition.
Before Adolf Hitler initiated the worst of his plans for exterminating Jews worldwide, he started with a more modest approach to stripping them of their rights. In the Warsaw Ghetto, the Jews were able to get their hands on guns, but it was the ammunition that was the far bigger problem for the Nazis. The response was obvious: take the ammunition, render the guns useless and leave the Jews defenseless.
In April we marked the anniversary of the end of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, one of the more remarkable stories from World War II of bravery against impossible odds. Heinrich Himmler had planned for two months to give Hitler the gift of a Judenrein (“Jew-free”) Warsaw for his birthday on April 20. But at the same time Himmler began gearing up,
the Polish Home Army gave 50 low-quality revolvers, 50 hand grenades, and four pounds of explosives to the Jews in Warsaw. It was a seemingly inconsequential contribution in comparison the vastly superior Nazi resources.
Hitler didn’t get that birthday present.
Instead, a few hundred Jewish fighters held off the Wehrmacht’s vastly superior forces for almost a month.
According to David Kopel, an attorney and author of many books on the subject:
There was little “gun culture” among European Jews of the 1930s, so few Jews had the equipment for “reloading” — the home manufacture of ammunition. In contrast, hundreds of thousands of American families own the machine tools used for reloading; home manufacture of ammunition is legal everywhere in the United States.
The Nazis’ overwhelming numbers, resources and training were stymied for a seemingly impossible period of time in Warsaw – but the freedom fighters were rapidly overtaken once the ammunition ran out.
There are many Jews who wonder what could have been and how much harder it would have been for the Nazis to kill millions of us if we had something like the American right to bear arms. It’s easy to look back and believe that if there were an analog for Second Amendment rights in Europe, the war could have been stopped earlier and countless lives spared.
It’s a nice thought but it’s a fruitless exercise. The evil of Nazi Germany was too strong, just as ISIS today is too strong for small arms alone. But there is no denying the history of disarmament and the need for an armed populace capable of resisting enemies both foreign and domestic.
Gavin Newsom is set to be on the wrong side of history this November. It’s no surprise that California’s law enforcement officials – our frontline defenders – are overwhelmingly opposed to his “Safety for All Act,” which would be better named “Safety for None.”
It’s not too late to send Lieutenant Governor Newsom a message: don’t disarm Californians and don’t give breaks to those who want to harm us. As the Democratic leaders in Sacramento have already pleaded with him to do, Newsom must pull this initiative and work with the California legislature on public safety bills that support our police and empower the people.
Doris Wise Montrose is the President and Founder of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.