Jonathan A. Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, responded in a statement that Carson “has a right to his views on gun control, but the notion that Hitler’s gun-control policy contributed to the Holocaust is historically inaccurate.” He added that “gun control did not cause the Holocaust; Nazism and anti-Semitism did.”
“That’s total foolishness,” Carson said when ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos asked for his reaction. “It is well known that in many places where tyranny has taken over, they first disarm the people.”
Carson’s assertion about the Holocaust and gun control is a long-held belief among gun rights advocates and is often used to push back against calls for gun control after events like last week’s mass shooting at a community college in Oregon. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, revives the argument in his new book, “A More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties.” During an interview Thursday on CNN, Wolf Blitzer read this excerpt:
“German citizens were disarmed by their government in the late 1930s and by the late 1940s Hitler’s regime had mercilessly slaughtered 6 million Jews and numerous others whom they considered inferior. Through a combination of removing guns and disseminating deceitful propaganda, the Nazis were able to carry out their evil intentions with relatively little resistance.”
Carson defended his argument, even as Blitzer noted that the Nazis had “a powerful military machine.”
“I understand that,” Carson said in the interview. “I’m telling you that there is a reason that these dictatorial people take the guns first.”
His assertion has drawn harsh rebukes from some opinion writers and commenters on social media. They note that Carson broadly states that “German citizens were disarmed,” but the Nazis’ 1938 law specifically prohibited Jews from having guns and other weapons. They also note that he ignored the fact that many Jews did resist the Nazis.
Greenblatt summed up those arguments in his statement:
“The small number of personal firearms available to Germany’s Jews in 1938 could in no way have stopped the totalitarian power of the Nazi German state. When they had weapons, Jews could symbolically resist, as they did in the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and elsewhere, but they could not stop the Nazi genocide machine. In short, gun control did not cause the Holocaust; Nazism and anti-Semitism did.”
The gun control debate flared anew after Christopher Harper-Mercer went on a shooting rampage at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., killing nine and wounding nine others before taking his own life. After the shooting, President Obama criticized Congress for failing to enact gun control laws.
Obama expressed similar outrage after the December 2012 murders of 26 students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.. He pushed for more stringent gun control laws then, as well, which spurred comparisons to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.
The ADL found itself denouncing those comparisons to the Holocaust then, as well:
“We know that the national debate over gun control is one of the most divisive issues in the land, and while Americans are entitled to have strong opinions, there is also language that is inappropriate and offensive in any such discussion,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor. “The idea that supporters of gun control are doing something akin to what Hitler’s Germany did to strip citizens of guns in the run-up to the Second World War is historically inaccurate and offensive, especially to Holocaust survivors and their families.”
Michael Moynihan, in a piece for the online magazine Tablet, wrote about how gun rights activists have mangled or manipulated history in pointing to the Holocaust as evidence of when happens when the state disarms the citizens.
“America isn’t Nazi Germany, and it cheapens the experience of Holocaust victims to suggest otherwise,” he wrote. “By all means, let the debate on gun control roil, but for once, let’s leave Hitler out of it.”