by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson and his wife Candy have just published a new book called A More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties. To illustrate the purpose and importance of the 2nd Amendment, they use a historical example:
German citizens were disarmed by their government in the late 1930s, and by the mid-1940s Hitler’s regime had mercilessly slaughtered six 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.
Last week, during an interview with Carson, Wolf Blitzer called attention to that passage. He asked, "Just to clarify, if there had been no gun control laws in Europe at that time, would 6 million Jews have been slaughtered?" Carson replied, "The likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed." When Blitzer pressed him harder, Carson added, "There is a reason that these dictatorial people take the guns first."
As Sean Davis notes at the Federalist, the suggestion that gun confiscation might have facilitated the mass murder of Europe’s Jews drove some of Carson’s critics to lash out in rage (and to use exactly the same term of abuse when they did so). Journalist Michael Grunwald tweeted, "F**k this guy"; actor Seth Rogan tweeted, "F**k you @RealBenCarson"; and writer Drew Magary posted an article with the title, "F**k Ben Carson."
Other critics, however, have been more thoughtful and articulate. In an article in The Telegraph, Nigel Jones calls Carson’s claim "ignorant, offensive, and downright stupid," but he goes on to make a substantive case against it:
The idea that these punctiliously law-abiding people [German Jews] would or could have taken to the streets and shot down Hitler’s thugs is beyond ludicrous….
Outside Germany, armed Jewish resistance to the Nazis merely underlined its futility…. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising in the Spring of 1943 ended with 13,000 Jews dead….
At Time.com, Rabbi David Wolpe makes a similar point while also suggesting that an armed citizenry might actually have made things even worse for Germany’s Jews:
As a practical matter, the argument has no merit…. [T]he few Jews that might have been armed and resisted would easily have been overwhelmed and killed. Indeed, they would likely have fallen victim even sooner had all their neighbors–so many of them collaborators–also been armed.
Every revolt delayed and impeded for at least some time the machinery of extermination. Every extra guard that was assigned to a camp because [of] Nazi fear of revolts was one less soldier on the front lines against the Allies.
Some people claim that firearms did not make, and could not have made, any difference in the Holocaust. Sobibor and Treblinka show the opposite…. There is a reason why governments which intend to send people to death camps always disarm them first. Once the genocide targets are armed, genocide becomes much more difficult. Killing armed victims is much more difficult than killing unarmed ones.
Back at the Federalist, Daniel Payne notes that:
The disarmament of the Jews was a political and social fact in Nazi Germany. It is uncontestable and inarguable…. Adolph Hitler himself knew it: "The most foolish mistake we could possibly make," he said, "would be to allow the subject races to possess arms."…
By the time of the Wannsee Conference, it was probably too late for anyone outside of an invading army to do anything to stop the sure march of extermination. But prior to the full implementation of the Final Solution, an armed Jewish population would almost certainly have had a positive effect on the Jewish casualty rate….
While another contributor, David Harsanyi, offers this sensible take on the controversy:
For what it’s worth, my Jewish family is from Eastern Europe, and there are plenty of Holocaust stories to tell. I’m somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of using that gruesome event to make a point about guns — or anything else, for that matter — because we’re dealing with a different place, time, and a very uniquely evil set of circumstances. The mere mention of "Holocaust" ignites an emotional response that precludes the slim chance of a reasonable debate breaking out.
None of this, however, makes the broader point about totalitarians and guns any less true. There are dozens of examples in the 20th century of tyrannies disarming a citizenry and then eventually leading those people to slaughter or starvation — including China, Rwanda and basically every autocracy that’s existed. You don’t even have to mention Nazis to highlight this fact: an unarmed citizenry is easier to control. That should be [an] easy thing to concede. That doesn’t mean all nations that have unarmed citizenries will be massacred or lose all their rights. But, just in case, many Americans believe that citizens have a foundational right to arm themselves.
There’s not much I can add to that, except to point out that it’s not just contemporary Americans who believe that a well-armed citizenry is an effective — indeed, a "necessary" — bulwark against tyranny and abuse. The Americans who wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights also believed it, and they said so in the text of the 2nd Amendment.
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