Ben Carson in talking about gun control, claimed that Hitler disarmed the Jews and that this made their extermination easier. The Left promptly lost its shit. The Anti-Defamation League, usually a bit more circumspect, also criticized him for the comments.
A few things. First, Carson is wrong on some of the substance. Germany, and many other countries, were largely disarmed well before the Nazis took power. While it’s true that Jews were specifically forbidden from having any weapons, I don’t think this was the deciding factor in their destruction (as attested by the Germans ruthlessly crushing armed rebellions — Jewish and non-Jewish — during the war). Furthermore, with genocides in general — and with the Holocaust in particular — there is a tendency for people to not believe what’s happening. The Jews of Europe had been through many centuries of oppression and firmly believed that being compliant would keep them from getting killed. Acts of armed resistance were met with immediate and massive reprisals and they thought that compliance would prevent those reprisals. They underestimated the evil of the man they were dealing with.
That having been said … I really don’t understand why Carson’s comments have drawn so much fire. Are we really going to debate whether an armed populace is easier to oppress than an unarmed one? Charles Cooke:
Whether Carson is right or wrong in his central claim is entirely irrelevant to the more important question here, which is not “can armed people always overthrow a tyrannical government” but “does the government get to deny them the chance to try?” The right to keep and bear arms is an individual right, not a collective privilege, and individual rights do not need to be justified on practical grounds. Just as we would not deny free speech to a man simply because he seemed unlikely to win a given argument, we must not abandon our auxiliary self-defense rights on the basis that the odds might be stacked against the little guy. I’m a staunch defender of the right to keep and bear arms because I have an untouchable Lockean right to protect myself, not because I can prove definitively that I will never be outgunned. Would I necessarily win in a fight against a home intruder? No, I would not. Would I necessarily survive if the government or the police wanted me dead? No, I would not. But I will assert my unalienable right to try against any man at any time in any place, and those who hope to strip me of that chance can man up, head to my front door, and come and damn well take it.
The Jews in Europe eventually did resist, of course. And with a handful of weapons, a few hundred fighters and some makeshift explosives, they made things very difficult for the Nazis. Might things have turned out differently had there been a gun culture in Eastern Europe and maybe a few more weapons available? David Kopel thinks it’s at least worth considering:
In 1967, the International Society for the Prevention of Crime held a Congress in Paris on the prevention of genocide. The Congress concluded that “defensive measures are the most effective means for the prevention of genocide. Not all aggression is criminal. A defense reaction is for the human race what the wind is for navigation — the result depends on the direction. The most moral violence is that used in legitimate self-defense, the most sacred judicial institution.” [V.V. Stanciu, “Reflections on the Congress for the Prevention of Genocide,” in Yad Vashem Studies on the European Jewish Catastrophe and Resistance, vol. 7, ed., Livia Rothkirchen (Jerusalem, Israel: Yad Vashem, 1968), p. 187.]
I think Carson is arguably wrong on this specific point. But he is right on the general point. An armed populace is far more difficult for a tyrant to control, to oppress, to ethnically cleanse and ultimately to murder. Maybe you can argue that we don’t have to worry about that anymore. Maybe you can argue we’re already armed enough to resist tyranny. Maybe you can argue we wouldn’t have a chance. The anti-gun Left has a tendency to argue all three simultaneously.
But I really don’t see the larger argument. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising ultimately failed. Many resistance movements do. But wasn’t that better than no resistance at all? Wouldn’t a few more weapons in a few more hands have been even better than that? What is the point here? I’m honestly confounded.