Ben Carson's Counterfactual Canard: Arming Jews Would Have Prevented the Holocaust

Recycling a time-honored counterfactual canard, GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson offered CNN's Wolf Blitzer his NRA-style view of how arming Jews with guns would have prevented the Holocaust.

As The Washington Post reported in a story today: Ben Carson said Thursday that Adolf Hitler’s mass murder of Jews “would have been greatly diminished” if German citizens had not been disarmed by the Nazi regime.

His comments about gun control in Nazi Germany are explored in his just-released book, A More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties, in which he expands on his political views.

He said Nazi Germany was one of the regimes that he used as a cautionary tale against curbing citizens’ gun rights. 

“But just clarify, if there had been no gun control laws in Europe at that time, would 6 million Jews have been slaughtered?” Blitzer asked.

“I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed,” Carson said.   Blitzer pushed a bit more: “Because they had a powerful military machine, as you know, the Nazis.”

“I understand that,” Carson said. “I’m telling you that there is a reason that these dictatorial people take the guns first.”

As I discussed in a previous blog post, gun control opponents often invoke the case of Nazi Germany to bolster their position.  They do so in two ways: first, they cite the Third Reich as potentially heralding a future nightmare scenario for what might happen in the U. S. should the government ever decide to limit access to firearms.  Second, they invoke a counterfactual fantasy of how Jews’ access to guns could have helped prevent the Holocaust. 

Neither scenario is very plausible, of course, but both remain rhetorically powerful arguments, if for no other reason than the fact that the Nazis retain their symbolic power as the paragons of evil and guns remain one of the most politicized issues in contemporary American life. 

The Nazi gun control counterfactual is plainly a canard, but its rhetorical power makes it too tempting for gun rights supporters to forego.  For this reason, the counterfactual will probably be with us for some time to come.