IOWA CITY, Iowa -- One week and plenty of news cycles have passed since former neurosurgeon Ben Carson said that "the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed." Polling, while often a lagging indicator of gaffe damage, has found no harm done to Carson's presidential campaign. The reason for that was spelling out in several quick analyses of the gaffe: On the right, it's largely accepted that gun confiscation enabled the Holocaust and plenty of other genocides.
This week, after a speech at a "Jerusalem Call" event on the outskirts of this liberal enclave, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee told the Washington Post that Carson's point was basically correct.
"I've been to Auschwitz repeatedly, and I've talked to many survivors of the Holocaust," said Huckabee. "And one of the reasons that 10 or 11 Nazi guards could march thousands of Jews into a train, off a train, was because they had guns and the Jews didn't. If you read the history, one of the first things that the Nazis did was order registration of guns. Once they were registered, then all they had to do was pick them up and collect them -- which they did. All you have to do is read the Berlin newspaper from 1937 -- I've got that article somewhere -- but this was the day after Kristallnacht, and it expressly says that anyone found with a weapon would be shot. Well, that's kind of an incentive. When people turned over the last vestige they had to protect their families and to fight tyranny, then they were slaves to tyranny."
Kristallnacht happened a year later, but Huckabee was working within the conservative punditry's mainstream. As Vox's Matthew Yglesias wrote last week, as Michael Moynihan wrote years ago in Tablet, the idea that gun confiscation made the Holocaust possible started spreading in 1989, after Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership started saying it. In 1994, after the Brady Bill gave the gun lobby its first major defeat in years, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre adopted the idea: Gun confiscation had left the Jews "defenseless against tyranny and the wanton slaughter of a whole segment of its population."
In 2015, the idea is so ingrained that the media's sputter-and-point reaction to Carson confused conservatives. Carson, who will take a campaign trail break (for a book tour) after a Sunday speech in Texas, has no shortage of allies or competitors making the same basic point.
"The Second Amendment was written largely to guard against tyranny," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told the Washington Post this week. "I mean, that's a historical fact. The Second Amendment was written so that the public would always keep the government in check. It sounds radical now, because people say, 'oh, you're going to have armed resistance against the government.' That's not what I'm implying, but it was meant to be defense against tyranny. And part of tyranny is genocide."
As the third Republican debate looms, and as Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton steps up her criticism of loose gun laws, the Overton window of acceptable conservative gun talk keeps moving right. In conversations this week, it was difficult to find a Republican voter who disagreed with the guns-and-Holocaust storyline. It was impossible to find one who disagreed that campuses of all sizes would be safer if more people walked them with concealed weapons -- well-trained students, well-trained teachers, perhaps some guards.
"Taking away guns from us means we don't have the right to protect ourselves anymore," said Carol Evers, 61, after the Jerusalem Call event let out. "Taking my gun away -- isn't that what Hitler did to the Germans? Being politically correct has dumbed us all down. You can't talk about this stuff without being marginalized."
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