This is the second article in our series examining whether certain Republican presidential candidates are really pro-gun. Check out the first one on Donald Trump here.
Like Trump, Ben Carson does not have the voting record of a career politician. Heck, that’s probably a good thing. I might even vote for a can of spackle over most any career politician. Since we can’t look at voting records in Candidate Carson’s case, we’ll take a close look at what he’s said over the years, and then you can decide where you think he stands.
Carson is a man born of humble beginnings. His mother, with only a third-grade education, understood the value of learning and encouraged young Ben to invest in reading, He did, and by high school, became quite the student and earned admission to Yale University. After graduation from Yale, Carson did what it took to pay the bills. According to his campaign information, “after graduation, Ben would work as an X-ray technician, a bank teller, a school bus driver, a supervisor for highway cleanup crews, and a crane operator in a steel factory, before being accepted into The University of Michigan School of Medicine.”
Most people know his background as a neurosurgeon and rise as a political voice over the past several years. Now, based on the latest polls, he’s a serious contender for a Republican nomination.
What he says
Like Candidate Trump, Candidate Carson also has staked a Second Amendment Claim policy in writing, although the former brain surgeon has elected to pursue an economy of words approach. According to his campaign website, his views on the Second Amendment boil down to this:
It was no accident that our Founding Fathers enshrined the right to own firearms as the 2nd element of the Bill of Rights, immediately after establishing our free speech rights. I cannot and will not support any efforts to weaken The 2nd Amendment.
The 2nd Amendment is a central pillar of our Constitution. Our Founding Fathers added it explicitly in order to protect freedom in the United States of America. It provides our citizens the right to protect themselves from threats foreign or domestic.
While the historical context is accurate, the Carson campaign kept the written message brief, and, therefore, subject to future reinterpretation. That’s okay, and even understandable from a presidential hopeful, so we’ll dig deeper into his history of verbal commentary on the subject.
Recently, Carson’s public speeches and comments on gun issues have zeroed in on the purist reasoning for the protection of the Second Amendment. That would be the inherent check and balance between the population and the government elected to represent them.
At the 2015 NRA Annual Leadership Meeting, Carson aimed to communicate his stance on the Second Amendment. “Just for the record let me make it extremely clear that I am extremely pro-Second Amendment. There’s no question about it. I would never allow anybody to tamper with that right because it is so important.”
As he continued his speech, he outlined two reasons for the existence of the Second Amendment, protection against invasion and a check and balance against a tyrannical government. “Our founders recognized that if our nation were invaded and if the citizenry had the ability to aid the military, we would be a much more formidable group of people.” Carson admitted that this scenario seems implausible today, but really isn’t. With porous borders and expansion of terrorist activity to Europe (editor’s note: this article was submitted for review prior to the San Bernardino attack, so it’s now fair to include the United States next to Europe), he defined “invasion” in terms of potential terrorist threats to domestic targets.
As for a force against tyranny, Carson explained, “The second reason for the Second Amendment is that the people would be able to defend themselves against an overly aggressive government that wanted to exert tyranny.” He closed his point with a personal experience anecdote. “As a surgeon I spent many a night operating on people with gunshot wounds to their heads, and all that is horrible. But I can tell you something. It is not nearly as horrible as having a population that is defenseless against tyrants that have arms, and that is what we always have to bear in mind in this nation.”
Carson got into a little hot water with mainstream media outlets recently when he made, and later doubled down on, comments about gun control and tyrannical regimes, primarily Nazi Germany. In his book, A More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties, Carson suggested that it would have been more difficult for the Nazis to successfully execute the Holocaust had citizens not been disarmed first. In an October 2015 CNN interview, Carson observed, “I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed. I’m telling you there is a reason these dictatorial people take the guns first.” Later, in an ABC Good Morning America interview, Carson stated, “But it is well-known that in many places where tyranny has taken over, they first disarmed the people. There’s a reason that they disarm people. They don’t just do it arbitrarily.”
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, ABC’s Good Morning America’s George Stephanopoulos, and the Anti-Defamation League said Carson’s viewpoint is ludicrous, but I think he’s spot on. We’ll never know whether the Holocaust would or would not have succeeded without preceding gun control efforts. What should be pretty clear to most history students is that the Nazi regime would have had a heck of a time dealing with dozens or even hundreds of Warsaw Ghetto uprisings. That single tiny enclave of resistance held up the German war machine for 63 days. Critics also don’t consider the deterrent effect of an armed populace. There’s a reason Switzerland was never overrun during World War Two, even though it was smack dab in the middle of epic hostilities.
What he’s said that raises eyebrows
Recently, Carson’s talk has been clear and unambiguous, but that has not always been the case. Back in 2013 he appeared on Glenn Beck’s radio show and had a different viewpoint.
“There’s a reason for the Second Amendment; people do have the right to have weapons.” When asked about private ownership of semiautomatic arms, he replied, ”It depends on where you live. I think if you live in the midst of a lot of people, and I’m afraid that that semiautomatic weapon is going to fall into the hands of a crazy person, I would rather you not have it. However, if you live out in the country somewhere by yourself and want to own a semiautomatic weapon, I’ve no problem with that.”
To me, that sounds like a statement someone ignorant of the issue would make. Not knowing the facts, a statement like that might seem like “common sense.” On the surface, to gun owners, it screams of a complete lack of knowledge of what the Second Amendment is all about.
Also at the 2015 NRA Annual Leadership Meeting, Carson explained his past statements this way. “There’s some people who have gotten the wrong impression about my enthusiasm for guns. it’s not so much that my position on guns has evolved as it is that I’ve learned to express myself better. “
To me, that’s explanation doesn’t hold much water. His 2013 statements about semiautomatic gun ownership sound like those made by someone ignorant of the issues, not a poorly crafted expression of his views. I, for one, would have much rather he stated that he’s learned more about the issue and adjusted his views as a result.
Our best guess
This is a tough one. Given Carson’s history of making a dedicated effort to learning and adjusting his belief system accordingly, I would tend to believe that he is sincere in his most recent position statements regarding gun ownership, or at least he is sincere enough not to completely reverse his positions if elected. As I write this, he just got back from a personal visit to Syrian refugee camps, where his intention was to learn what’s really going on with that situation. As the first candidate to fly across the pond to see first hand what’s happening over there, I have to think he’s serious about gathering the facts before making decisions. Whatever your beliefs on the topic, I have to believe that his desire to learn, and develop strategies based on those learnings, is genuine and sincere.
One thing that stands out to me is that he doesn’t speak much about the individual right to self-defense and home protection. Yes, the real reasons for the Second Amendment are the ones Carson repeats, but most Americans today are far more concerned with the protection of themselves and their families. Is the lack of dialogue on this angle significant? I don’t know.
Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.
Featured image created using Ben Carson image by Gage Skidmore on the Wikimedia Commons and gun shop wall image from Michael Saechang on flickr