The most senior member of the House of Representatives argued against tougher gun laws in a speech last week, rhetorically wondering how many victims of the Holocaust might have survived had they been armed.
“How many millions of people were shot and killed because they were unarmed?” Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said at a meeting of the Alaska Municipal League, a lobbying group for local communities. “Fifty million in Russia because their citizens weren’t armed. How many Jews were put into the ovens because they were unarmed?”
The 84-year-old Young was responding to a question about what the federal government and cities could do to stop school shootings.
Young spokeswoman Murphy McCollough told The Associated Press in an email Wednesday that Young’s remarks were “taken entirely out of context.”
“He was referencing the fact that when Hitler confiscated firearms from Jewish Germans, those communities were less able to defend themselves,” she said. “He was not implying that an armed Jewish population would have been able to prevent the horrors of the Holocaust, but his intended message is that disarming citizens can have detrimental consequences.”
Messages seeking comment from the Anti-Defamation League and a Jewish group in Alaska weren’t immediately returned Wednesday.
The executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party said the comments show it’s time for residents to vote Young out of office.
“Don Young continues to show he is completely divorced from reality,” Jay Parmley said.
Young wasn’t the first House Republican to face criticism for comments made after 17 students were killed at a high school in Parkland, Fla., earlier this month.
U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney of New York said on a radio program last week that many people who commit mass murder turn out to be Democrats, without offering evidence.
Young’s comments emerged when Dimitri Shein, a Democrat, posted video of the lawmaker’s response to his question on YouTube.
Young intimated that the violent nature of video games might play a role in gun violence. A former schoolteacher, he said that children brought guns to schools 40 years ago “and they didn’t shoot anybody.”
“Something’s happened, it’s easy to blame an object,” Young said. “Why don’t we look at the mental concept and the family structure,” he added as as he noted that he supports a proposal advanced by President Donald Trump to arm teachers.
Young, who was first elected in 1973. Over the years, he has faced blowback for other remarks.
A few years ago, for instance, he had to apologize for using a racial epithet when referring to Hispanic migrant workers. And he backtracked when he said a female colleague “doesn’t know a damn thing what she’s talking about.”
His staff had to apologize in 2014 after he spoke at an Alaska high school a day after a student’s suicide. When asked what his office was doing to combat the state’s high suicide rate, he stunned the audience by saying that such self-harm showed a lack of support from family and friends.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.