Republican Representative Don Young from Alaska has sparked fierce backlash after questioning how many Jewish people "were put in the ovens" because they were not armed. Known for his history of making controversial comments, Young made the comment during a conference in Juneau where he was asked about school safety in light of the recent tragic school shooting and revived debate on gun control.
"How many millions of people were shot and killed because they were unarmed?" Young said at a meeting of the lobbying group Alaska Municipal League. "Fifty million in Russia because their citizens weren't armed. How many Jews were put into the ovens because they were unarmed?"
Young, who is the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, also argued that arming teachers would help keep students safe in schools and suggested that the violence portrayed in video games could play a role in gun violence.
"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."
Dimitri Shein, an Democratic candidate for Congress who is running against Young, was in the audience and later posted the video to Twitter on Sunday (25 February).
Young's office later said in a statement that his comments were taken out of context.
"He was referencing the fact that when Hitler confiscated firearms from Jewish Germans, those communities were less able to defend themselves," the 84-year-old's office said, The Washington Post reports.
"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. A defenseless people are left up to the mercy of its leaders."
His remarks come just weeks after a 19-year-old gunman opened fire on students and teachers with an AR-15 at a Parkland, Florida high school, killing 17 people. Many survivors have since become fierce advocates for gun control and have demanded US lawmakers take action to enact tougher gun laws.
Jewish groups, gun control advocates and social media users erupted with outrage over Young's "disgusting and reprehensible" remarks saying he is "completely divorced from reality".
The Anti-Defamation League denounced Young's suggestion that guns could have helped prevent millions of Jewish people and others from being killed under the Nazi regime during World War 2.
"Guns, or lack of them, did not cause the Holocaust," the ADL tweeted. "The Holocaust was the product of anti-Semitism & other forms of hate. It's offensive for anyone to manipulate the history of the Holocaust to score political points."
"F**k you, motherf**ker," David Nir, political director of Daily Kos, tweeted. "My father, from the time he was an 11-year-old boy, was hunted as human prey for four years. You think a gun would have made a difference? Seriously, f**k you."
"The level of ignorance astounds me," one person tweeted.