William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.
By all accounts, the NRA-sponsored event was a highly organized affair. It was one of the largest protests in the capital in years, with busloads of Second Amendment supporters arriving for the demonstration from every corner of the state.
So what was with the Nazi imagery?
Why did the event organizers allow protesters to hold placards depicting Cuomo as Adolf Hitler?
It was avoidable, counterproductive and morally reprehensible. As soon as the signs popped up, they should have been yanked down. But they weren't.
Why? Because people didn't want to hurt fellow protester's feelings?
NRA President David Keene, the former head of the American Conservative Union, made matters worse by defending the Nazi images in news interviews following the event. He's been around politics for five decades. He should know better.
Keene argued that use of Hitler's image was appropriate because the former German leader symbolizes dictators of all political stripes throughout history who have stripped citizens of their firearms.
"Folks that are cognizant of the history, not just in Germany but elsewhere, look back to the history and say we can't let that sort of thing happen here," he unconvincingly explained on New York Post state political editor Fred Dicker's radio program.
It was the second time in a month that a Hitler flap occurred over Cuomo's SAFE Act, which cannot in any sense be compared with 20th century gun confiscations in Europe.
Assemb. Steven McLaughlin (R-Melrose) had to apologize earlier in February for remarks about Cuomo's heavy-handed tactics in passing the SAFE Act. "Hitler would be proud. Mussolini would be proud of what we did here. Moscow would be proud," McLaughlin said before a crowd of legislators, none of whom objected to his choice of words at the time.
At least McLaughlin walked it back. The NRA has yet to.
Republicans and conservatives should be especially sensitive to, and doubly vigilant against, charges of fascism being made for political gain. They've been rightly howling for years about the very same tactic being used against them.
If those doctored photos of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani sporting Hitler mustaches were wrong, so are the ones featuring Barack Obama or Andrew Cuomo. Republicans need to say that wherever and whenever they appear. It's essential to maintaining credibility as a political party. (And on a purely tactical level, the practice is just plain stupid. It becomes the story.)
Every day that passes since the Nazi death camps were liberated demands greater caution that what happened in them not be trivialized. The unspeakable barbarity of Hitler's regime should never be casually evoked -- it insults the memory of its victims. Anyone who scoffs at that statement should visit YouTube, enter "Nazi death camp footage" and watch the videos -- the faces -- that return.
New York is filled with families who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. My mother-in-law lost her father to a German death camp in March 1945. He was a 33-year-old Italian soldier -- a musician by trade -- named Rocco Sarni of Morra De Sanctis in the province of Avellino. She was 4 years old and had spent only 18 days with her father before the war took him away.
On Friday night I had dinner with one of my closest friends, who was adopted in 1961. At age 50 he tracked down his biological parents, only to find out that his birth mother's family had been annihilated by the Germans in Hungary. Their name was Berger.
I learned his family's story at the same time news was breaking about new documentation from the Holocaust Museum listing the true number of Nazi concentration camps set up across Europe between 1933 and 1945. It is staggering -- 42,500 camps, in which approximately 20 million souls were tortured, murdered or imprisoned.
That was the Nazis, and we all know that.
Activists on both sides of the political aisle are better than this. Can we all agree to knock it off?
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.