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It is an article of faith with me that you must always be suspicious of the accepted wisdom.  And so I am untroubled by Michael Bellesiles's fundamental point that guns were not ubiquitous in early America.  However, he goes beyond that simple thesis to propose the genuinely bizarre notion that guns were not an important part of life in Colonial and Revolutionary America, not even in Antebellum times, and that it was only after mass production for the Civil War made them generally available and cheap that a genuine "gun culture" arose.  This is sheer silliness.

As far as I can tell, nearly all of the innumerable statistics that Bellesiles uses in the book have either been called into question or totally discredited.  It has of course been left up to conservative publications to do most of the debunking, but recently even the mainstream media has begun to notice that the numbers that Bellesiles either make no sense or in some cases appear to be completely fabricated.  Even taken at face value, his own numbers still show that a quarter to a third of American men had guns, which considering that half the population had to be urban, and so unlikely to own guns, strikes me as a reasonable percentage.  It may be a glass half full, glass half empty type thing, but I'd say that such numbers show a prevalence of guns.  And if his numbers are as dubious as they now appear, then perhaps guns truly were as universal as we've previously assumed.

Forget the factual fantasies though, just think about all of the ramifications if we accept all that his initial thesis implies.  For him to be right we have to accept the idea that white European settlers were able to wrest America away from hostile natives without many guns.  We have to assume that, despite the abundance of wildlife they found, they were content not to hunt much.  And we must assume that Southern plantation owners were able to hold an enormous population in bondage without many guns.    All of these things may well be true, but the amusing thing is that they deny most of the crimes that the Left has laid at our collective doorstep over the years.  Suddenly, rather than rapacious conquerors and brutes, the early Americans seem downright pastoral, don't they ?

At any rate, before we move on from this little dust up, and dismiss this book as only an utter waste of tree pulp, it is perhaps helpful to consider what the widespread initial acceptance of the book (heck, it even won the prestigious Bancroft Prize) indicates about our intellectual elites.  The most important things it tells us is that the practice of History in the modern academy has been thoroughly corrupted by Leftist ideology.  The radicals in the generation of the 60s have not all headed off to Wall Street to get rich, many of them went into such institutions as the Academy and the Press where they could continue to subvert the American system that they so loathe.  We well understand that professors and journalists are adherents of a political philosophy that is well to the Left of the rest of the country.  Yet we cling to the myth that they are capable of setting ideology aside when they report the news, teach our kids, and write their books.  This is a foolish delusion.

The Bellesiles incident is an excellent demonstration of what the Left stands to gain from this inchoate conspiracy (I do not wish to suggest that there is some kind of Woodstock Illuminati running it).  On this issue, they wish to see the right to bear arms limited, but there's a pesky Constitutional Amendment in the way.  So a "historian" manufactures evidence to show that guns were not important at the time of the Founding and that the 2nd Amendment could not have been meant to protect gun rights.  Every leading newspaper and magazine hails it as a groundbreaking study whose implications must make us rethink the propriety of gun control.  Prizes follow, giving it a veneer of official sanction.  So now, when politicians and others debate the gun issue, there's an "unimpeachable" source that shows that the Left was right all along.

Luckily, in this case profound skepticism and tenacious research have exposed the sham.  But there are hundreds of thousands of articles, essays, and books published every year that are the product of the same purblind ideology and it is impossible to keep up with the sheer volume of errors, distortions, and lies.  So let this one most obvious of deceits serve as a warning, writing History, particularly today, is not an impartial exercise in truth seeking, it is instead quite often a conscious exercise in molding events to suit particular politically desirous theses.  By all means, read History, but be warned, much of it is nothing more than one writer's opinion, not fact.


Grade: (F)


Michael Bellesiles Links:

-INTERVIEW: Arming the Past: An Interview with Michael Bellesiles (Contingent Magazine, August 24, 2019)
    -ESSAY: The historical profession's greatest modern scandal, two decades later: Michael Bellesiles resigned in the midst of a political firestorm. He still stands by his work. Arming America. (BILL BLACK, SEPTEMBER 18, 2019, The Week)

Book-related and General Links:
-Michael A. Bellesiles : Associate Professor (Emory University)
    -Arming America Homepage
    -INTERVIEW : The reasonable gun nut : Denounced by the NRA, a historian talks about the myth of early American gun ownership and his own fascination with firearms. (David Bowman, Salon)
    -ESSAY : Disarming the Critics (Michael A. Bellesiles, Organization of American Scientists)
    -ESSAY : Counting Guns in Early America (James Lindgren)
    -REVIEW : of Politics, Punishment, and Populism by Lord Windlesham (Michael A. Bellesiles, Law and History Review) Y«
    -PROFILE : Too much time on my hands : Michael Bellesiles is a professor of history and author of  Arming America (Emory Report, December 11, 2000)
    -PROFILE :  Bellesiles lays blame for U.S. gun culture at the feet of Samuel Colt (Emory Report, November 3, 1997)
    -ARTICLE : Bellesiles responds to critics of his book (David Mehegan, Boston Globe, 11/13/2001)
    -ARTICLE : University asks historian to defend his research on gun ownership book (David Mehegan, Globe Staff, 10/3/2001)
    -ESSAY : Disarming America : One of the worst cases of academic irresponsibility in memory. (Melissa Seckora, September 10, 2001, National Review)
    -ESSAY : New doubts about gun historian : Research to receive hard critique today (David Mehegan, Boston Globe, 9/11/2001)
    -ESSAY : Bellesiles vs. History (Joseph R. Stromberg, October 3, 2000],
    -ESSAY : Historian wounded as theory backfires (ROGER FRANKLIN, 15 April 2001, The Age)
    -ESSAY : Scholars Take Aim at Gun History (Kimberley A. Strassel, Wall Street Journal, 4/9/01 )
    -ESSAY : Will Rewrite Nation's History to Suit New Tenant (Vin Suprynowicz )
    -ESSAY : Books Aimes to Debuunk Gun Culture (Cincinnati Enquirer)
    -REVIEW : of Arming America : The Origins Of A National Gun Culture (Garry Wills, NY Times Book Review)
    -RESPONSE : to Garry Wills's Review (Charlton Heston, Beverly Hills, Calif.)
    -REVIEW : of ARMING AMERICA, The Origins of a National Gun Culture By Michael A. Bellesiles (Fred Anderson, LA Times)
    -REVIEW : of Arming America Shots in the Dark Bellesiles Arming America is novel in both senses. (Clayton E. Cramer, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of Arming America by Michael Bellesiles : Put a Muzzle on It How Michael Bellesiles misses his mark, over and over again. (James Swan, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture (Jackson Lears, New Republic)
    -REVIEW : of Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture , by Michael A. Bellesile (Clayton E. Cramer, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of Michael Bellesiles' Arming America: The Origins Of A National Gun Culture (Paul Rosenberg, Pittsburgh Post Gazette)
    -REVIEW : of Michael A. Bellesiles, editor. Lethal Imagination: Violence and Brutality in American History (Eric H. Monkkonen, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW : of Arming America (John Whiteclay Chambers II, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : of Arming America (Joyce Lee Malcolm, Reason)
    -REVIEW : of Arming America (Carl T. Bogus, The American Prospect)
    -REVIEW : of Arming America (Patrick Sullivan, MetroActive)
    -REVIEW : of Arming America (Stuart Shiffman, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW : of Y« Bellesiles, Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, (Roger Lane, Journal of American History)
    -AWARD : Three Authors Honored with Bancroft Prizes (Ulrika Brand, Columbia News)
    -AWARDS : HCI/CPHV Congratulate Michael Bellesiles for Receiving The Bancroft Prize : Emory Professor Honored for His Groundbreaking Book, Arming America : The Origins of a National Gun Culture

    -Gun Owners of America
    -GunCite: gun control and Second Amendment issues
    -Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms
    -Reason Magazine : Gun resources
    -Crime and Gun Control (National Center for Policy Analysis)
    -ARCHIVES : Charlton Heston (Salon)
    -VCielaw Virtual Law Library-Constitutional Law Second Amendment
    -ESSAY : Were the Founding Fathers in Favor of Gun Ownership? (Stephen P. Halbrook, The Washington Times, November 5, 2000)
    -ESSAY : Deconstructing the Second Amendment (Stephen P. Halbrook,, November 3, 2000)
    -ESSAY : Targeting the Media's Anti-gun Bias : One journalist teaches his colleagues about guns by taking them to the shooting range. (Michael Bane, American Journalism Review, July/August 2001)
   -ESSAY : Do Concealed Guns Reduce Crime? Economist Says Guns Deter Criminals, But It's Not That Simple (John Allen Paulos,
    -REVIEW : of MORE GUNS, LESS CRIME: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws By John R. Lott Jr. ( Peter Coy, Business Week)
    -Do More Guns Really Mean Less Crime?  Robert Ehrlich vs. John Lott  A Reason Online Debate
    -REVIEW : of Freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Right to Bear Arms, 1866-1876, by Stephen P. Halbrook   (Dave Kopel and Clayton Cramer, National Review)
    -REVIEW ESSAY : of Politics and firearms in the US (Sarah Left, 11/1/01, Times Literary Supplement)

    -Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
    -ESSAY : Lethal Weapons (Peter Stone, May 7, 2001, The American Prospect)