Bellesiles: Anti-Gun

Part 27 Michael A. Bellesiles: Mega Anti-Gun-Nut

by
Larry Pratt

Adding insult to injury, Emory History Professor Michael A. Bellesiles, author of the totally discredited book Arming America: The Origins of A National Gun Culture (Knopf, 2000), has been given a $30,000 National Endowment For The Humanities (N.E.H.) grant by the Newberry Library in Chicago. That's right. His scholarship demolished, his reputation shot full of holes, Bellesiles now has his snout thrust deeply into the public trough. And guess what he's doing with this $30,000 worth of your hard-earned Federal tax dollars and mine? He's working on another book about guns! This one is titled American Gun Laws: The Regulation Of Firearm Use, 1607-2000.

But, you may be thinking, as I have been: "How in the world could such an award be given to this individual? Who could possibly justify this expenditure of Federal tax dollars to this person?" Well, it's none of our business, really. Or so we were told when we investigated the awarding of this N.E.H. grant.

In an interview, Jim Grossman, Vice President for Research and Education at the Newberry Library, explains that Bellesiles was given his $30,000 grant by a Review Committee and an Awards Committee. Might we, please, have the names of those on these committees to ask them why they decided to give this person such a grant? No, says Grossman. Might we then, please, see a copy of Bellesiles application for this grant? No, says Grossman, all this information is "confidential."

But, how can this information be kept "confidential" since Bellesiles is being given $30,000 worth of what is called public money? Well, says Grossman, when the Federal Government (that's us) gives them money, "it becomes Newberry funds."

Still, why keep all this requested information secret? Grossman says: "Well, if I'm Joe Smith, and I didn't get a fellowship, and I'm upset about it, I might call a member of the Review Committee to complain." He assures us, however, that the N.E.H., by giving the Newberry Library this money (our money), has trusted them (the Library) to award it in a way "that is fair, honest and rigorous."

But, of course, if the names of those who awarded Bellesiles his Federal grant are kept secret, we can't contact and question them, can we? And, if we can't contact and question those who are giving out our Federal tax dollars, we don't know if they, in fact, did award this grant in a way that was "fair, honest and rigorous," do we? No, we do not.

But, seriously, Grossman is asked: "Why give one of your grants to Bellesiles, whose scholarship and reputation is under a huge black cloud when, presumably, there were many applicants whose work is not in question?"

Grossman: "Our Review Committee, which consists of scholars who are able to assess the work of other scholars, felt comfortable with the quality of his existing work. And most of the judgment is also made on the quality of the proposal itself for the next project."

Is Grossman kidding? This Committee was "comfortable" with the "quality" of Bellesiles' existing work?! How can this possibly be true when Bellesiles' existing work -- specifically on Arming America -- is, to put it mildly, of an extremely poor quality!

All of which raises an interesting question. Before Bellesiles was given his $30,000 grant, did he, in any way, have to respond to any of the devastating criticisms of his book Arming America? Incredibly, Grossman says: "That's not part of our process.... There's no interview in the fellowship process."

Well, excuse me, but any group who has given Michael A. Bellesiles any kind of monetary grant without, first, demanding that he prove that what he wrote in Arming America is true, has not awarded this grant in a way that is "fair, honest and rigorous." No way! The Newberry Library should immediately cancel Bellesiles' little excursion on the Federal Gravy Train. And if this isn't done by the Library, the N.E.H. should do it -- now!