Part 28 Michael A. Bellesiles: Mega Anti-Gun-Nut

by
Larry Pratt

Even though he may be the last human being on earth doing it, it's still not exactly a man-bites-dog story to learn that anti-gun junk-scientist Dr. Arthur Kellermann is defending anti-gun junk-historian Michael A. Bellesiles, author of Arming America: The Origins of A National Gun Culture (Knopf, 2000). If ever birds of the same feather have flocked together, it's these two characters.

When the Atlanta Journal And Constitution newspaper (12/18/01) wrote an editorial noting that Bellesiles "has been accused of shoddy and perhaps fabricated research," Kellermann wrote a letter-to-the-editor (12/27/01) saying "the case against Bellesiles is thin and clearly driven by individuals outraged that his book challenges long-cherished beliefs about guns in early American history." Kellerman, like Bellesiles, works at Emory University where he is Director of the Center for Injury Control and Professor of Emergency Medicine in the Department of Surgery at Emory's School of Medicine.

The evidence against Bellesiles is thin?! That's what the Doc says -- even though, in reality, this evidence is roughly as thick as the Empire State Building is high. And it's growing even higher as you read this.

When interviewed in mid-February, and asked if he still believes the evidence against Bellesiles is "thin", Kellermann says: "I think that there are -- you know, basically, what I said is what I said. But, basically, yes." He adds that anybody, whether an academic or not, "is innocent until proven guilty." Bellesiles, of course, has now been, for all practical purposes, proven guilty. But, Kellermann doesn't get it.

When asked if, for example, he's read James Lindgren's scholarly, detailed and well-documented demolition of Bellesiles' probate record data, Kellermann ignores the question saying only that he does not know Lindgren. He says: "I have enough familiarity with individuals' concerns about issues relating to firearms that I take anybody who goes to great lengths to go after another individual, particularly on the academic front -- I have to have some question about what their motivation is." Lindgren, of course, has been motivated only by a search for truth -- a possibility that seems not to have occurred to Kellermann.

When asked if he read the articles about Bellesiles in the Boston Globe, Kellermann interrupts saying, testily: "Well, I'll tell you what -- I don't use the Boston Globe as my source for a scholarly critique." He admits: "I'm not a historian or an expert in probate records." He says he does believe that Bellesiles has been "roundly assailed," deserves a review, that's where the issue is, and "I'm waiting for the jury."

Kellermann says his "basic thesis" is that Bellesiles has been "summarily judged" by the Atlanta Journal And Constitution newspaper that did not do its own independent assessment. But, Kellermann's focus is much too narrow. Bellesiles has been judged by numerous publications and scholars. Their judgment has been anything but a summary judgment. These critiques have been documented-in-detail. And they have been devastating.

Hmmmmm. Interesting point, this "review" business. And an interesting question. So, Kellermann is asked: So, would Emory really launch an official investigation of Bellesiles' work if the evidence against him is "thin?"

Kellermann: "I think that Emory, given the amount of heat that's been generated over this book, I think that Emory's review -- and, again, my understanding is that it was done at Professor Bellesiles' request."

Right. Like Bellesiles really wanted this investigation so much that he requested it. If Kellermann believes this, then, as the saying goes, we have a bridge in Brooklyn we'd like to sell him. As for the bit about "heat" being generated regarding Arming America, no, Doc, it's the light that's been shed on his shoddy scholarship that has caused this autopsy to be conducted.

At one point, Kellermann, amazingly, says, regarding the critiques of Bellesiles' work: "I suspend judgment one way or another." When reminded that he's said the evidence against Bellesiles is "thin," and this is a judgment, he says: "Okay." But, he's says he's said this based on what he has seen.

Eventually, Kellermann admits he did read the Boston Globe articles. So, what does he think about the Globe reporter discovering that Bellesiles had inserted the words "old" and "broken" into his characterization of certain old gun records in Vermont when these words were not in the original records? Long pause. He says he'd have to go back and re-read these articles. He doesn't remember this.

Finally, Kellermann is asked for some specifics. He said in his letter-to-the-editor that the case against Bellesiles is "clearly driven by individuals outraged that his book challenges long-cherished beliefs about guns in early American history." So, who, exactly, is he talking about?

Kellermann says, ducking the question: "I think there are people very happy to see Dr. Bellesiles trashed."

Q: "Like who?"

A: I don't feel that I have any need to share any particular individual's name."

Kellermann adds, pathetically, that the criticism of Bellesiles is "a cautionary note for anybody who wants to do any kind of work on this issue." But, this is pure, unadulterated hogwash. The criticisms of Bellesiles are "a cautionary note" for anybody who writes a lousy book full of lies and fabricated data!