12/00 Gun Scarcity In Colonial America — Not

Gun Scarcity in Colonial America — Not
Larry Pratt

Anti-gun academic Michael Bellesiles has written Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture alleging that colonial America had few guns and they were of poor quality. Moreover, he alleges that this did not change until after the Civil War when the NRA invented the myth of America as an armed society. Therefore, Bellesiles assumes that the Founders could hardly have had a pure individual right to keep and bear arms in mind when they produced the Second Amendment.

His main tool of research was to comb through probate records to find out how many guns were mentioned. The answer: not many.

Do you see the problem with Bellesiles’ approach? Based on this approach, colonial women must have been barefoot because shoes were almost never mentioned in probate records.

Even today, only a large and costly collection might get written into a will or mentioned at probate. Generally, gun owners either give most of their guns away before death, or the guns are divvied up the same way mom’s shoes are — informally by mutual agreement among the heirs.

Bellesiles cites battle accounts where many shots were fired but few of the enemy were hit. But contemporary accounts contradict Bellesiles. For example, commenting on the Battle of Bunker Hill, Redcoat Lieutenant Frederick MacKenzie of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers reported: “These fellows were generally good marksmen, and many of them used long arms made for duck-shooting.”

Moreover, even when a man can shoot accurately, it is very difficult psychologically to be willing to kill. The U.S. Army found that in WW II, upwards of 80% of its troops in battle would either not shoot or would aim away.

Second Amendment historian Clayton Cramer has researched much of the same material as has Bellesiles. Bellesiles’s anti-gun prejudice is apparent in the omission of a large body of accounts of the prevalence of individual ownership and proficiency with firearms.

Typical is the account of a European visitor who marveled at the amusement of many country folk. A nail would be partially driven into a piece of wood. The object was to, from a considerable distance, fire a round that put the nail the rest of the way in. To be a respectable shot, at least a glancing hit was required.

An awareness of the history of the War for Independence reveals the major role played by the militia. From the beginning, the militia showed that, particularly when defending hearth and home, they were capable of acquitting themselves well against the professional armies of the British. The Battle of Lexington and Concord produced a major embarrassment to General Gage’s troops by the militiamen of Massachusetts.

At the Battle of Kings Mountain, the British regulars suffered a drubbing at the hands of an all-militia army dubbed “the Ghost Legion” — a militia that forced British General Lord Cornwalis’ army into its retreat and ultimate defeat in Yorktown. The colonial militia coalesced for the battle, seemingly out of nowhere, and melted away to go back home after the battle.

The anti-self defense crowd not only think you and I cannot defend ourselves against street thugs, and they want us to believe that a bunch of amateurs cannot defend their freedom against a tyrant. Believe that only if you chose to remain ignorant of our own history.