Part 1 Michael A. Bellesiles: Mega Anti-Gun-Nut

Larry Pratt

It is a little early to be saying who will be the Anti-Gun-Nut of this century. But, for now, a superlative designation is the least that is warranted. Michael A. Bellesiles, Professor Of History at Emory University is the author of the 603-page book Arming America: The Origins Of A National Gun Culture (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000).

Now, to be sure, Prof. Bellesiles denies that he is an Anti-Gun-Nut. In fact, when I debated him on KQED Radio in San Francisco (11/14/2000), he said, presumably with a straight face, that he has been a “gun enthusiast” for 35 years during which he has fired guns in many different countries. And, he says, he has always enjoyed skeet shooting.

But, what Emerson said in another context must be said to Prof. Bellesiles: “Do not say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.” In other words, what matters is not what he says, but what he has written. And what he has written is a sustained, snide, sneering, condescending, grossly irresponsible, rhetorically reckless, vicious, anti-American, anti-gun screed which a growing number of firearms and Second Amendment scholars are blowing full of holes the size of the Grand Canyon.

In this and the next few columns, I will touch on: The snotty tone of the Professor’s book; some ways in which — unwittingly, I’m sure — he reveals his true anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment colors; some of the devastating refutations of what he says in his book; and last, but certainly not least, the shocking lack of concern by those who published his book as to whether it is factual or not.

Edmund Burke, in his “Second Speech On Conciliation With America” (1775), said, regarding America: “I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people.” Prof. Bellesiles, however, has no problem at all doing this. He repeatedly smears his fellow-countrymen as gun-crazy. He writes (p. 8): “Guns are central to the identity of Americans, to their self-perception as a rugged and violent people, as well as their perception of others.” He says guns are “absolutely fundamental” to the way we understand ourselves, that the gun is “central” to the American identity (p. 9). He says the gun in America “leads a charmed life of perfect freedom” (p. 9).

Now, it’s true that millions of us own guns. But, to portray all Americans as being guilty of an obsession concerning firearms that borders on idolatry, is a lie. And to say that there is “perfect freedom” for the gun in America is — well, another lie since there are some 20,000 laws restricting firearms in our nation.

Prof. Bellesiles excels at the cheap-shot, the low-blow. Alluding to shootings in Jonesboro, Arkansas, in 1998, and the fact that one shooter got a shotgun for a gift when he was six-years-old, he asks (p.4): “How did we acquire a culture in which Santa Claus gives a six-year-old boy a shotgun for… Christmas?” Cheap-shot. Low-blow. Millions of young people have been, and should have been, given firearms and taught how to use them responsibly — which they have done. Thus, his rhetorical question is absurd and reveals nothing other than his own anti-gun bias.

Prof. Bellesiles laments the fact that “since the United States does not register guns, no one knows how many there are or who actually buys them” (p.4). The implication here is obvious: He thinks guns should be registered — a dangerous and anti-Second Amendment idea.

In a truly bizarre complaint, Prof. Bellesiles criticizes American gun magazines because “they never have an unkind thing to say about American-made guns — all guns are thought to be above average” (p.6). It seems not to have occurred to him — an expert at saying unkind things about guns — that this is because American-made guns are above average.

Prof. Bellesiles notes, critically it seems, that one gun magazine even had the gall to feature “the best means of carrying concealed weapons” (p.6). But, so what?! Scores of states have made this legal. And studies have shown that where concealed weapons are allowed, crime has gone down.

Prof. Bellesiles also notes, with alarm, that some gun magazine ads show “diminutive pistols made especially for the ladies” (p.6). But, again, so what?! Don’t women have the right to defend themselves?

Prof. Bellesiles criticizes one individual for saying, correctly, that our country must avoid “England’s Orwellian nightmare” of gun control (p.7). Well, amen! Is he unaware that the banning of all privately-owned guns in England has resulted in a violent crime rate in that country that is now higher than in our country?

Snidely, and with drooling sarcasm (p.8), Prof. Bellesiles ridicules one gun ad that boasts for its gun: “Just for fun. 10 shots in 2 seconds.” He replies: “What could be more fun than that?” Well, the answer is: Nothing — particularly if you are say a female trying to stop a rapist or possible murderer, and need to stop this thug quickly.

Prof. Bellesiles dishonestly notes that some legislatures have even encouraged gun use, such as in Louisiana where a law was passed granting citizens “the right to shoot to kill anyone attempting to steal their car” (p.9). But, this is a blatant distortion of this law which allows the use of deadly force regarding car-jacking — not merely stealing a car.

Prof. Bellesiles is upset that Congress has forbidden the Centers For Disease Control from using any funds for injury prevention and control to advocate or promote gun control (p.9). But, why should the CDC be allowed to do something that is in no way a part of its legal mandate? For that matter, what is the constitutional mandate for the CDC?

In my next two columns I will report on some of the devastating attacks by gun and Second Amendment scholars on Prof. Bellesile’s book, critiques which compellingly demonstrate that his arguments are not based on “sound” research, as his publisher claims.