Part 16 Michael A. Bellesiles: Mega Anti-Gun-Nut

Larry Pratt

In the 1970s, when President Gerald Ford decided not to bail out New York City with massive Federal aid, the New York Daily News ran a now famous front-page headline: “Ford To New York: Drop Dead!”

Well, the same can be said about Emory History Professor Michael A. Bellesiles, author of Arming America: The Origins Of A National Gun Culture (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000). Despite the fact that Bellesiles’ wretched book has been compellingly criticized, in detail, by several serious scholars and gun experts, he has refused to respond, specifically, to any of them. In other words, if you put his arrogant silence in headline form it would read: “Bellesiles To Critics: Drop Dead!”

On September 11, Vintage, a division of Alfred A. Knopf, will issue a paperback edition of Arming America. And for a brief moment — very brief — there was some hope that Bellesiles was going to come down from Mount Olympus and condescend to reply to some of his critics.

When we contacted Vintage, we spoke to Russell Perrault in the Publicity Department. He told us the paperback edition of Bellesiles’ book would, indeed, contain some changes in reply to his critics. This would be done in a completely new Preface. In fact, he said he would send us a copy of this Preface.

But, alas, this is not to be. Not long after talking with Perrault, his assistant, Eric Martinez, told us there would be no substantive changes in the paperback edition of Arming America, that this possibility “didn’t go through.” For details, he referred us to Megan Hustad, an editorial assistant at Vintage.

Hustad told us that the paperback version of Arming America will contain the “correction of a few typographical errors and cleaning things up.” But, there will be nothing new in the book “though there were plans of it, some discussions initially.”

    Q: “So, what happened? Why was it decided that there should be no changes in the paperback edition since there has been so much detailed, scholarly criticism of his book? Why was it decided to completely ignore these critics?”

    A: “In my discussions with Michael we decided we did not want to do that. He might address some of those questions in articles and other forms.”

    Q: “In any of these discussions did Bellesiles admit that anything he had written in his original book was wrong?”

    A: “No, and frankly he would be a better person to discuss this [though] I’m not sure to what extent he wants to discuss it.”

Well, we are sure. And the answer, to date, is, well, as already noted: “Bellesiles To Critics: Drop Dead!”

When asked if she was privy to the discussion regarding possible revisions in the paperback version of his book, Hustad says: “Possible revisions in the book? I’m not sure what you’re looking for here.”

But, of course, Hustad knows exactly what we’re looking for. She has to know. Because the question is very simple. There was, apparently, at one time — or so we were told by Russell Perrault — a real possibility of a new Preface in which Bellesiles would reply to some of his critics. This is not going to happen. Why not?

Well, Hustad says Bellesiles will make revisions of a “small measure.” But there will be no changes that are “substantive,” his arguments “do not change in any way, shape or form.” She says that our questions about the accuracy of Bellesiles’ original, hardback book are “loaded questions” and she “does not like the direction of these questions.”

Finally, when pressed, Hustad says yes, it’s true that there was “some discussion” about the possibility of Bellesiles writing a new Preface for Arming America. And yes, this Preface might have responded to some of the critics of the original book. However, “we decided not to do that.” But, why not?! No comment.

A new headline: “Megan Hustad To Us: Drop Dead!”