Part 20 Michael A. Bellesiles: Mega Anti-Gun-Nut

Larry Pratt

Over a period of many months, in painstaking detail, numerous scholars and journalists have, collectively, demolished Emory History Professor Michael A. Bellesiles’ wretched book Arming America: The Origins Of A National Gun Culture (Knopf, 2000). As a result of this devastating and well-documented criticism, James Melton, chairman of Emory’s History Department, ordered Bellesiles to find “a professional forum” to give “a full and complete response” to the allegations against him, “a detailed point-by-point response.”

Well, now. Even if he could, which he cannot, Bellesiles will not live long enough to give a “point-by-point” response to the flaws in his book because there are probably thousands of them — the rule-of-thumb here being that if Bellesiles says any thing, it is not true.

In any event, Bellesiles has found a “professional forum,” the November (2001) issue of the newsletter of the Organization Of American Historians (OAH). His reply is titled, absurdly, Disarming The Critics. But, as was totally predictable, Bellesiles’ response does not disarm anybody. In fact, his pathetic response gives his critics even more ammunition to blow additional holes in the tattered remains of his disgraceful and shameful book.

For openers, Bellesiles continues to try and deflect attention away from the main issue — his dishonest and shoddy scholarship — by whining his way through several choruses of “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen.” As he has done in the past, he complains about all the alleged “hateful, threatening” communications he has received, how he has been cussed out, how he has been sent computer viruses, how some people have urged his firing, blah, blah, blah. Well, nice try. But, this is not the issue.

At one point, Bellesiles says that of “special interest” among his critics have been the findings of Boston Globe reporter David Mehegan who found “several” errors in one of Bellesiles’ web listings that dealt with probate files from Vermont. Bellesiles mentions some of what Mehegan reported.

But, Bellesiles says nothing about Mehegan’s most damaging revelations!

In his Globe piece, Mehegan, who examined the original Vermont records and contrasted them with what Bellesiles said they said, reported that Bellesiles had inserted words into the original descriptions of various weapons. Specifically, in six cases, Bellesiles added the words “broken” and/or “old” to characterize several guns when these words were not in the original records.

In his OAH reply, Bellesiles says, presumably with a straight face, that his book “does not, to my knowledge, support any contemporary political position.” He says it is “cartoonish” to categorize his book as anti-gun.

But, if Bellesiles was Pinocchio, his nose would be the size of the Washington Monument. Arming America supports no political position?! Bellesiles is not anti-gun?! Uh huh.

In a review of Arming America in the New Republic magazine (1/22/2001), Rutgers History Professor Jackson Lears, a critic Bellesiles says he respects, said that Bellesiles’ reading of the Second Amendment is that it “was not meant to sanction individual gun ownership.” And in an interview, Brooklyn Law Professor David Yassky — who organized an anti-gun group of law professors and historians to file a brief in the Emerson case — told us that it is “safe to say” that Bellesiles rejects the so-called Standard Model interpretation of the Second Amendment which sees this Amendment, correctly, as protecting an individual right to keep and bear arms. Bellesiles was one of the signers of this anti-Second Amendment brief.

In Arming America’s Introduction and Epilogue Bellesiles himself clearly reveals his anti-gun, pro-gun control agenda. Among other things: He criticizes giving a young boy a shotgun for Christmas; he laments the fact that nobody knows how many guns there are in our country because we do not “register guns;” he criticizes American gun magazines because “they never have an unkind thing to say about American-made guns;” he says, falsely, as if there are no gun control laws, that the gun in America leads “a charmed life of perfect freedom” in a society that regulates almost everything; he complains about the Centers For Disease Control not being allowed to regulate guns; and he says nothing about the hundreds of thousands of Americans who use guns in self-defense every year.

And can Bellesiles be unaware that Arming America has been enthusiastically received by some of the most rabid anti-gun individuals and organizations in America? Indeed, the press release for his book from his own publisher features numerous quotations from many of these people.

In an incredible and ridiculous statement commenting on Bellesiles’ OAH article, Robert A. Paul, dean of the Emory’s main undergraduate college, says, in part: “I commend Michael for beginning this process of engaging his critics.” But, Bellesiles has not done this. No way.

A far more accurate and honest assessment of Bellesiles’ OAH response comes from Northwestern University Law Professor James Lindgren, a true scholar whose research has decimated key portions of Arming America. Says Lindgren, in The Chronicle Of Higher Education (11/16/2001): Bellesiles did not “refute any of the serious, carefully documented criticisms of the scholars who have been poring over the book.” Bellesiles “has not yet been able to support a single one of the many portions of Arming America that have been challenged by academics, nor has he yet documented a single error in any of his academic critics’ claims about his work.”