Part 8 Michael A. Bellesiles: Mega Anti-Gun-Nut

Larry Pratt

Among those who have enthusiastically praised Emory History Professor Michael A. Bellesiles’ book Arming America: The Origins Of A National Gun Culture (Knopf, 2000) is former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall.

In a promotional blurb distributed by Bellesiles’ publisher, Udall says: “Thinking people who deplore Americans’ addiction to gun violence have been waiting a long time for this information. Michael Bellesiles has uncovered dramatic historical truths that shatter the ‘Ten Commandments’ hokum peddled by the National Rifle Association and its ersatz Moses.”

Pretty tough stuff, huh? And snidely arrogant, too. Did you catch the part about “thinking people”? I guess he means people like himself. But, how much of a “thinking person” is Udall? Well, not very, as was revealed when we interviewed him.

For openers, Udall reiterates his polemical endorsement of the Bellesiles book saying it has in it “a lot of scholarship.” He adds: “I don’t throw off blurbs lightly. I think this is a very fine book and very much needed.”

    Q: How do you know this book is accurate?

    A: Because of my own research and writing.

    Q: Are you aware that the Bellesiles book is being criticized and refuted by a growing number of academics and scholars with expertise in the field of gun history and the Second Amendment?

    A: No, I am not.

Foundational to the Bellesiles book and his conclusions is his assertion that he has examined some 11,000 probate records.

    Q: How many probate records have you examined?

    A: I haven’t done that kind of research.

One of Udall’s complaints is that American movies have misrepresented the kinds of guns that were used in the Old West. He says the Bellesiles book corrects the record.

    Q: What would be an example of this kind of misrepresentation? Which movie gives this kind of false impression?

    A: All of them.

    Q: All of them?! Like which one?

    A: I’m not a movie-goer so don’t try to make me an expert on movies.

    Q: Are you aware that as many as 2,500,000 Americans annually use guns in self-defense?

    A: You’re getting far afield as far as I’m concerned.

    Q: But, you’ve denounced gun violence as if all gun violence is bad. Some gun violence is good because it is in self-defense. Are you a pacifist?

    A: No, I was a soldier in the big war.

    Q: Should the private ownership of guns be banned?

    A: I’m not involved in all of that big political quarrel in this country. I think we have too many guns and they produce too much violence.

    Q: So, what’s the solution to all this gun violence?

    A: I don’t own guns. I’ve never had a gun in my house. I’m 81. I’ve been around. I grew up in the country where guns were used for hunting and I hunted. So, I’m not anti-gun. I just think there are too G–D– many of them. Are you trying to discredit me for writing a blurb for a friend?

Well, now. Stewart Udall gives us far too much credit here. He impeaches his own credibility by admitting that he has double-checked none of Bellesiles’ most important research and that he is unaware of any of the compelling criticisms of the Bellesiles book.

As for Udall’s assertion that he is not “anti-gun,” he speaks here with a forked-tongue. The truth is that by praising Arming America he has endorsed what is arguably the most anti-gun book ever written in this country.

A footnote: Like Bellesiles, Udall also has trouble with the facts. At one point in our interview — seeking to demonstrate that there is too much gun violence in America — he says he was in Las Vegas recently and there were 17 murders there in January of 2001. How many with guns? Well, he doesn’t know but “I suspect most of them.” A spokesman for the Las Vegas Police Department tells us that there were 20 murders there in January: 9 by guns; 3 by stabbing; 6 by blunt force trauma; 2 stranglings; 1 unknown.