Part 26 Michael A. Bellesiles: Mega Anti-Gun-Nut

Larry Pratt

Well, now. It’s not often that an author dodges a bullet then uses that same bullet to shoot himself in the foot. But, incredibly, this is exactly what has been done by Alexander DeConde, Professor Of History, Emeritus, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who is the author of Gun Violence In America: The Struggle For Control (Northeastern University Press, 2001).

The bullet dodged by DeConde — or so it seemed at first — is Emory History Professor Michael A. Bellesiles’ by now thoroughly discredited book Arming America: The Origins Of A National Gun Culture (Knopf, 2000). And DeConde dodged this bullet by noting in the Introduction to his own book that he “regrets” he was “unable to make full use” of Arming America because it was published shortly after his manuscript went to press. Still, DeConde, amazingly, refers to Arming America as (are you seated?) a “fine, well-documented book!”

OK. Now, the shooting-himself-in-the-foot-with-this-same-bullet bit. In an interview, DeConde tells us that even though he is unaware of any of the major articles in the national media demolishing Bellesiles’ book, he stands by his original praise of Arming America!

When we tell DeConde Bellesiles’ book has been blown full of holes by articles in the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe and New York Times, he says, despite the fact that he has read none of these pieces, that he thinks the “general thrust” of Arming America “is accurate but his use of statistics is flawed.”

Huh?! But, how could the “general thrust” of Bellesiles’ book stand if his use of statistics to support this “general thrust” is “flawed?” Well, DeConde says he’s “not a statistician” and “has not gone through all of the records” on this subject. Still, he insists, the “general thrust” of Arming America is “sound.”

DeConde says regarding Bellesiles’ book: “No one I’ve read anywhere has gathered together such an abundance of sources.” But, we say, the question is: Are his sources true? Has he accurately reported them? We tell him that History Professor Joyce Lee Malcolm of Bentley College, a real gun/Second Amendment scholar, has said that regardless of which Bellesiles footnotes you check out, the footnote is never what Bellesiles says it is.

DeConde says he still believes Bellesiles, as a scholar, is “superior.” You mean there are more lies, half-truths and mistakes in Malcolm’s work than there are in Arming America?! He replies: “What I haven’t done, and don’t intend to do, is to check every single footnote in her book or his book…. I don’t know how many miscitations are in Bellesiles’ book or Malcolm’s book.”

When told that he must know in order to say Bellesiles’ scholarship is “superior” to Malcolm’s, DeConde simply ignores this point, noting that he’s been a working historian for over 50 years (he’s 81 years old), he’s made mistakes in his work, so have others — though he is “not a professional gun historian.”

OK. So, if you haven’t checked Arming America for mistakes, and you’re not a “professional gun historian,” how do you know the book is “fine, well-documented?” Well, it’s true, DeConde says, “I did not check [Bellesiles’] statistics.” But, he “stands by” what he says.


    Q: “Why, in your own book, do you repeatedly speak of the Second Amendment as protecting a ‘privilege’ when it’s in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights?!”

    A: “Because it is a privilege.”

    Q: “So this is really a Bill of Privileges?!”

Well, DeConde says the use of the word “rights” is “an uncomfortable vocabulary” because all kinds of people claim all kinds of rights.

    Q: “But are the first 10 Amendments to our Constitution not a Bill Of Rights?!”

    A: “Oh, yes. But, the interpretation is a disputable issue and the courts have maintained, generally, that the so-called right or privilege to own a gun, individually, is not supported by the Second Amendment.”

When it is pointed out to DeConde that there is growing support in the courts and among academics for the so-called “Standard Model” of the Second Amendment, which recognizes the right of individuals to keep and bear arms, he says, simply, with no proof offered, that the “Standard Model” is “a charade.”

In his own book, DeConde argues that, among other things, it is the “easy access” to guns that is responsible for the “gun violence” in our society. When we note that “gun violence” was much lower in our country in the 1940s and 1950s, when access to guns was much easier (you could order a gun by mail), he says he thinks his reasoning is still “sound.”

In fact, DeConde goes so far as to say — without offering any evidence at all — that it is his “impression” that there was “considerable gun violence” in the 1940s and 1950s. It was, however, not reported as prominently as it is today. But, this is preposterous. In the 40s and 50s all kinds of violent crime received far greater news media attention than today because such violence was much less frequent than today.

DeConde, in his book, not surprisingly, thinks that the virtual outlawing of all private guns in England and Australia is wonderful. But, he admits, he is “not aware” of what has happened in these countries as a result of this gun ban. In a nutshell, what has happened has, to put it mildly, not been wonderful. In fact, nothing, in England or Australia, that gun grabbers like DeConde predicted would happen as a result of such a gun ban, has happened. Nothing.

    Q: “Do you believe in the right of self-defense?”

    A: “I don’t agree to any generally broad term of that nature since it means so many things to so many people.”

When DeConde is taken to task for not meeting head on, and replying to, the detailed, well-documented gun scholarship of either John Lott or Gary Kleck — and for not listing them in his book’s index — he says, shockingly: “Oh, I think John Lott is an idiot in many ways!” What he’s written “doesn’t stand up at all.”

    Q: “How about Gary Kleck? Is he an idiot, too?”

    A: “No, no.”

And, having second thoughts, he says he “takes back” what he said about Lott.

The dust cover on DeConde’s book says it “brings balance” to the gun control debate. But, it does not. It is a typical gun-grabbing, gun-hating, anti-Second Amendment, anti-self-defense diatribe. And his agenda is revealed clearly in his chapter titled “Summing Up” in which, among other things: he mocks the “birth-right theory” that there is a “God-given right to keep and bear arms;” he praises the British for having “banned private possession of guns;” he dismisses self-defense with guns as only a “theory;” he, absurdly, totally trusts the police alone has being able to defend us; and he says “the most effective form of regulation” would be “the prohibiting of private gun-ownership.”

When one reads Alexander DeConde’s terrible book, and interviews him, it is no surprise at all the he continues to support Michael A. Bellesiles and his scandalous book.