Part 38 Michael A. Bellesiles: Mega Anti-Gun-Nut

Larry Pratt

It is to their credit — and a laudable example of their intellectual honesty — that a few individuals who, originally, gave a favorable review to Michael A. Bellesiles’ book Arming America (Knopf, 2000), have now admitted, more or less, that they were had, that the book is fiction.

But, the gun-grabbers who make up Brady Bunch — a gang that truly cannot shoot straight — are hanging tough, specifically by their necks, on this issue. They are stonewalling any questions about the criticisms of Arming America. Their attitude toward this book, which has been thoroughly demolished, is: Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.

In a press release dated April 18, 2001, Handgun Control and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence “congratulated” Bellesiles for being awarded the Bancroft Prize in history for Arming America. Referring to this wretched book as “groundbreaking,” this release noted that since it was published it had “drawn national attention.”

Then, the release says, about the book: “It refutes conventional ideas about historical gun ownership in this country by showing that, contrary to popular belief, guns were neither necessary nor widespread in the 18th and early 19th century America. Bellesiles’ meticulous research into census, military and probate records and other historical documents debunks the mythology propagated by the gun lobby that guns were essential for survival in the early history of the nation.”

Michael Barnes, head honcho of this motley crew, is quoted as saying that Bellesiles’ winning of the Bancroft Prize is “well-earned,” that Bellesiles “has produced a work of unquestionable historical and societal merit…. By exposing the truth about gun ownership in early America, Michael Bellesiles has removed one more weapon in the gun lobby’s arsenal of fallacies against common-sense gun laws.”

Well, now. Bellesiles’ book certainly has been “groundbreaking” — the ground being broken, of course, being Bellesiles’ own grave as his reputation as a scholar is rapidly being buried. And Arming America has, indeed, drawn “national attention.” The problem, however, for Bellesiles is that as more people have paid close attention to the book, the more it has been exposed as a fraud.

As for Bellesiles supposedly refuting “conventional ideas” and “popular belief” about guns, the assertion is now embarrassingly absurd. It is Arming America that has been “refuted” and, thus, “conventional ideas” and “popular belief” about guns have never been more credible.

“Meticulous research?” No, more like ridiculous research, if the truth be told. And Arming America debunks nothing, exposes nothing — other than the myth that Bellesiles is an honest and responsible scholar.

OK. That’s what I think. But, what does the Brady Bunch say now about their April 18, 2001, love letter to Bellesiles about Arming America? Any second thoughts? Certainly you jest.

When contacted, Amy Stillwell, official spokesthing for the Brady Bunch, says she’ll try to have something in response to these questions but has “nothing” to say “at the moment.” OK. So, what, exactly, does this mean? Is she discussing our questions with her superiors?

Stillwell: “We were actually deciding whether we’d weigh in or not. And right now I don’t think we will. So, we can probably call it a day there.”

    Q: So, you have no comment at all on all the criticism of Bellesiles’ book which you put out a press release praising?!

    A: That’s right. That’s right. And I’ll get back to you if anything changes.

We spoke recently with a professor at Emory University who has closely followed Emory’s investigation of Bellesiles. This individual said: “The people I talk with say that Bellesiles is toast. Emory is going slow in its investigation, trying to follow certain procedures carefully. And they are doing this because they think [Bellesiles] is dead meat and they want to make sure that when they hang him up to rot, the smell won’t come wafting back on them.”

Interesting. But the Brady Bunch smells nothing. They’re still standing by their praise of Bellesiles even though — in terms of his scholarship and his academic career — the guy is a stiff.