The Collapse of Liberal Lies: That Bellesiles Gun Book

One major reason the Soviet Union
finally collapsed around its own socks is that the
ideological dogmas by which it was governed were
eventually exposed as pure and simple lies. If the
liberalism that dominates American politics and culture
ever collapses, it will be for much the same reason.
Just this year, one of the most recent contributions to
liberal scholarship that tried to use historical data to
bolster the case for gun control has all but been

as an outright fraud.

The book in question is

Arming America: The Origins of a Gun Culture
, by
Emory University historian Michael A. Bellesiles,
published in 2000 to ovations from just about every
liberal loudmouth in the country. The book`s argument,
quite simply, is that private gun ownership in early
American history was fairly rare.

If true, that would mean that guns
were not an integral part of our national experience,

private arms
were not necessary to
a free republic and that the habit of owning guns
was really, as Mr. Bellesiles argues, due to the
propaganda efforts of gun manufacturers and their
lackeys later in our history.

Now the book has been

all but demolished.
Not only has its thesis been
shown to have little foundation but Mr. Bellesiles may
very well have simply fabricated his evidence. One major
controversy about the book has to do with the probate
records he says he studied that reveal very few guns in
private ownership.

Mr. Bellesiles says he examined
some 10,000 probate inventories—including those in San
Francisco records between 1849 and 1859—and found that
guns were uncommon in American homes. There`s just one
little problem: The San Francisco records don`t even
exist; they were destroyed during the city`s 1906

That`s not the only problem. One

Clayton Cramer,
says he`s found "hundreds and
hundreds" of errors in the book and the only explanation
is "massive misrepresentation." Another,

James Lindgren,
says the book "counted guns in about
100 wills where people died without wills." And so it
goes, with scholars of all persuasions uncovering flaws,
errors and what many are convinced are simply whoppers.
Mr. Bellesiles, for his part, responds rather lamely,
claiming a flood destroyed many of his notes, so he
can`t produce the evidence for his claims.

A forthcoming issue of the

William and Mary Quarterly
is devoted to
scrutinizing the book, but already there are so many
questions about Mr. Bellesiles` methods—and his
integrity—that the book can no longer be cited as
serious scholarship. But that`s not the way it was when
the book first appeared.

Then, Garry Wills—a self-appointed
expert on the
Second Amendment and gun control advocate—hailed
it on the front page of the New York Times Book
Edmund Morgan, a major academic historian
from Yale, praised it without qualification in the
New York Review of Books. The book walked off with
the distinguished

Bancroft Prize
awarded by Columbia University,
probably the highest honor a work in American history
can receive. Michael Kammen, past president of the
Organization of American Historians,

that "It is certain to endure as a classic
work of significant scholarship with inescapable policy
implications." And we know what those "implications"
are, don`t we? That gun control is legitimate because
few Americans ever owned or cared about guns anyway.

There were some who saw through Mr.
Bellesiles almost at once, however, and most were
supporters of the Second Amendment. Thus, pro-gun rights
activist and writer

David Kopel
cast doubt on the book`s thesis while
most of the academic fancy-pants crowd were cooing over
its "significant scholarship." "A close inspection of
Bellesiles` sources reveals that they not only fail to
support his argument, but prove precisely the reverse,"
Mr. Kopel

only a month after the book was published.

If Mr. Kopel could know that, why
didn`t Mr. Wills, Professor Morgan, Professor Kammen and
all the others who glowed and grinned over what is now
pretty generally believed to be merely a major
contribution to charlatanism? One possible answer is
that they may very well have known it—they just didn`t
want to say so because that would have punctured the
political posturing these doubledomes prefer to the

The decline and fall of Mr.
Bellesiles and his book reminds us once more that the
empire of liberalism is built on
lies. One by one they`re being exposed, and when
they`ve all crashed to the earth, the power structure
liberalism supports will crash with them. As for Mr.
Bellesiles himself, he says he`s now

"what it means to be a Christian and own
guns." How sweet. He`s hardly the

first fake
to thump the Bible in his own defense,
but no doubt whatever conclusions he reaches will be at
least as astonishing as the discredited book he

Sam Francis webpage  


February 07, 2002