Theghost of Bellesiles continues to haunt us


June 11, 2012, 07:49 PM
For those of you who may never have heard of the case, Bellesiles was a "noted" historian who published a book called, "Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture," which stated that throughout most of American history, few people actually owed guns, and the "popular image" of privately-owned firearms was a creation of the NRA. The book was later proven to be a complete fraud, but it's effects continue to haunt us.

Here is a link to an MP-3 file, where oral arguements are presented befor the Illinois Supreme Court for concealed carry. About 1/3 of the way through (sorry, don't have a time hack), one of the justices points out that historically, most people didn't have handguns, and that only the rich carried them for dueling and such.

As disappointing as the oral arguements sound at this point, this same judge later really reams an attornery who makes one weak arguement after another, and she's later joined by another judge. She actually seems to argue the 2nd Amendment better than any of the attornies.

At any rate, if you enjoy this sort of debate, this file is great.

Here's the link to the court arguements:

Here's a link to the Wiki article on Bellesiles:

- - - Yoda

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June 11, 2012, 07:57 PM
Back in the old days, when we were under the King's thumb, we couldn't make our own shovels.. weren't allowed to forge metal. Everything had to be shipped over. Probably to make sure that weapons weren't made and then of course taxes/duty.
I think the oldest manufacturer in the US is Ames. They make shovels.

June 11, 2012, 08:51 PM
I've never heard that, CD, but I had heard that during the revolutionary War era, handguns were rather unusual, being flintlock single shots, when a rifle or musket was a better hunting/defensive arm. The time when the pistol was reserved for the rich was the era of the complicated and very expensive to manufacture wheel lock. The flintlock broke the class barrier for short guns, and the cap lock crushed what was left.

June 11, 2012, 11:50 PM
IIRC, Bellesiles had some rather prestigeous award revoked....The Bancroft Literary award, perhaps???? I'm a bit fuzzy on the details.

June 12, 2012, 09:09 AM
As criticism grew and charges of scholarly misconduct were made, Emory University conducted an internal inquiry into Bellesiles's integrity, appointing an independent investigative committee composed of three leading academic historians from outside Emory.[18] Bellesiles failed to provide investigators with his research notes, claiming the notes were destroyed in a flood.[19]
(Wiki article, op cit.)

As I read this, I couldn't help but be amused since it reminded me of our very own pro-2A meme that goes, "I lost all my firearms in a tragic boating accident.":D

I am appalled that Bellesiles is still being cited as any kind of authority.

Some sample links relating to debunking anti-gun propaganda:
(available in Spanish)

... and so forth.

Terry, 230RN

(PS: See my sig line, by the way. The link provides evidence of how well people are "protected" by their own governments.)

June 13, 2012, 09:27 AM
Bellesiles was totally discredited many years ago. His research was unscientific and skewed by his anti-gun bias. His methodology was not just flawed, it was fraudulent. I am not surprised that a brain dead, idiot judge is still citing his flawed and discredited work. A large percentage of judges don't have the intelligence to operate a tricycle let alone dabble in the law.

June 13, 2012, 02:29 PM
I am not surprised that a brain dead, idiot judge is still citing his flawed and discredited work.

I don't believe that the judge was citing Bellesiles work, in this instance. The judge was correct in that in early America, pistols were rare and expensive, almost exclusively owned by "gentlemen." A flintlock pistol wasn't very useful for hunting, and few were small enough to be conveniently carried concealed. If you wanted to defend yourself, you took your musket, rifle, or shotgun, which was also useful for putting game on the table. For strictly defense against brigands, swords were more "gentlemanly" (plus a blade never runs out of ammo, or has misfires).

June 13, 2012, 04:40 PM
Handguns did not become a particularly useful item for general purpose self defense, relative to long guns, until Sam Colt did his thing in the 1840's. Even today, lots of folks go with the "handgun is for getting you to you long gun" thing. For the purposes of establishing common use of an item in society, since Sam Colt, the handgun has been at least as popular as the long gun in self defense and since 1900, it has become what most people have chosen for purpose specific defensive arms. However, pistols existed in reasonable abundance in the time of the founding fathers (ask the ghost of Alexander Hamilton!) and they saw fit not to exclude them or otherwise qualify the Second Amendment with regard to the length of the arms, the bearing of which will not be infringed.

June 13, 2012, 04:45 PM
one of the justices points out that historically, most people didn't have handguns, and that only the rich carried them for dueling and such.

That's largely correct. Handguns were not very common until the late 19th century, when mass production finally permitted "lemon squeezer" style repeating revolvers to be cheaply produced. Even the Colt SAA's were pretty pricey and would rarely appear on a frontiersman's hip until the 20th century.

As far as flintlock handguns, I've never seen any evidence that they existed in particularly large numbers in the colonies or early Republic. They were around, of course, but not prominent.

Rifles were quite expensive until the mid 19th century. They were the firearm most Americans *wanted*, I suspect, but affording one was another matter. The professional hunters could afford one as a tool of the trade--whether 18th century longhunters in the east or the mountain men of the fur trade. Those guys were *RICH* though. The ones who survived, anyway. And some officers could afford them. Lewis & Clark prized their limited supply, and mostly shunned the muskets. But it took the mass production of the Civil War and afterwards to make rifles an affordable tool for an average American. If you look at Winchester's 19th century production figures, you can see how fast they outsold handguns.

Military muskets were also not too common in private hands prior to the great surplus after the CW. They were bulky, heavy, and ate a ton of expensive powder and lead. So when you see early reports complaining about how few militiamen had muskets, you have to remember those guys are talking about MUSKETS, not just firearms in general. A musket is a military firearm of large caliber that above all can mount a bayonet. Plenty of officers of the day believed that unless you could stick a bayonet on it, it wasn't fit for infantry service. A bunch of farmers showing up with scatterguns would have caused many a facepalm.

Fine fowlers were also around, but though smoothbore if you wanted one suitable for shooting-flying, you'd want to have it made by a specialist and properly balanced for the task. That meant a light but strong barrel and all the fitting requirements associated with fine shotguns. In other words--they weren't cheap.

Really, the national firearm of choice (and necessity) prior to the CW was the humble scattergun, trade gun or barn gun. It could be dressed up to look like a rifle, or left in crude stock. But it got the job done well enough. And it didn't take a master smith or cost a fortune to make one. It was usually .60 cal or less and didn't eat an excess amount of powder or shot.

So a more accurate image of the typical early American frontiersman would not be the man in buckskins with his rifle, but the farmer in cotton with his dogs, axe and disreputable looking smoothbore firelock. A quick trip to GB will still find a ton of these old pieces for sale, many or most of them converted over to caplock in the 19th century by the children or grandchildren of the original owners. They don't cost much because they have no provenance and weren't made by any famous smith. And they're not exactly in prime condition LOL These guns got USED. To scare off bears, fill the meat bag, and defend the house. Decade after decade. Until finally tossed in the barn or attic and replaced by some new factory repeater. If only they could speak, the stories they'd tell would be a heck of a lot more interesting than most of the fine rifles and presentation pieces you'll be likely to find in museums.

June 13, 2012, 05:09 PM
The link to the court arguments no longer works.

Bellesiles passed off a piece of fiction as historical research. More importantly, his peers in higher education bought the story hook, line and sinker. Bellesiles won the Bancroft prize for literary work. It soon started to unravel and Bellesiles was forced to resign his position at Emory University.

The Bellesiles scandal is attracting media attention in the US, but it has barely shown up on Canadian radar. Michael Bellesiles, an historian at Emory University in Atlanta, won the prestigious Bancroft Prize in 2001, but he has now been forced to resign from his university position, because charges of "fraud" and "intentional deception."


In 2000, Bellesiles was being fawned upon by academic and popular critics alike for his book Arming America: the Origins of a National Gun Culture. Peter Onuf, the author of Jefferson’s Empire, opined that "Michael A. Bellesiles moves to the front rank of American historians with this deeply researched, brilliantly argued, energetically written, and timely book." Robert J. Spitzer, author of The Politics of Gun Control, claimed the book was, "Meticulously, even extravagantly, researched,…" Michael Zuckerman, the author of Peaceable Kingdoms even said, "This is stunning history, brilliantly argued. It throws into a cocked hat our most cherished assumptions about guns and gun culture in early America." Today, these critics are silently eating crow.

What was all the fuss about? In his book, Bellesiles claimed to have examined over 11,000 probate records between 1765 and 1850 and found a surprisingly small number of firearms. He concluded that firearm ownership was less widespread than previously believed, so that, before the 1860s, a widespread "gun culture" didn’t exist. More provocatively, he claimed that the onset of the US Civil War, and the rapid growth of the arms industry, gave birth to the distinctive American gun culture. If true, this would undercut the myth of the American "minuteman" who plays an important role in American political theory.


Worse was in store. When the records were checked further, many of the records Bellesiles claimed existed couldn’t be found. When asked, he had various excuses, each more implausible than the ones he’d used earlier. All however were variations of ‘the dog ate my homework.’


Particularly troubling, archives where Bellesiles claimed to have taken extensive notes had no record he’d ever been there. His goose was cooked when he was confronted with claiming to have studied records that were lost in the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906.


Academics such as professor Bordua argue that the ease with which his book was accepted by academics is even more shocking than Bellesiles' deficient scholarship. How could anyone be awarded the Bancroft Prize without any serious effort being made to corroborate his research? The real scandal is that not that a professor would conduct fraudulent work, but that his peers accepted it. The most plausible explanation is that ideologues believe the end justifies the means.

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