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Posted: 9/18/2001 12:21:14 PM EDT
Acclaimed Anti-Gun 'History' a Fraud? Phil Brennan, NewsMax.com Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2001 Frenzied anti-self-defense zealots hailed his book as proof that colonial Americans owned few guns and that the idea of a nation of well-armed citizens was a myth, and he won a prestigious award for his rooting out the truth about guns in early America. But new research indicates that in many instances historian Michael A. Bellesiles simply twisted the facts to fit his own agenda. In a blockbuster expose published in the Boston Globe last week, much of Bellesiles' book ''Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture'' was called into question. According to Bellesiles he examined more than 11,000 probate records of more than 1,200 counties, counting the number of guns listed in probate inventories. He wrote that he learned that between 1765 and 1821, no more than 17 percent of the inventories listed guns. He claimed that the rate of gun ownership was even lower in the 1760-1795 period - a mere 14 percent, he said. "[O]ver half of these guns were listed as broken or otherwise defective,'' he wrote. Citing shocking examples of the author's apparent misuse of historical documents, the liberal Globe charged that records the newspaper examined "suggest a disturbing pattern of misuse of data by Bellesiles in his book and in an article defending his thesis which he published on his Web site." The paper reported that Bellesiles's most adamant critic, Northwestern University law professor James Lindgren, would present evidence that Bellesiles may have stretched or distorted the historical record in trying to prove his claim. The Globe said it has "reviewed substantial portions of records Lindgren will cite: 18th-century probate records in Vermont and Rhode Island. The Globe has also checked into Bellesiles's claim to have studied certain records in San Francisco, records county officials say were destroyed by fire in 1906. "In each case, the records appear to support Lindgren's accusation and suggest a disturbing pattern of misuse of data by Bellesiles in his book and in an article defending his thesis which he published on his Web site." In his book Bellesiles claimed that historical records allegedly showed ''gun ownership was exceptional in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth century, even on the frontier ... The gun culture grew with the gun industry.'' The book drew immediate criticism, not only from advocates of gun ownership such as the NRA, but from academics as well. Said Bentley College historian Joyce Malcolm, an expert on the Second Amendment: ''The more I looked at it, the more disturbed I became. All historians can make mistakes and differ on interpretation, but in his case it's not just interpretation, or one or two points, but matters of fact and repeatedly.'' According to the Globe, Lindgren, a specialist in probate law and statistical analysis who says he is a gun control advocate, became suspicious of Bellesiles's findings early on and began posting his objections on history discussion sites. He looked over some of Bellesiles's sources and eventually wrote the academic paper, ''Counting Guns in Early America,'' which he was to present at Harvard and later at other institutions, the Globe reported.
Link Posted: 9/18/2001 12:22:00 PM EDT
(continued) "The paper argues, among other things, that Bellesiles's data are grossly in error and that some of his conclusions are mathematically impossible. Lindgren also says that when he contacted Bellesiles, trying to get him to produce the details of his research, Bellesiles was unable to do so. ''In virtually every part of the book examined in detail,'' Lindgren told the Globe, ''there are problems ... An enormous number of people have become cautious. It's clear that this book is impressive to legal and social historians who do not check the background. Law professors and quantitative historians have been suspicious about the book since its release.'' The Globe cited shocking examples its investigation unearthed, also noting that serious questions have also been raised about an article Bellesiles posted on his Web site called ''Men with Guns,'' which seeks to buttress the findings of his book. In it, Bellesiles discusses some Vermont probate files that list gun ownership. Lindgren alleges that Bellesiles's list misrepresents the content of the originals. A Globe examination last week of original records in the Rutland, Vt., probate court for the 1770s and '80s shows that Lindgren is apparently correct. Six of many similar examples: Bellesiles version: ''Cotton Fletcher, broken gun 6s [six shillings]" The original: '' a gun @ 6 shillings.'' Bellesiles: ''Isaac Cushman, old gun 12 s.'' The original: ''one gun barrel and stock, 12 s.'' Bellesiles: ''Samuel Crippin, old gun 10 s.'' The original: ''one gun @ 10 s.'' Bellesiles: ''Asher Culver, 2 old guns.'' The original: ''firearm.'' Bellesiles: ''Jonathan Mayo, broken gun 6 s.'' The original: ''1 lb. gunpowder 6 s., 3 lbs leads 3 s.'' Bellesiles: ''Abel Moulton, 5 muskets, some old, two [pounds], 8 s.'' The original: ''Fire Arms, 2 [pounds] 8 s.'' When asked by the Globe about the discrepancies, Bellesiles said he was mystified. ''I don't know. I am very upset about that. It's a mystery to me. I might have looked at a different record book. It's an egregious error on my part.'' But he told the Globe that he stood by his research. Others question its validity. ''There are many questions raised about his use of probate records and other materials,'' Brandeis historian David Hackett Fischer, an authority on early America, told the Globe. ''They are very serious criticisms. It cuts to the very foundation of what he reports, and convincing answers are not coming from him.''
Link Posted: 9/18/2001 3:20:30 PM EDT
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