Friday, June 3, 2016

History Repeats Itself, Or At Least, Historians Repeat Each Other

A new paper.  Please read and comment.

Bellesiles’ Arming America Redux:
Does The Gunning of America Rewrite American History to Suit Modern Sensibilities?


Fifteen years ago, Michael Bellesiles’ Arming America was the darling of antigun intellectuals because it created an entirely new perception of the American relationship to guns. It implicitly argued for a much narrower reading of the Second Amendment, one compliant with an America (then) that hated guns and did not own them and an ivory tower today that hates guns and the Americans who bought at least 23 million guns in 2015. Questions were soon raised about the accuracy of the statistics in Bellesiles’ articles and book, and then his honesty about where he researched documents, his widespread alteration of quotes, and his citations to documents that directly refuted his claims. He rapidly went from tenured professor of history at Emory University to bartender, picking up some unprecedented punishments along the way for fraud. A new book, Pamela Haag’s The Gunning of America: Business and the Making of American Gun Culture (Basic Books, 2015) makes (by the author’s own admission) many of the same arguments and demonstrates the dangers of unexamined assumptions. Judges and their clerks need to be aware that while the future is known; the past changes at the whim of careless historians.


  1. A few pedantic copy editing considerations--

    Page 1: Have you really not visited your own website since August 20, 2013? ;-)

    Page 9: "shes tart" should be "she starts"

    Page 16: "eventually helps" probably intended to be "eventually helped"

    Page 16: Footnote numbering suddenly starts over here at 1 instead of continuing at 44 (after fn 43 on page 14). Every footnote hereafter should be +43 from what it actually is.

    Page 17: "might mean that saw little" better as "might mean that they saw little" or "might mean that travelers saw little"

    Page 17: "and include more" => "and includes more"

    Page 18: Beginning and end of the block quote seems to be in a slightly smaller font than the rest of the block quote; intentional? Also the block quote is intended while other block quotes (such as on page 21) are not.

    Page 20: "a plantation from whom they asked" reads better as "a plantation where they asked"

    Page 21: "nothing suspicious about bring armed" should be "nothing suspicious about being armed"

    Page 25: whitespace between the end of the block quote and the next paragraph of text is less than the other block quotes

    Page 29: First full paragraph (beginning with "A circa 1820") is indented like a block quote where it shouldn't be

    Page 38: Footnote on the block quote is in regular type, not superscript.

  2. Thank you, Clayton, for another great resource! Last month I noticed a pointer at Digg tto an article making the claims that your paper disproves. Sure enough, it's a shorter form one by Pamela Haag. Reading it made me immediately suspicious of her claims. Good to know I wasn't wrong.

    The article can be found at:

    Best to you always!

  3. Michael, thank you. Exactly the pedantry I want!

  4. Page 17: A quote begins with "travelers [who]... but there's no closing quote so I don't know where the quote ends. Otherwise, Michael found the others I noticed.