Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture / Edition 2by Michael A. Bellesiles
Pub. Date: 10/05/2003
Publisher: Soft Skull Press, Inc.
Basing his arguments on sound and prodigious research, Bellesiles makes it clear that gun ownership was the exception
How and when did Americans develop their obsession with guns? Is gun-related violence so deeply embedded in American historical experience as to be immutable? The accepted answers to these questions are "mythology," says Michael A. Bellesiles.
Basing his arguments on sound and prodigious research, Bellesiles makes it clear that gun ownership was the exceptioneven on the frontieruntil the age of industrialization. In Colonial America the average citizen had virtually no access to or training in the use of firearms, and the few guns that did exist were kept under strict control. No guns were made in America until after the Revolution, and there were few gunsmiths to keep them in repair.
Bellesiles shows that the U.S. government, almost from its inception, worked to arm its citizens, but it met only public indifference and resistance until the 1850s, when technological advancessuch as repeating revolvers with self-contained bulletscontributed to a surge in gun manufacturing. Finally, we see how the soaring gun production engendered by the Civil War, and the decision to allow soldiers to keep their weapons at the end of the conflict, transformed the gun from a seldom-needed tool to a perceived necessityopposing ideas that are still at the center of the fight for and against gun control today.
Michael A. Bellesiles's research set off a chain of passionate reaction after its publication in the Journal of American History in 1996, and Arming America is certain to be one of the most controversial and widely read books on the subject.
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Table of Contents
|Introduction: In Search of Guns||3|
|1||The European Gun Heritage||17|
|2||The Role of Guns in the Conquest of North America||40|
|3||Guns in the Daily Life of Colonial America||70|
|4||Creation of the First American Gun Culture: Indians and Firearms||111|
|5||Brown Bess in the Wilderness||142|
|6||A People Numerous and Unarmed||172|
|7||Government Promotion of Gun Production||208|
|8||From Indifference to Disdain||261|
|9||Creation of a Gun Subculture||305|
|10||The Arming of the American People||372|
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This book was originally awarded the Bancroft Prize in 2001 but was then rescinded due to scholarly misconduct by the author. He was forced to resign his professorship at Emory University after critics revealed that he had blatantly lied about the sources used. He claimed to have consulted many records that were destroyed in the San Francisco fire as well as wills from persons who were known to have died intestate (without leaving a will). The author told thousands of lies in order to pass on his personal political agenda. This book is worth less than the paper it took to print it.
I was shocked by this book. Personally, I check the sources of every book that I read, and I discovered that this books sources were not accurate. In repeated discussions with the author, he has changed his story about where he obtained his sources multiple times, starting with his quick about-face concerning records destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that he said he used. Barley a week goes by that another award is not revoked from his book. If you don't believe me, buy ARMING AMERICA, and MORE GUNS, LESS CRIME. Track down the sources for yourself and see who's telling the truth.
Every prospective reader should know two facts about the author Michael Bellesiles. First, he is no longer a Professor of history at Emory University because Emory forced him to resign. He was forced to resign because of the false, misleading and biased scholarship on which this book is based. Second, although this book originally won the top history book award, the Bancroft, from Columbia University, on December 13, 2002, the Trustees of Columbia revoked the Bancroft and asked for the prize money back. The Anonymous November 25, 2002, review titled "The Fraud is turning out to be truth!" is a simple and transparent lie. The book has only anonymous defenders now.
Excellently presented, well researched! Since it ran contrary to the establish NRA official line, it was hit with unprecedented attack by the NRA and it's pro-gun supporters. To this day, they show up at his lectures and try to pick arguments over extremely minor points. However, Prof Bellesiles' tenacity has been steadily showing his critics to be the ones engaging in fraud and deception (i.e. John Lott's book claiming to show conceal carry laws reduce crime, when in fact state and federal statistics clearly show such laws range from no effect to increasing crime rates). I highly recommend this book for an excellent historical background on todays debates.
?In this controversial and highly politically charged work, Bellesiles attempts to undermine several myths associated with gun use in North America during the colonial, early national, and antebellum periods. Bellesiles attempts to argue that a gun culture did not emerge in the United States, excepting within Amerindian culture, until the American Civil War. Unfortunately, Bellesiles¿ work is plagued with contradictions and obvious political bias which undermines many of his observations and conclusions. For example, after arguing for several pages that 17th century guns were almost entirely ineffective in combat and that axes and bows many times proved more effective than guns, Bellesiles identifies the Amerindians¿ running out of gunpowder as the first of three factors that brought about Metacom's defeat during King Philip's War (pg. 120). However, possibly the most damaging evidence against Bellesiles¿ thesis concerning the development of a gun culture is that, as Bellesiles points out on pages 170 and 182, the myth about Americans' ability to handle firearms and near universal gun ownership among Americans emerged following the Seven Years' War and was firmly in place by the American Revolution; the myth of an armed citizenry is as old as, in fact older than, the nation itself. With this being the case, the myth of gun ownership and gun aptitude in America was in place just as an American identity was about to take shape. Also, even if Bellesiles¿ assertion that America¿s gun culture is rooted in the 1840's and 1850's, firmly being in place by the American Civil War, it does not mean that a gun culture was not a part of an American identity early on in America¿s history; in fact, if Joyce Appleby¿s conclusions in her work Inheriting the Revolution about the creation of an American identity are correct, the creation of a gun culture around the 1840's makes guns a central part of the American identity that Appleby's first generation Americans were creating. In short, just as an American identity was taking shape, a gun subculture was beginning to emerge in the United States, thus calling into question Bellisiles' conclusions about the relationship between guns and American culture.
How about a -minus star. This author may well lose his job because his book appears to be based on non-existant research or 'my dog ate it'. A anti-gun 'historian' from vermont defended this book saying that even Geo Washington and Alex. Hamilton disdained the proficiency of the militia. Say what? Their views of the militia had absolutely nothing to do with ownership of guns in the U.S. My personal research reveals substantial ownership of guns during the Rev period and it indicates to me the author's personal bias against guns and not a scholorly study. I welcome a serious study of ownership of firearms in the Colonial era, but this isn't it.
.. I found Michael Bellesiles' book 'Arming America' both excellent & fascinating. It reinforces my previous beliefs which I have held since grammar school, that the gun culture is based on a 'Second Amendment Mythology' which aggrandizes & glorifies guns in, unfortunately, typical American fashion. .. Yes, there were some minor discrepancies in Michael's research which he has explained satisfactorily, but these are common in many historical efforts, & in this case are only exploited unfairly & unethically by the nra/gun lobby. ..Michael's book is easy to read, and for me, one which was hard to put down from cover to cover - well done Mr B. .. In closing, let me add my own reinforcement to exploding the myth ... I substitute 2nd A phraseology - 'A well baked bread, being necessary for the health/security of a free state; the right of the people to keep & bear flour shall not be infringed' - there is nothing in the above phrase which endorses the usage of flour for anything but baking bread. .. similarly, there is nothing in the 2nd Amendment which endorses the usage of guns by the people, other than in a militia ... which has evolved into the current national guard system.
This book has been exposed as a fraud. Much of the research, though extensive, has been very carefully twisted and misrepresented. In some cases, the referenced data has been made up, such as the records destroyed in the early 1900's. I find it particulary interesting that this book came out in September 2000, just two months before the election. Don't waste your time with this one.
This book has been proven over and over to be a work of the authors biased fantasy. He can produce no documentation to prove his points and in one case has been caught quoting facts from documents that were destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake in 1904. Read John Lotts book 'More guns,less crime' if you want honest unbiased research.
Belleselles has presented some intriguing and well researched information into the early gun culture in the United States. Its a fact that George Washington, among others, had no particular use for the militia. Also, Alexander Hamilton, in the Federalist papers, says that relying on the miltia would have cost the US the war. The most impressive piece of research is the probate records. Taken together, they present some strong evidence that gun ownership in america was lower than previously thought pre-Civil war (although the book overstates its case)
On the positive side, Michael Bellesiles writes well and did a lot of research.
Yet there are major problems with the book. Arming America is the subject of an article by Kimberly Strassel in the Wall Street Journal at opinionjournal.com. Strassel points out that Bellesiles' data has been checked by other pro-gun control scholars. They found that there are 3 times more guns than he says there are in the only data sources he cites. Gun ownership is 50% or more in every published study of guns in probate records--except Bellesiles, who finds only 15%.
Scholars who are going through the book's claims are finding that every major surprising argument is mostly unsupported by the sources that he cites. The gunsmiths counts are way off. On close examination, the data on militia arms counts and gun censuses is also falling apart. So far not one scholar has come forward and said that he or she checked Bellesiles' data and found it correct. Several scholars have checked his data and found it false.
Everyone is waiting for him to answer his critics but he has not done so yet.
Bellesiles omits so much historical evidence to 'prove' his 'points' about gun ownership early on in our country's history. One example is that there is not much written anywhere about people owning guns, so therefore not many people owned them (according to the author). Now, I haven't seen much of anything anywhere written about outhouses, so therefore, there weren't many of them (using the author's logic). Sound correct? This so-called historian needs to read more about history, instead of making up his own politically correct version of it.
Unfortunately, Bellesiles effort fails to consider all the evidence. Exanple: Bellesiles tries to estimate the prevalence of firearms in colonial America by examining old probate records. However, firearms were rarely included in the probate records, even if the deceased had owned a sizable collection. The estate of Thomas Jefferson is typical. Jefferson was a an avid hunter, shooter and gun collector, but not one of his firearms appeared on the probate record of his estate. Furthermore, Bellesiles appears to quote George Washington out of context. Bellesiles quotes Washington complaining about the readiness of one company of colonial militia (about 1756) to indicate all the colonials did not possess firearms. However, the true context of Washington's comments are that he thought that one company of militia was atypical, and not up to the standards of the greater portion of the militia.