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Arming America by Michael Bellesiles
Michael Bellesiles' book
"Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture"

UPDATE 4/7/04

     While it has been several years since the book was debunked, people are still talking about it. CLICK HERE to see an article at the Conglomerate BLOG:

James Lindgren & The Debunking of a Historian
James Lindgren spoke to the Federalist Society at the University of Wisconsin today about his extensive work debunking the claims contained in Michael Bellesiles’s Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture. Jim's law review article on the subject is HERE, and there is no shortage of stories in the popular press.

NEWS UPDATE 1/8/03 Publisher Alfred A. Knopf will not print 2nd edition and "We are in the process of ending our contractual arrangement with Michael for 'Arming America,"
CNN "Tarnished history book publication halted"
THE WASHINGTON TIMES Discredited volume on U.S. gun culture going out of print "As a responsible publisher, we thought it best to let the book go out of print."
NEWS UPDATE 1/28/03 9th Circuit Court of Appeals forced to amend Silveira v. Lockyer Second Amendment case to exclude citations from Bellesiles
9th Circuit Court Ditches Anti-gun "History" Professor at

NEW UPDATE 4/15/05

     I was prompted by a student doing a report to do some additional research on this topic and came across the following links from the Idaho Librarian. Both of these articles are a must read and the best articles that I have seen in a while.

A Record Enriched:
The Case for a Library Catalog Note for Michael Bellesiles’s Arming America:
The Origins of a National Gun Culture

PART I (This is an outline of the background and history of the controversy over Arming America and offers a rare glimpse into the biography of a book in which author, publisher, reviewers, award committees, the media, academics, and librarians have all played roles.)

PART II concludes the discussion of the controversy over Arming America by suggesting how librarians might respond: viz. by placing a note in the library’s catalog record for the book which informs patrons about the book’s intellectual and historical context.

     With the information that much if not all of the data used to write the book, Arming America, was false, I decided to see if any libraries in Orange County had the book on the shelf.  In April, I used the internet to search and found that 14 libraries in the area, including some in Orange County, had the book.  I decided to see if I could get one library to remove the book.  I chose the Goshen Library, at random, to see if they would remove the book based on the fact that it had been discredited.  I called the library and on April 30th, 2002 I sent them follow up e-mails.   The Library Director was very nice and willing to base her decision on the facts only.
     Removing a book from a library should not be done lightly and should be done only after careful consideration and then based only on facts in evidence.  Even then, some books that contain some errors or misrepresentation should not necessary be removed.  The recent books by Goodwin and Ambrose contained plagiarism but are examples of books that still might be worth keeping.  Arming America, however, is a book that has been as discredited almost as much as any book can be discredited and is in a class by itself.
    The Goshen Library should be be complimented for its willingness to listen and then make a rational decision based only on the presented facts including research by others and Emory University's final report and findings. I will be contacting other libraries to ask them to remove the book in the next few months.
     The following are a list of some of the links and articles I have found.  #9 is my original e-mail to the Goshen Library and #10 is the Goshen Library's final reply.

Western Missouri Shooters Alliance
  1.   The Chronicle of Higher Education, From the issue dated February 1, 2002,  Did the Shootouts Over 'Arming America' Divert Attention From the Real Issues? Scholars heaped praise on a book, ignoring critics who have been vindicated on many points, By DANNY POSTEL
  2. Clayton Cramer's information on the book and lots of links to articles about the book.
  3.  Disarming America, One of the worst cases of academic irresponsibility in memory. By Melissa Seckora, NR editorial associate October 15, 2001 issue, Originally posted September 11, 2001
  4.  Disarming America, Part II,  Why won’t Michael Bellesiles seriously respond to his critics?  By Melissa Seckora, NR editorial associate,  November 26, 2001

  6. Nation Review OnLine Disarming America, Part III, Award-winning author Michael Bellesiles changes his story again. A report by Melissa Seckora, NR editorial associate,  January 29, 2002
  7. From what we know, it would appear to be impossible to count guns in San Francisco probate inventories from 1849-50 or 1858-59 in our collection, since we have no such inventories.

  8. Last, we cannot confirm that Professor Bellesiles did substantial research in our collection in 1993 (as he claims) or at any other time before his visit in January, 2002. We do not remember him visiting our collection before his recent visit. We have searched our log books and invoices for the years 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996 and find no record for research fees or photocopies. Further, we are not cited or acknowledged in his book, something we always expect and receive.
  9. Oct. 25: Michael Bellesiles Resigns from Emory Faculty, October 25, 2002,

  10. Robert A. Paul, Interim Dean of Emory College
         I have accepted the resignation of Michael Bellesiles from his position as Professor of History at Emory University, effective December 31, 2002.
    Although we would not normally release any of the materials connected with a case involving the investigation of faculty misconduct in research, in light of the intense scholarly interest in the matter I have decided, with the assent of Professor Bellesiles as well as of the members of the Investigative Committee, to make public the report of the Investigative Committee appointed by me to evaluate the allegations made against Professor Bellesiles (none of the supporting documents, however, are being made public). The text of the report is now available online at
         Emory considers the report authoritative.
         In conducting this investigation, Emory has scrupulously observed the procedures laid out in our published policy statement regarding matters of alleged research misconduct. Throughout the investigation process our efforts have been guided by the objectives of maintaining the highest standards of scholarly integrity, while also striving to ensure the confidentiality of the proceedings and to protect the rights of a member of Emory's faculty.
         The Investigative Committee was chaired by Stanley N. Katz, Professor of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, and included Hanna H. Gray, Judson Distinguished Professor of History Emerita and President Emerita, University of Chicago, and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, James Duncan Phillips Professor of History, Harvard University. I hereby express my appreciation to these distinguished scholars for contributing their effort and expertise to the resolution of this matter of such great importance not only to Emory but to the wider scholarly community. Committee members have stated that they will not discuss or respond to questions about the investigation or the report.
         Emory also wishes to express its thanks and appreciation to Professor Bellesiles for his many years of service and his many valuable contributions to the University.
         Emory now considers the investigation of allegations of research misconduct against Professor Bellesiles in connection with his book Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture to be concluded and resolved.
  11.  REPORT, of the Investigative Committee in the matter of Professor Michael Bellesiles, 10 July 2002

  12. Selected sections from the report:
    The most egregious misrepresentation has to do with his handling of the more than 900 cases reported by Alice Hanson Jones. When critics pointed out that Jones’ data disagreed with his, Bellesiles responded by explaining that he did NOT include Jones’s data in his computations because her inventories, taken during the build-up to the American revolution, showed a disproportionately high number of guns! Here is a clear admission of misrepresentation, since the label on column one in Table One clearly says "1765-1790." If Professor Bellesiles silently excluded data from the years 1774- 1776, as he asserts, precisely
    because they failed to show low numbers of guns, he has willingly misrepresented the evidence. This, compounded with all the other inconsistencies in his description of his method and sources and the fact that neither he nor anyone else has been able to replicate any part of his data, suggest that there is a real discrepancy between the research Professor Bellesiles did and his presentation of that research in Table One. ... In summary, we find on Questions 1 and 2,
    that despite serious failures of and carelessness in the gathering and presentation of archival records and the use of quantitative analysis, we cannot speak of intentional fabrication or falsification. On Question 3, we find that the strained character of Professor Bellesiles’ explanation raises questions about his veracity with respect to his account of having consulted probate records in San Francisco County. On Question 4, dealing with the construction of the vital Table One, we find evidence of falsification. And on Question 5, which raises the standard of professional historical scholarship, we find that Professor Bellesiles falls short on all three counts.

  14. Thank you for your help
    Michael A. Bellesiles's Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun  Culture
    This is a link to the article:

    additional info:
    University asks historian to defend his research on gun  ownership book

    By David Mehegan, Globe Staff, 10/3/2001  Emory University historian Michael A. Bellesiles, author of a controversial  book on gun ownership in early America, has been asked by his department  to write a detailed defense of his research for the book.  The 2000 book, ''Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture,''  won the prestigious Bancroft Prize for history, but a story last month in the  Globe appeared to confirm a pattern of questionable research claims.  ''What is important is that he defend himself and the integrity of his  scholarship immediately,'' said James Melton, Emory history department  chairman. ''Depending upon his reponse, the university will respond  appropriately.''  Melton added, ''If there is prima facie evidence of scholarly misconduct, the  university has to conduct a thorough investigation. Whether it be a purely  internal inquiry, or the university brings in distinguished scholars in the field,  will depend on how Michael responds. It is important that he be accorded due  process.''  Bellesiles's book argued that few Americans had owned guns in early  America, and that more than half of those that were owned were old or  broken. The book set off a storm of protest by gun-owner organizations, but  independent scholars also raised serious questions about the veracity of  Bellesiles's research. The Globe story confirmed allegations that San  Francisco probate records, which Bellesiles had cited in his book as one of  his sources, had been destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. It also  confirmed that an article by Bellesiles on his Web site, defending his work,  misstated the contents of some 18th-century Vermont probate records.  Melton, in a telephone interview yesterday, said, ''I advised him that he  needed to find a public professional forum where he would give a full and  complete response to the allegations against him.'' Melton's letter to Bellesiles  asked for ''a detailed point by point response.''  Bellesiles, responding by e-mail to a request for comment by the Globe,  confirmed he will write a response in the quarterly newsletter of the  Organization of American Historians. He wrote, ''I am trying to treat errors in  an honest, scholarly, and non-confrontational form.''  David Mehegan can be reached by e-mail at  This story ran on page C5 of the Boston Globe on 10/3/2001. © Copyright  2001 Globe Newspaper Company

    ''Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture''  debunked by Boston Globe

    New doubts about gun historian, Research to receive hard critique today By  David Mehegan, Globe Staff, 9/11/2001  The Article in part:  When Emory University historian Michael A. Bellesiles published his  sweeping historical study of guns in Colonial America last fall, the reaction  was electric.
    His thesis that guns were relatively rare in Colonial households, and that the  American ''gun culture'' didn't take hold until long after the Founding Fathers  drafted the Second Amendment's ''right to bear arms,'' was immediately hailed  by gun control advocates and by a host of historians impressed by his bold  rewriting of conventional wisdom.
    Today, at Harvard Law School, Bellesiles's most adamant critic,  Northwestern University law professor James Lindgren, plans to detail  evidence that Bellesiles may have stretched or distorted the historical record  in trying to prove his claim.
    The Boston Globe 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.  Separately, in his review of Rhode Island records, Bellesiles writes in his  book that of 186 estates of ''property-owning adult males'' in Colonial  Providence, only 90 listed guns, and ''more than half of these guns are  evaluated as old and of poor quality.''
    Lindgren found that 17 of the estates were not of men but women. He also  found that among 153 males whose estates included inventories, 94 mentions  guns. But only nine of those are listed as old or in disrepair.
    A Globe review of some of the Providence records, on file at Boston  Athenaeum, appears to confirm Lindgren's findings. There were many estates  of women among those Bellesiles cites, and few indicated guns in poor  condition.
    ''There are many questions raised about his use of probate records and other  materials,'' says Brandeis historian David Hackett Fischer, an authority on  early America. ''They are very serious criticisms. It cuts to the very foundation  of what he reports, and convincing answers are not coming from him.''

  15. THE FINAL REPLY FROM THE GOSHEN LIBRARY, (also sent to other libraries in the Ramapo Catskill Library System):

  16. Last spring, a patron challenged the inclusion of the book Arming America: the origins of a national gun culture, by Michael Bellesiles in our collection. I am sharing a summary of the issues, as several of your libraries own the book as well.

    Although the book had won the Bancroft Prize for history and was well reviewed for its original hypothesis, the nature of the research was challenged by James Lindgren of Northwestern University Law School. The story was reported in the Boston Globe In September 2001, and Lindgren published an article in the Yale Law Review in April 2002. Emory University, Bellesile's (Emeritus Professor of History) employer convened an Investigatory Committee charged with determining if he had fabricated and/or falsified the research. The Committee reported in July 2002 , finding that he had done so and that he had "deviated from accepted practices of reporting the results of research". On October 25, Emory University accepted Professor Bellesile's resignation.

    This seems to me to transcend the allegations of plagiarism against Goodwin and Ambrose. I am honoring the patron's request and withdrawing the book from Goshen's collection.
    . T --
    Pauline J. Kehoe, Director
    Goshen Public Library and Historical Society
    203 Main Street, Goshen, NY 10924
    845-294-6606, x.7
    "The test of our progress is ... whether we provide enough for those who have too little." FDR

    I will add additional links as I find them.