Monday, November 30, 2009

In Defense of Michael Bellesiles

Laci the Dog has several brilliant posts about this. The gist of it is simple, well described by the exerpt I've put here.

I have been asking this question for quite some time: How can Michael Bellesiles be ripped to shreds for his book Arming America, yet we still see John Lott cited as authoritative about CCW reducing crime?

What' s your opinion? Please leave a comment.


  1. Mike, if you are interested here is a link dated today, Nov 30 from the Cuyahoga Falls press with the latest info about Camposino, the fellow who almost blew himself up in a pipe bomb accident in his apartment.

  2. To say that Lott should be as discredited as Bellesiles only works if you don't defend Bellesiles. Saying that Lott is wrong about his claims due to any misdeeds but Bellesiles is right about his claims despite any misdeeds is merely the opposite of saying that Lott is right and Bellesiles is wrong. If someone were to say that they are both right or both wrong, that would be the consistent position and perhaps worth paying attention to.

    Also, is it an argument for Bellesiles to attack Clayton Cramer, who was just the first of many who found problems with Bellesiles' research? Better to attack Cramer's book "Armed America" which refutes Bellesiles claims -- I haven't seen anyone actually refute Cramer on this (but I don't see everything).

    Also, I did not see Laci's explanation as to why so many anti-gunowner luminaries have distanced themselves from Bellesiles.

    Here's an argument Laci might have missed: We now know that climate scientists do it, so perhaps everyone does it, in which case why hold it against Bellesiles?

  3. Laci said:
    "As every American historian knows (and knew), no guns were made in the colonies, and relatively few in the United States until well into the 19th century."

    Not true at all. What the revisionists tend to leave out is that while almost no military muskets were made in the Colonies and were indeed imported largely from Britain and France, there were scores of private rifle makers supplying rifles -- not muskets -- to the colonists.

    While some of the bigger cities like Boston, New York and Williamsburg had full service gun makers and gun shops, more rural areas tended to rely on more diverse craftsmen. Blacksmiths forged rifled barrels as well as shod horses. Furniture makers also crafted stocks. Clockmakers also made locks and the term "locksmith" was applied to colonial gunlock makers that happened to also make door and box locks as well.

    While there were several named gunmakers, very few made every part instead relying on other craftsmen and merely assembled the guns that bore their name and mark as well as the marks of the lock or barrelmaker as well. Most of these rifles were hand made and fitted and were not mass produced. Usually parts made by the same makers were not even interchangeable.

    So while it is fare to say that the majority of military muskets were purchased abroad, it is very incorrect to assume that if it were not for foreign muskets, that the colonists did not possess arms. Almost all rifles used in the conflict were manufactured in the colonies with only a few British units fielding rifles at all. The few (perhaps a couple of hundred) rifles fielded by the British were made in Britain, Germany, Canada, and, yes, within the colonies.

  4. My econometrics professor showed us the errors both of them made, and told us "if you do anything this stupid, I'll make you redo your project, or fail you if you actually fudge the data."

    These particular 'studies' are no more scientific than a cage match between Al Gore and Glen Beck, and anyone attempting to cite them in professional discourse would be laughed out of the room. They are useful only for inflaming the passions and prejudices of gun-nuts in the NRA and the Brady Campaign.

  5. My understanding is that the Americans transitioned to foreign-bought (French) military muskets as their military 'professionalised' (got uniforms!) during the war.

    Fatwhiteman, would it be appropriate and accurate to simplify the distinction to the following?

    Military muskets:
    --Cheap & standard, which simplified logistics and allowed quasi-industrial production.
    --Fast loading and short-ranged for military volley-fire.

    Colonial rifled-muskets:
    --Locally made, labor-intensive, and high maintenance.
    --Slow-loading but long-ranged, good for hunting, skirmishing, and guerrilla warfare.

    I did an economic study on firm organization during the early industrial revolution--gun-making was one of the first things to change from artisan to factory production in the UK. Interesting for an econ dork like me...

  6. FWM, Thanks for the fascinating history.

  7. Anonymous, Thanks for the comments.