Shooting the Messenger: Jon Wiener on Arming America


Mr. Sternstein is Professor Emeritus of History, Brooklyn College, CUNY, and co-editor of The Encyclopedia of American Biography.

Jon Wiener's recent brief for the defense of Arming America, "Fire at Will", in the Nation, fits into a larger pattern originally pioneered in this case by the subject of the inquiry himself, Michael Bellesiles. It's called "Shooting the Messenger," a tactic invariably employed by politicians who find themselves under indictment for fraud or corruption. Rather than confront the evidence of their wrongdoing, they lash out, claiming that they're victims of partisan prosecutors who are going after their hide because they are "tribunes of the people." Former Congressman James Traficante, now a convicted felon, played this role to the hilt, focusing his rage on Clinton's Attorney General Janet Reno whom he fantasized was motivated by personal and political animus against him because of what he knew about the Chinese Connection to the Clinton White House.

It is highly unusual, however, to see this tried and true tactic of "shooting the messenger" practiced by a professional historian not under fire and not a professional politician. But this is precisely what Jon Wiener has attempted to do in his defense of Bellesiles against charges of scholarly misconduct. Instead of dealing with the evidence scholars like Professors James Lindgren, Randolph Roth, Gloria Main, Robert Churchill, and Clayton Cramer and others have submitted which have raised serious questions about the reliability and honesty of Bellesilles research, Wiener has gone out of his way to try to discredit Arming America's critics, none of whom he has interviewed personally for his article. And, indeed, since his article contains so many errors, there is reason to question whether he has ever seriously examined their criticisms and the evidence supporting them.

Hatchet Job

The most egregious example of Wiener's smear tactic is his treatment of Professor Lindgren, Bellesiles's most formidable critic. Wiener begins his hatchet job on Lindgren by implying that he had interviewed him personally. "Who is James Lindgren?" Wiener asks ominously, and then responds, "He told me he has no connection to the NRA. . . ." This phrasing suggests that Wiener had an extensive personal interview with Lindgren, and also subtly insinuates that Lindgren could have an NRA connection that he may not have told Wiener about.

Contrary to the impression Wiener tries to make, his only contact with Lindgren, other than a couple of perfunctory e-mailed "thank you" notes on both sides, were two fairly long e-mails from Lindgren in reply to the following two from Wiener, which provide an excellent illustration of where Wiener is coming from and his limited understanding of the subject he purports to examine.

(1) Sorry to take up more of your time with the Bellesiles case, but I'm writing about it belatedly for The Nation -- which is of course initially sympathetic to the gun control implications of his book. I've got your piece from the Wm & mary Q Law Rev -- is there anything more recent of yours that I should see? Thanks for your help.

(2) You may recall that I'm writing a piece for The Nation mag. on Bellesiles. My editors want to know whether you have any connection to the NRA at all --are you a member, have you received any funding from them, have you had any contact with NRA staff over your recent work on guns. Thanks for your help.

It is notable that Wiener was totally unaware of Lindgren's powerful review essay, "Fall from Grace: Arming America and the Bellesiles Scandal," in the Yale Law Journalwhen he began his Nation piece, even though tens of thousands of readers (now well over one hundred thousand!) had downloaded it from several websites. But while that is disquieting in itself, his e-mails demonstrate something even more disturbing: they show that he and his editors were desperate to link Lindgren with the NRA, the better to sully his scholarly integrity.

This attempt to undermine Lindgren, who in the past published two pro-gun control articles, by tying him to the NRA is particularly reprehensible, when, as Wiener was advised before he wrote his article, Michael Bellesiles is the one who proudly announced that he was once an NRA member. In a taped interview published in the Emory Report in 1999, Bellesiles said, "I'm familiar with guns -- I used to be in the NRA, as a matter of fact." Indeed, his claimed NRA membership was well known to people in his circle, one of whom Wiener interviewed. In the Chicago-Kent Law Review, Bellesiles's friend and supporter, Stanford Professor Jack Rakove thanked "Michael Bellesiles, a card-carrying member of the NRA, for general guidance." Isn't it odd that Wiener, an academic historian supposedly committed to parsing the evidence before him fairly, tries to imply that someone with absolutely no ties -- ever -- with the NRA had such ties, but he fails to mention that the historian he is defending, Michael Bellesiles, asserted he was an NRA member -- an assertion that Wiener was aware of? Wiener does remark that Bellesiles is "a longtime gun owner who only recently gave up skeet shooting," but there is only deafening silence about Bellesiles's self-confessed NRA membership.

All of this, of course, is of a piece with Wiener's "shooting the messenger" approach to the Bellesiles scandal. For example, even after being informed of Lindgren's Yale Law Journal essay, a classic review article that runs to 54 pages and includes a long appendix of "selected errors" drawn from over 200 documents detailing the fabrications and falsifications endemic to Arming America, Wiener totally ignored its substance. He mentions it only in a derogatory way as Lindgren's "second attack" on Bellesiles, the first "attack" apparently being "Counting Guns in Early America," in the William and Mary Law Review, the scholarship which first exposed Bellesiles's probate fabrications to a historical community hitherto completely oblivious to them while it was showering Arming America with praise and prizes. Nor does Wiener ever cite a single, solitary error in the articles he labels "attacks," as if they were polemics and not scholarly critiques. Undoubtedly, and one can say this with absolute certainty considering Wiener's track record, that failure on his part to find errors was not for lack of trying but because he simply couldn't turn any up.

Instead, having failed to join Lindgren at the hip with the NRA or unearth even one mistake in his law review essays, Wiener tries another tack to disparage Lindgren's scholarship. He attempts this by falsely asserting, without a shred of evidence, that Lindgren had accused Bellesiles of "bias," when in fact Lindgren has never made any such charge. After that false allegation, Wiener makes another accusation: Lindgren has biases of his own. His purported biases, says Wiener, were on display when he once used data provided by the "right-wing Federalist Society" for a study of the American Bar Association's stance on George W. Bush's judicial nominees that a law professor said was flawed. Wiener, however, in keeping with the accusatory nature of his essay, conveniently forgets to mention that the law professor he cites openly admits that he and his co-author were hired and paid for their opinion by the ABA's litigation section, or that Lindgren appears to have successfully answered the criticisms. And what precisely do Lindgren's supposed biases consist of? Wiener leaves that to the imagination, assuming that those reading the Nation will be able to sniff them out themselves from the irrelevant and misleading hints he scatters through his essay.

Similarly, Wiener never deals with the massive evidence detailing Bellesiles's fabrications unearthed and posted by Clayton Cramer for all to examine on his website. Rather, he dismisses him as an "amateur historian," and a "gun activist" who writes for "Shotgun News," as though that's cause enough not to take his remarkable scholarship on Arming America's misuse of evidence seriously.

An Error?

Prof. Randolph Roth, however, perhaps America's leading authority on homicides in early America, cannot be dealt with so summarily. His article in the William and Mary Quarterly on Bellesiles's fictions about levels of violence and homicides in Colonial Vermont and Plymouth Colony cannot be refuted by attacking the author for being an "amateur", a "gun activist" or perhaps somebody with a hidden, right-wing, pro-gun agenda. So Wiener falsely accuses him of making an "error" in his original draft article for the WMQ, just to show that Roth, too, is prone to mistakes, presumably no different in scope and substance than Bellesiles's "mistakes." Unfortunately, before concocting this allegation, Wiener failed to interview Roth, the person who supposedly made the "error," failed to interview the primary editor of the forum in which the article appeared, Robert Gross (not Christopher Grasso, who is the WMQ's general editor), and failed to examine the documentary materials to see whether an "error" had actually been committed. Had he done all of these things, Wiener would have discovered that some of the pages cited in Roth's first draft on homicides in Plymouth Colony were indeed "a record of births," just as Bellesiles claimed, but that was no mistake on Roth's part. The people being born were the same ones involved in the homicide, which Bellesiles might have noticed if he were as careful an historian as Roth is.

Almost as appalling as Wiener's attempt to discredit Bellesiles's critics, is his utterly misleading account of the San Francisco/Contra Costa County probate records, an account that almost totally ignores Bellesiles's multiple conflicting stories and fabrications about his use of probate records to support his claims of low levels of gun ownership in early America. What Wiener keeps from his readers is that Bellesiles first said in extensive emails to Lindgren -- e-mails whose damaging words and phrases Bellesiles now disowns, a disavowal so preposterous that even Wiener dares not mention or justify in his article -- that he read all the probate inventories on microfilm (including those from San Francisco) housed in the East Point, GA Federal Archive. Nor does Wiener tell his readers anything about the following: that on WBEZ public radio in Chicago, Bellesiles said that all the inventories were available on microfilm, when in fact thousands of those he claimed to have read have never been microfilmed. And months earlier, when confronted by the fact no probate microfilms were in the federal archives in Georgia, Bellesiles revised his story completely and said he read most of the probate inventories in the original in about 30 different state and local depositories scattered across the country. Then, he added that he read hundreds of inventories in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and that he read the San Francisco ones, averaging about 10 pages in length, at the Superior Courthouse in that city. Then when he was told they were destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, he changed his story again and said he was unable now to recall where they were located. Then in an article that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education he changed his story once more, claiming he had found the San Francisco inventories and was having them sent to him. Then, when Emory University asked for them, he changed his story yet again and was forced to admit that he really had no idea where they could be found, a stance he repeated in an article in the Nov. 2001 Organization of American Historian's Newsletter. Then, in Jan. 2002, he invented a new story: he claimed he had tracked them down in the California History Center in Martinez, CA. There is no such center housing general California records, but there is a Contra Costa History Center, which does not contain San Francisco inventories but only case files of the probate court of Contra Costa County, and only a couple of dozen of them at that in his sample period, not the hundreds of San Francisco probates Bellesiles said he read.

About the only thing Wiener extracts from this dizzying opera bouffee performance by Bellesiles is that Bellesiles found something marked San Francisco County on the few probates he turned up. Many knowledgeable people, however, suspect that Bellesiles only found that handful after searching frantically (with help from an historian friend living in Martinez) for any shred of evidence proving he read California probate inventories. Nobody at the Contra Costa History Center ever saw Bellesiles there before his visit to ferret out the few probate inventories he discovered in January 2002, and there is no record he signed in when he said he was there previously. And every bit of available evidence, whether circumstantial, testimonial, eyewitness, or documentary contradicts Bellesiles's claims to have done research there before January 2002.

But Wiener, ever the faithful true believer in Bellesiles's stories, says that Bellesiles read those documents in 1993, but simply forgot they were from Contra Costa County, not San Francisco. "That's error, not fraud," Wiener insists, blithely ignoring everything that contradicts Bellesiles's fable. And the fact that Bellesiles originally claimed in his e-mails to Lindgren that he read all his probate inventories, including by implication those from San Francisco, on microfilms housed in East Point, GA., does not seem to register with Wiener. Did Wiener even read those e-mails? Did Wiener ever listen to the WBEZ interview where Bellesiles could be heard saying that all of the inventories were available on microfilm?

There is no way of knowing whether he did because Wiener is totally silent on these matters. This silence helps explain why Wiener can say with an apparently straight face that Bellesiles's constantly shifting stories about where those inventories were or might be is understandable because Bellesiles had to recreate "the list of the counties where he researched probate records" from memory. According to Wiener, Bellesiles had no other choice but to rely on his memory for that list of 40 counties when a "flood" in his office on April 2, 2000 destroyed his notes.

The idea that Bellesiles had to recreate the list of 40 counties from memory after the Emory flood is arrant nonsense. Wiener easily could have discovered this had he interviewed any of Bellesiles's more knowledgeable critics or read their articles with care, particularly those of Lindgren. Most of Bellesiles's probate data in Arming America were merely rehashed from his 1996 article on guns in the Journal of American History. There he listed 38 of the 40 counties later cited in Arming America, adding only San Francisco and Los Angeles to the 38 counties he copied from the 1996 list. Moreover, the book (published in early September 2000) was already well underway in galleys and in press before the flood took place in early April of that year, as any sophisticated historian would realize if he gave it much thought. Also, in the Nov. 2001 OAH Newsletter, in which Bellesiles speaks to these matters, he never claimed he was forced to complete the book without his notes, but rather that it "never crossed his mind" to withdraw Arming America from publication because he had lost his background notes. Additionally, in his e-mails to Lindgren on the eve of the book's publication, Bellesiles says nothing about losing his notes but asserts that they were all sitting in boxes stored in his home attic. Once again, Wiener demonstrates that he is either extraordinarily gullible or he is extraordinarily unprepared or unwilling to deal with Bellesiles's fictions.

Anyway, Wiener feels Bellesiles's critics are making far too much of something that only takes up a small portion of his 600 page book. Again, what Wiener neglects to inform his readers is that almost all favorable reviews of Arming America emphasized the probate data as the single most important, innovative, and significant findings in the book that supported its argument that guns were not widely owned by Americans before the Civil War. In 2000, the New York Times, for example, called the probate records "Mr. Bellesiles's principal evidence."

Who's the Crackpot?

But what happened to "Mr. Bellesiles's principal evidence"? Was that data, which Bellesiles supposedly jotted down in penciled tick marks on yellow legal pads really lost in a 25 minute "flood" caused by a broken fire-sprinkler pipe connector in the building housing Bellesiles's office? Or did Bellesiles invent the story of notes turned into "unreadable pulp" because most of that data never existed? As usual, Wiener never questions Bellesiles' ever shifting, contradictory, implausible explanations of what happened to his notes but views those who do, including this writer, as suspects in an unholy alliance against him. "The lengths that critics will go to discredit Bellesiles are at least creative," Wiener intones. "Professor Jerome Sternstein of Brooklyn College put a dozen legal pads in his own shower for thirty minutes and reported to the world that they survived 'intact and virtually unscathed.'"

Wiener ends this quote with an exclamation point, to which I add an emphatic amen! No amount of soaking could destroy those yellow legal pads. What Wiener does not say is that the "creative" and simple experiment he mocks was undertaken when the person hired by Emory to handle the cleanup of the History Department building, an expert in water damage, told me flatly that it would be impossible to destroy, or "pulp" Bellesiles's penciled yellow legal pads during the Emory "flood." Perhaps many weeks or months of continuous soaking might do the trick, he said, but the note pads would certainly survive intact and almost as good as new after the 25 minutes or more of water dripping on them from Bellesiles's office ceiling . (Bellesiles, I should add, has revised his destroyed notes story once again since my article on the subject appeared on HNN. Last June, he told a reporter for the English newspaper the Guardian that the flood lasted six hours, not the 25 minutes everybody connected with it affirms. Emory's official report, which Bellesiles had always cited as confirmation that the flood and the damage it caused was real, says it lasted 25 minutes, and so does the head of Emory's facilities. And so did Bellesiles until he concocted this new fable of a six hour flood to explain away his missing probate data.)

"... if it is "crackpot" to give considerable weight to Bellesiles's discredited probate findings, is it not even more "crackpot" for an historian to supposedly spend years crisscrossing the country rummaging through thirty or so state and county archives, as Bellesiles has insisted he did?"

Since Bellesiles never informed anybody, either at Emory or anyplace else, that his probate notes were "pulped" on that damp April 2000 day until many months later when scholars asked for his data so they could replicate it, the question of whether it was possible to "pulp" such legal pads went to the heart of Bellesiles's story of destroyed notes. I concluded, as I'm confident anybody wishing to reproduce my "creative" experiment would also conclude, that Bellesiles invented his tale of destroyed probate notes out of the whole cloth because he couldn't produce the data his critics requested.

Wiener, naturally, accepts Bellesiles's "explanation" at face value and refuses to consider such a possibility because that would suggest deliberate, intentional fraud, just as he refuses to take seriously how important the statistical evidence of low levels of gun ownership that Bellesiles supposedly found in his examination of 11,170 probate inventories are to his argument. Instead he minimizes their importance, quoting approvingly Prof. Michael Zuckerman of the University of Pennsylvania, who believes that what the critics say about the missing, misread and probably invented probate data "'is bad news for Michael,'" but who complains that they've "'fixated on the probate inventories, which is crackpot.'" But if it is "crackpot" to give considerable weight to Bellesiles's discredited probate findings, is it not even more "crackpot" for an historian to supposedly spend years crisscrossing the country rummaging through thirty or so state and county archives, as Bellesiles has insisted he did, to collect data which Wiener and Zuckerman insist "play an extremely small part in the argument made by Arming America"? One hopes that Profs. Wiener and Zuckerman will never waste their time and travel grant money doing such insignificant "crackpot" research.

Are All Bellesiles's Critics Pro-Gun Nuts?

But even if one concedes that the questioned probate research takes up only a small portion of space in Arming America, what about all the other non-probate evidence critics have marshaled against Bellesiles's argument? In defending Bellesiles's book neither Wiener nor Zuckerman seem to want to confront that problem. Cramer, for example, has found evidence of at least 2,273 gunsmiths and gun makers in America before 1840, as opposed to the small number Bellesiles said existed, and his data base is growing. He has also provided copious examples of how Bellesiles misrepresented travel accounts, altered dates, and misquoted, misread, misstated, and even concocted statements and quotations in numerous documents and secondary sources. But since Cramer is an "amateur," all of his findings, easily accessible on his website, appear to be unworthy of comment or even the most casual interest. Instead Wiener focuses on the point that Cramer "pleads on his own website for readers to support his campaign against Bellesiles by sending him money." Evidently, since Cramer is not supported by foundations or academic institutions, there is no need for Wiener, or few other professional historians for that matter, to deal with the evidence he presents illustrating Bellesiles's misconduct. Moreover, in Wiener's universe Cramer cannot be taken seriously because he is obviously a right-wing zealot on gun rights, so apparently no self-respecting liberal historian need bother with what he says or finds about a fellow academic whose book challenges those Second Amendment rights Cramer believes in.

Indeed throughout Wiener's article there is the strong implication that only right-wingers make up Bellesiles's "pack of critics." This is in line with Bellesiles's own oft-repeated remarks that those who criticize him are either moved by partisanship, their obsession with gun organizations and guns generally, or by a mentality similar to "holocaust deniers" (a term he used to characterize Cramer and Prof. Joyce Malcolm), in that they will never accept the truth when it flies in the face of their own deep-rooted prejudices.

How then, one might ask, does Wiener -- or Bellesiles -- account for the outrage expressed by Roger Lane, also a Bancroft Prize winner, and once praised by Bellesiles as perhaps the nation's leading authority on homicides?. Lane, a self-confessed "card-carrying Liberal," wrote an extremely favorable review of Arming America for the prestigious Journal of American History, yet now he can barely repress his disgust for the book's author. "I'm mad at the guy," Lane said recently. "He suckered me. It is entirely clear to me that he's made up a lot of these records. He's betrayed us. He's betrayed the cause. It's 100 percent clear that the guy is a liar and a disgrace to my profession. He's breached that trust."

And what about Garry Wills and Edmund Morgan, considered by Wiener to be two of America's "top historians." Wiener makes much of the fact that neither of them has publicly retracted their glowing reviews of Arming America, though, he says, they have been under pressure to do so. He doesn't say whether he interviewed them for his article. But it is safe to say he didn't -- and it's probably a good thing too. One can only imagine how Wiener would have responded to Garry Wills, who, when asked last spring to appear on a panel to speak in favor of Bellesiles's book, emailed his refusal back with the blunt message, "no one defends it." And last April, when asked by a colleague at Northwestern what he presently thought of Arming America, Wills replied: "I was took. The book is a fraud." As for Morgan, he, too, might have upset Wiener. Recently, on his own volition, Morgan sent a highly complimentary letter to one of Bellesiles's leading critics, praising both the substance and the tone of his work, concluding that the critic was right and Bellesiles was wrong.

This radical reassessment of Bellesiles as a result of what his critics have revealed is taking place among other reviewers as well who at one time held his scholarship in high esteem. One reviewer, once a staunch defender in various forums of Arming America's thesis even after he came to the realization its probate data was seriously flawed, wrote me privately that he had concluded Bellesiles "may have seriously misrepresented his non-quantitative data, and overlooked sources that argue otherwise; furthermore, his multitude of different stories about his data and his e-mails and the like ultimately undermine his total credibility; In other words. . . I don't trust him."

How widespread this attitude is among historians today is unclear, but from various soundings it appears far more prevalent than Wiener imagines. Even Mary Beth Norton of Cornell, whom Wiener represented in his article as a strong supporter of Bellesiles's research, refuses to be so labeled. Invited to appear on a panel this November to defend Bellesiles after Wiener's article hit the newsstands, she declined for scheduling reasons but offered her assessment. Bellesiles, she wrote, "was sloppy in his quantitative research methods, as I told Jon Wiener. . . I don't regard my position as a strong defense of him. I would have been embarrassed had any student of mine made the elementary 'counting' mistakes he did. I just don't think he committed deliberate fraud."

Interestingly, almost all of Bellesiles's leading academic critics -- Lindgren, Roth, Robert Churchill, Gloria Main, Ira Gruber, Joyce Malcolm, Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Eric Monkkonen -- also resist accusing Bellesiles of knowing, intentional fraud, though most of them certainly don't rule it out, nor should they.

Wiener's article does reveal several things of interest to readers not on the barricades in the battle over gun control and the meaning of the Second Amendment. We learn much about Bellesiles's current cover story, we see how far the quality of reporting and editing of the Nation has fallen from its distinguished past, and we are again reminded how easily even highly educated and sophisticated people, some of them professional historians, can be deceived when, for reasons only known to them, they want to be deceived.

What is also particularly notable is that Wiener, a Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine, apparently refuses to examine actual documentary evidence in making his case. Equally striking in this day and age when oral history and interviewing participants to events is all the rage among historians, he failed to interview the critics he attacked -- Roth, Lindgren, Cramer, and myself -- which, I think, is why he has made so many errors. It also accounts for the reason why Wiener's contribution to the debate over Arming America compares unfavorably with that of such reporters as David Mehegan of the Boston Globe, Robert Worth of the New York Times, Melissa Seckora of National Review, Kim Strassel of the Wall Street Journal, David Skinner of the Weekly Standard, and Ron Grossman of the Chicago Tribune, who, like Wiener, holds a Ph.D. in history.

Contrary to Wiener's approach to the subject, all of these reporters carefully examined and reported on substantial amounts of documentary evidence themselves in their desire to get to the bottom of the controversy. They also tried to interview scholars on both sides of the issue, which is apparently why their reportage has held up so well to scrutiny, with both Mehegan and Strassel winning prizes for their work on Arming America.

On the other hand, Wiener, whose command of the evidence presented by Arming America's critics is thin at best, chose to rely heavily on Bellesiles's preposterous stories and inventions, never bothering to check them out with those scholars who know the material best. While this might be standard procedure when writing a polemic, it is certainly not good reporting and it is clearly very bad history. But it is apparently in keeping with the accusatory style of commentary Wiener has honed and perfected over the years at the Nation. John Rosenberg, who once worked at the magazine and "used to know Wiener" and still shares "good mutual friends" with him, including a number of historians, writes on his blog, Discriminations, that "Wiener is on call [at the Nation] as something like its academic commissar, constantly policing college precincts to blast away at any deviationism that should appear."

Accordingly, it is no wonder "Commissar" Wiener, as Rosenberg refers to him, should approach the controversy over Arming America in "his characteristic voice" and depict Bellesiles's "pack of critics" as primitive right-wingers motivated by animus of one sort or another. Viewing every piece of evidence as essentially politically driven thus enables him to sweep it all aside and assert that the critics "have produced no proof of intentional deception, no proof of invented documents, no proof of fraud" -- in short, no proof whatsoever that Bellesiles has done anything wrong except make a few unintentional errors all historians make at one time or another.

As we all now know, however, Emory's select Investigative Committee has just issued a forty-page report saying otherwise, concluding that Bellesiles's "scholarly integrity is seriously in question" and that he had been "guilty of unprofessional and misleading work." They found "Every aspect of his work in the probate records. . . deeply flawed," his responsiveness "to allegations of research misconduct. . . prolix, confusing, evasive, and occasionally contradictory." They remarked upon the fact he wasn't "fully forthcoming," and they underscored "the implausibility of some of his defenses," "prime" examples being his claims that unknown people "hacked his website" and "his disavowal of the e-mails of Aug. 30 and Sept. 19, 2000 to Professor Lindgren which present a version of the location and reading of records substantially in conflict with Professor Bellesiles' current account." They raised strong doubts about his truthfulness on other matters, especially his purported West Coast probate research, concluding that "we cannot prove that Professor Bellesiles simply invented his California research. . . . ," but "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." Equally suspect, they say, was "his claim to have read microfilms at the National Archives Record Center in East Point, GA, as well as his assertions that he brought Morman microfilms into that center to read." On the central issue of the "vital" statistical Table One in his book entitled "Percentage of Probate Inventories Listing Firearms," they found "evidence of falsification." But because "The Committee's investigation has been seriously hampered by the absence or unavailability of Professor Bellesiles's critical and apparently lost research records and by [Bellesiles's]. . . failures of memory and careful record keeping. . . , " the Committee was forced to conclude, in language apparently vetted by people familiar with the law, that "we cannot speak of intentional fabrication or falsification." In other words, Emory's fortuitous flood which enabled Bellesiles to claim that his probate notes were "pulped," severely limited the Committee's ability to establish with certainty whether fraud was committed.

Wiener is likely to take heart from the Committee's inability to prove Bellesiles engaged in "intentional fabrication or falsification of research data" and declare the whole affair to be little more than a witch hunt, even though the Committee found his client guilty of virtually every other scholarly sin listed in the academic lexicon and in some respects went beyond the claims of Bellesiles's scholarly critics by directly challenging Bellesiles's integrity, rather than sticking simply to what happened. But it is my impression, as the recent comments of former Bellesiles supporters Roger Lane, Garry Wills, Edmund Morgan, and my anonymous correspondent indicate, that most historians will not interpret the controversy over Arming America as Wiener does, as just another heated skirmish in the culture wars to be won at whatever cost. After reading the Committee's report most historians, or at least those without Wiener's ideological blinders, are likely to ponder two basic questions: how and why the peer review process failed so miserably in uncovering Bellesiles's scholarly misdeeds much earlier, and why it took a law professor and a non-academic "amateur" historian to point out the elephant in the room which almost all professional historians with Ph.D's turned a blind eye to? Everybody who loves history will be awaiting the answers.

But nobody should hold their breath expecting any answers from Prof. Wiener which stray from his mantra, that Bellesiles is an innocent victim of "powerful political interests like the NRA," and a right-wing "pack of critics" doing its bidding. The only elephants in the room Wiener can identify all look very much like the "four unusually large men," one in a flak jacket, and all "activists in the pro-gun, anti-Bellesiles movement" who attended one of his client's lectures at the University of California, Irvine, asking silly, repetitive, though always intimidating, questions about probate records. And no amount of evidence, not even the forty-page report issued by Emory's select Investigative Committee, will ever convince him otherwise.

Editor's Note (11/1/02): At least one reader of HNN has questioned Mr. Sternstein's statement that Edmund Morgan no longer can be placed in the Bellesiles camp. HNN has seen a hand-written letter Mr. Morgan penned to James Lindgren. The letter clearly indicates that Mr. Morgan now believes that Bellesiles provided false and misleading data about the probate records.

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More Comments:

Andy Mcmahon - 10/24/2003

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Bob Andrews - 12/21/2002

urge everyone to print copies of the following notice on small slips of paper and insert them into copies of the book at all libraries and book stores.

You might also print up the notice on stickers and seek permission to paste them into the books. But seek permission or you will be committing vandalism.


In October of 2002, Michael Bellesiles resigned from Emory University after an independent panel of PhDs wrote that his work "does move into the realm of falsification" and Emory deemed him to be "guilty of unprofessional and misleading work."

In December of 2002, Columbia University rescinded the Bancroft Prize for his work, saying "his book had not and does not meet the standards ... established for the Bancroft Prize"

Mr. Bellesiles' research fraud ranged from selectively editing source materials to citing non-existent San Francisco probate records that actually were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.

source: AP Wire: 12/13/02

George E. Rennar - 11/28/2002

Professor Bernstein seems to support "vigorous debate" but to shun "accusations of fraud" and the like. Question: what does the fellow think anyone should do when fraud exists? Be dishonest and use euphemisms, I suppose. This would let Bellesiles and his increasingly-silly supporters off the hook, to say nothing of the Horn Papers, David Irving, Poulshock, the memoirs of Heinrich Mueller, the we-faked-the-moon-landing crowd and the Flat Earth Society.

Jim Turner - 11/15/2002

Dear Mr. Sternstein,

Although I have no experience with the effect of water on yellow paper, I do have extensive experience with its effect--or, more properly, its lack of effect-- on newsprint. I had written a lengthy series of articles on environment which later were reprinted in tabloid form. After about 8,000 copies were printed, a serious error was found and I was told to "get rid of them." Since burning them wouldn't have been consistent with their message, I first tried soaking several hundred copies of the tabloid in water for several weeks. They were just about as readable after that soaking as when they came off the offset press.

Very truly yours,

Jim Turner

Steve Johnson - 11/9/2002

The primary argument of Lindgren's Yale article, Fall From Grace, is to show that the problems with Arming America are pervasive--affecting almost every portion of the book. He reviews the work of many other scholars.

The idea that the book stands without the probate material is utter nonsense--which no careful, serious person could say. If you hear this, they either haven't looked into it or they are not being fair to the evidence.

The Lindgren article in on HNN in 4 parts, the first at:


The original can be downloaded at:


Jerry Brennan - 11/7/2002

At: http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20021125&s=editors2

including some spin by Wiener

Don Williams - 11/7/2002

PS Mr Haddad
On Feb 14, I posted some observations re Bellesiles' probate findings on H-OIEAHC at


Note that while my post is a criticism, it potentially provides a better excuse for Bellesiles' findings than what he was evidently able to provide to Emory's Investigative Committee.

One of the respondents to my post, JL Bell, questioned whether the British took private firearms with them --or destroyed them --when they left Boston. Since that discussion, I have found the report provided to George Washington by troops reentering Boston after the British left. Reconnaissance included a survey for militarily useful stores. Report indicated that British had tried to destroy most things of value --e.g., cannon trunnions knocked off with sledgehammers, cannon balls dumped in harbor,etc. No mention made of finding private firearms confiscated a year earlier.

Don Williams - 11/7/2002

Mr Haddad,

I will tell you what I have found --not because my research is that major, but because I feel more comfortable citing stuff that I have personally looked at.

1) Bellesiles' probate record findings were discussed a lot because (a) they were mentioned prominently by his allies in early book reviews -- e.g., Garry Wills in The New York Times and Carl Bogus in American Prospect. They were also cited a lot by his allies in the campaign against the Second Amendment --i.e., in the law review articles and legal briefs generated in the Supreme Court case "US vs Emerson". See my HNN article at http://historynewsnetwork.org/articles/article.html?id=741 .

While the Supreme Court did not hear US vs Emerson, they did let stand the finding by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals -- that the Second Amendment gives US citizens an individual right to possess firearms. This is contrary to the "collective right" interpretation advocated by Bellesiles and his allies on which gun control laws are based. Note that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling only governs courts in the Fifth Circuit area (Texas,etc.)although Attorney General Ashcroft and his Justice Department stated to the Supreme Court that they abide by the Individual Right interpretation as well.

2) In my opinion, Arming America has many flaws in addition to the probate record pages. I think it gives a greatly distorted and false picture of the early militias' performance and contributions. About a year ago, my concerns were based on significant discrepancies between Arming America and books written by historians focusing on specific Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battles. Arming America's contents also seemed at odds with in-depth battle studies and war studies done by the US Army's Office of Military History and by the Command and General Staff College at Fort Levenworth (where our senior officers are trained.) Since then I've looked at primary sources and have found disagreement between eyewitness accounts from 1770-1816 and what's in Arming America. I present my findings/questions to the historians at the H-OIEAHC discussion list --they provided additional information/viewpoints but did not change my judgments significantly. The H-OIEAHC postings can be seen at
http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=lm&list=h-oieahc -- I started posting in February 2002 under username "vze2t297@verizon.net".

Two items you might look at are my critiques of Arming America's portrayal of the militias in the Battle of Cowpens and in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. If you use the above H-OIEAHC menu, my critiques were posted on 10 April and 12 August

Direct links are:



The militia performance issue is important because Bellesiles' thesis in Arming America, in my opinion, was that that the Second Amendment was not intended to give an individual right because (a) people didn't have many guns and (b) the citizen militias couldn't fight anyway.

3)Note that HNN has a very good list of links to past news reports,etc in it's main Bellesiles section at http://hnn.us/articles/691.html . Clayton Cramer, who has been the primary person calling attention to errors in Arming America, has a lot of information re his research results athttp://www.claytoncramer.com/ . Mr Lindgren at Northwestern, who was the primary critic of the probate results, has a page with links to his major articles at http://www.law.nwu.edu/faculty/fulltime/Lindgren/Lindgren.html .

Thomas Haddad - 11/7/2002

As a very occasional reader of Bellesiles-case-related material, and being, as foreigner, somewhat confused about the implications of being "pro-" or "anti-" -Bellesiles, I am writing to ask from my fellow HNNers a very simple question: Suppose all the data and conclusions based on the probate research is taken out from the book, how much does it interfere with the overall work? What I usually read from Bellesiles supporters is that it wouldn't change anything; critics, as far as I have seen, usually say this is not the point, the point being that Bellesiles proven methodological flaws in this one aspect of his research, as well as his amazing ability to change his own declarations on the circumstances surrounding his probate research, are enough to discredit the whole book once and for all, as the work of an imposter. It is very important to decide objectively whether the book retains any value when stripped off the probate-related material, and to forget a little about possible "hidden agendas" by its author, or by his supporters, or by his critics. Maybe I am being too structuralistic here, but it is essential that the debate be restricted to the book, its sources (possibly eliminating the probate records) and its conclusions.

Rick Schwartz - 11/4/2002

Yes, it may have been a M-E-T-A-P-H-O-R but in the immortal words of Dave Barry concerning MacCarthur Park and "cakes melting in the rain" it was a damn stupid metaphor.

Steve Lowe - 11/4/2002

Thanks for giving me the last word. I believe I'll rest my case as well.


Richard Henry Morgan - 11/4/2002

One might add, it is equally dicey for Bernstein to impute motives to Lindgren and Barnett, a point you might think that, given his stance, he would be more sensitive to. That's some catch, that Catch-22. When riding guard against the imputation of motives, it seems almost inevitable that one ends up imputing motives oneself.

Ralph E. Luker - 11/4/2002

Having read a good bit of Professor Sternstein's writing in posts and articles on HNN, it is hard for me to believe that he writes anything dispassionately, but I take his word for it. This whole discussion (his misreading of my motives and my misreading of his) illuminates the pitfalls in the attribution of motive to another. That is why it is dicey to make assumptions about Michael Bellesiles's motives.

Ralph E. Luker - 11/4/2002

What debate? Thomas, we've got a couple of congressional districts here in Georgia that make Elbridge Gerry look like a piker.

Jerry Sternstein - 11/4/2002

Nor did I assume you intended to make a rhetorical point by not mentioning Prof. Lindgren's archival research in your OAH Newsletter article. Checking back on HNN, I see you corrected it, as you were right to point out to me.

But the only reason I brought this up is because you assumed I was intentionally exaggerating things by typing "almost two years" and not 15 months, in order to make a rhetorical, polemical point . That, you concluded, demonstrated some unnamed "passion" on my part.. And the "almost two year" phrase appeared on a comment board, no less, not a published article.

That's what I find perplexing, as I still do, and as I imagine you would, too, if somebody had read your failure to cite Prof. Lindgren's archival research to be a deliberate attempt to downgrade his contribution in uncovering Bellesiles's scholarly misdeeds. You would be as astonished at such an interpretation, as I am astonished at yours.

Ralph E. Luker - 11/3/2002

Thanks, Professor Sternstein. You are mistaken, however, in your interpretation of what I wrote in the _OAH Newsletter_ and in the subsequent version of it published on HNN.
The OAH office edited my submission to the newsletter and I had no opportunity to review the revision before publication. Because I was writing about more than the Bellesiles case, I did want to emphasize the problem of remote archives and cd roms for future work. There was never any intent on my part to undervalue the awesome achievement of Jim Lindgren's work. Because I was not altogether satisfied with the _OAH Newsletter_'s version of my article, I revised it for publication on HNN. Jim Lindgren called my attention to the mischaracterization of his research and, if you will only check HNN's version of the article, you will see that it is corrected to his and, I trust, your satisfaction. You could not have noticed the error on HNN because it isn't there.

Thomas Gunn - 11/3/2002

Can't you boys try and get along? It is obvious that you are highly developed life forms, and should be above this petty sniping.

Each of you has something to offer to the debate, and I enjoy you both. This is not something to get into snit over. I'm glad you are both here.

John, have you spoken with Morgan? I haven't seen him post in a couple of days.


Thomas Gunn - 11/3/2002


"You can write "LIES" and "FRAUD" all you want to, but a carefully detailed outline of evidence and a restrained finding is much more conclusive."

Quite so!

In fact the Emory report is SO carefully detailed, politely restrained and oh so clearly conclusive the debate rages on.

You say error, I say fraud. You say mistake I say lie. You say dispassionate research, I say political gerrymandering.


Jerry Sternstein - 11/3/2002

I just want to make one point, notably to take issue with Mr. Luker's perplexing interpretation of some insignificant error in one of my comments on this thread. I said a letter had been sent to Emory asking for a probe of Bellesiles's book "almost two years" before an investigation was initiated. Mr. Luker corrected me, saying the time span was actually 15 months, if the letter was written in the Fall of 2000.

It was the lateness of the hour, 11:35 Eastern time, that led me to type "almost two years" rather than almost "one year," as I originally intended. Passion had nothing to do with my phrasing, or the desire to make a rhetorical point. Remember, this is a comment board. And, unlike the previous one, it has no "preview" button which allows one to read over the comment and revise it. Sometimes inadvertent errors happen in this context, as it did in my case and I'm sure in many others.

Mr. Luker may correct me if I'm wrong, but as I remember from his article in the OAH Newsletter, latter reprinted on HNN, he made a substantial error, unintentionally, I assume, by failing to note that Prof. Lindgren had researched loads of probate inventories in their original handwritten condition in various archives in New England. He left the erroneous impression that Lindgren, not being a historian but a law professor/sociologist had merely used CD's obtainable in any good library in uncovering Bellesiles's misuse of probates, implying that historians could easily have done the same if they made the simple effort it would have required of going to a library had they wanted to do so, which they most obviously didn't.

And that misstatement was not in an offhand "comment" appended to a journalistic commentary in cyberspace but in a published piece sent out by the OAH. Nobody asserted that this misstatement on Mr. Luker's part was driven by "passion" or by an attempt to make a "polemical point." I noticed his mistake immediately at the time, and later when his article appeared on HNN. But I saw no purpose in pointing it out online or in a letter to the OAH. It would have been the height of pettiness, I thought, to make anything of it. After all, what he wrote was not a peer reviewed article demanding heavy citation of sources. And I'm only bringing it up now because Mr. Luker emphasized, not once but twice, that I said "almost two years" rather than 15 months, as if this demonstrates some unstated motivation or "passion" on my part to exaggerate things for polemical purposes. I'm sure Mr. Luker would be as astonished had somebody emphasized his error, made in the OAH Newsletter no less, and interpreted it as he does my innocent subtraction of 9 months on a comment board.

Anyway, though I haven't checked the issue -- the hour is getting late, so don't hold me to it -- I think the time span between the letter to Dean Sanderson and the initiation of Emory's preliminary investigation was about a year or so, as I originally intended to type. So Mr. Luker may have exaggerated the time by 3 months, but I don't think he did it for "polemical" reasons and I won't hold it against him.

Don Williams - 11/3/2002

rather just Bellesiles. Plus, in Friday's Wall Street Journal, Kimberly Strassel took a few swats at some people in academia who supported Bellesiles --see http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/kstrassel/?id=110002557 .

Ralph E. Luker - 11/3/2002

Professor Past Tense's condescending pomposity speaks for itself.

Ralph E. Luker - 11/3/2002

The impassioned interestedness of Clayton Cramer, James Lindgren, Jerry Sternstein and Ralph Luker are not interchangeable. In the passion of a rhetorical flourish, for example, Sternstein exaggerates a point: 15 months becomes "almost two years." The exaggeration undermines the credibility of his point, however legitimate it may be. Both Lindgren's painstaking outline of evidence and the report by Emory's panel of three outside experts avoided both exaggeration and inflammatory language. You can write "LIES" and "FRAUD" all you want to, but a carefully detailed outline of evidence and a restrained finding is much more conclusive.

John G. Fought - 11/3/2002

Actually, Mr. Gunn, I don't think he can do any better. Arguing with Mr. Luker is very much like arguing with Bellesiles, in that the history of the events and the conditions that would have to be met to satisfy his latest stand are revised time after time. In his case this is apparently done to protect his vision of an imaginary infallible profession that must mean a lot to him. If nothing that has happened so far has convinced him, I can't imagine what could. It has become rather sad to watch him sink into this quicksand, but he doesn't seem to want a hand getting out of it.

Thomas Gunn - 11/3/2002


What is it that "drives" any of us? Would you be working on MLK if you weren't empassioned? Did Michael write Arming America because he was disinterested? Did Lingren get involved b/c he didn't really care about the misuse of the probate data?

Come on Ralph you can do better than that.


Clayton E. Cramer - 11/3/2002

"It was, for good and ill, his passion that drove him -- not disinterested inquiry." What makes this statement so humorous is that Bellesiles was OBVIOUSLY not engaged in disinterested inquiry. The closing two pages of his JAH article make that very clear. The difference is that I didn't pretend to be disinterested, but Bellesiles made that pretense.

There is a penalty for honesty in academia, it seems.

Ralph E. Luker - 11/3/2002

Mr. Herrst,
If you had read what I have said elsewhere, you would know that I have called Clayton Cramer's role in all of this "heroic." It is also true, however, that he entered the arena as an unapologetic and impassioned defender of the rights of American citizens to keep and bear arms. Necessarily, then, there would be suspicions that his evidence, one way or the other, is biased by his perspective. It did not help his cause that he began using very powerful language to characterize the situation. It was, for good and ill, his passion that drove him -- not disinterested inquiry.

Thomas Gunn - 11/3/2002


Aren't you the one who wrote "Journalists Are Rushing to Judgment About Michael Bellesiles"?

Here's the first paragraph:

"Recent criticism of our academic institutions in the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard miss the boat in the Michael Bellesiles affair and they miss it by concurrently reaching it too early and getting there too late."

Here's the final paragraph:

"Having said all of that, if it can be shown beyond reasonable doubt that Michael Bellesiles has committed academic fraud, responsibility for it is his, but the embarrassment about it ranges far beyond the individuals and institutions Strassel and Skinner haul to the bar of judgment. Bellesiles's work on this subject reaches back over a decade. His research attracted important sources of financial support. His tentative conclusions passed peer review processes to win publication in major professional journals as long as seven years ago. His book was published by one of our most prestigious commercial presses and won praise from major authorities in the most prominent newspapers and professional journals in the land. If Bellesiles has committed academic fraud, these journalists have missed the boat because their judgment comes too late to have saved both journalism's and academia's principalities and powers a considerable embarrassment."

Since it is obvious that charitably, peer revieiw failed and not so charitably there was NO peer review, what do you suggest? Until the, ah...excretia hit the fan in the main stream press it appeared nothing was going to be done and the fraud that is Arming America was about to enter the historical record unchallenged.

I detect an unintended swipe at Cramer here too. Cramer feels strongly about his history. He saw fraud, blatant and politically inspired. He developed the evidence to prove the fraud and nobody was willing to listen. After years of trying I wonder if in the same situation you wouldn't have been a bit over the top? By no means do I insinuate Cramer was over the top. I think he had every reason to be so though.

Are you happy with the outcome of the Emory review? Did Michael get his fair hearing?


Randall N. Herrst, J.D. - 11/3/2002

Mr. Luker

No one has called for the formation of any
type of though police. No one has asked
universities to respond to "every such demand"
from the public "merely because someone from
the public has asked it to do so." But there
is a time and a place to consider serious
criticisms, especially when they are backed
by voluminous supporting evidence that acts
to disprove the academic work, rather than
merely provide a somewhat different opinion.

Your prescription is just one more way to
ensure that academia is above the mere
citizens. That insulation is one of the
causes of the Bellesiles syndrome. Others
have mentioned this in this forum.

In my field, I have received many, many
messages from "non-experts and people w/o
credentials", and it is very easy to see
which people base their complaints in facts,
and which people are not too bright. I can
fairly quickly determine which messages are
from intelligent, competent people. Merit
comes through with a high degree of certainty.

If it is too much trouble for academia to make
such a determination, then there is a major
problem with the overall structure. If so, it
should be changed.

I also sense a hint of hostility toward people
like Mr. Cramer, who are not members of the
inner circle of professors, but who nevertheless
are quite knowledgeable in their field of study.
If academia were more honest, it would welcome
input from informed and competent critics.

Thomas Gunn - 11/3/2002


My mistake. My question was meant to elicit information. I should have asked without editorializing, especially while assuming erroneous information.

Thanks for the heads up.


Ralph E. Luker - 11/3/2002

I am not retracting anything. Peer review failed and it failed all along the line, but I am also saying that no administration should ever initiate an investigation of a faculty member's work merely because someone from the public has asked it to do so. If it responded to every such demand, faculty members would be subject to the thought police. There would be no guarantees of freedom of research and inquiry. Moreover, as you know from postings on this list, some of MB's lay critics are given to extreme language ("lies", "fraud", etc) and artificial emphases (capitalizations of every third word or so). The very passion of accusation undermines the effectiveness of the argument. What is so devastating about Lindgren's work is that he impassionately lays out the evidence and challenges the reader to make the judgment.

Thomas Gunn - 11/3/2002

You are right about congratulating the participants in getting to the truth, and it only took SIX years.

Your appeal to reason that only credentialed should be allowed to criticize is beyond belief. Cramer and Morgan have shown the folly in that approach. One in authority might look askance at unfounded criticism of non-controvesial material, but Arming America hardly qualifies. A reasonable administrator should have looked at the material presented and at the least contacted the author and said, "Look at this crap they are saying about your book, destroy them!" A conscientious administrator would have had a grad student confirm the information.

I'm wondering are you going back on your statements that peer review failed way back in 1996?

I suspect professor Sternstein would have the truth as quickly as possible, from whatever source. Isn't that the business of history, and academia?

I still want you blogging for HNN rather than that T.M. Spence character.


Clayton E. Cramer - 11/3/2002

Actually, it is about Professor Bernstein doing his best to distract attention from the scale of Bellesiles's fraud.

Professor Bernstein: you still haven't answered my questions as to how changing dates, and altering quotes, is a matter of "interpretation" only.

Clayton E. Cramer - 11/3/2002

Actually, I made the point that some of those distributing literature weren't white, because I knew that to be the case. I didn't say that any of them were black.

Clayton E. Cramer - 11/3/2002

I received a copy of the email exchange in question. I know it is authentic. (Now, if I could only find my original of that exchange in my inbox.)

Thomas L. Spencer - 11/3/2002

Saw it just a while ago. I wonder if Prof. Bernstein will feel that Will deserves the "Cold Steel" that others have had waved at them? You can order tapes or transcripts of the show from ABC News, I gather. Will didn't mince any words about this affair.

Don Williams - 11/3/2002

My understanding is that George Will will discuss Bellesiles/Arming AMerica on ABC's "This Week"

Randall N. Herrst - 11/3/2002


Contact me at largebear@earthlink.net.

John G. Fought - 11/2/2002

I wasn't referring to that, but thanks for reminding us. HNN handled that well, I think. It's one thing to distort facts: damages from that are presumably actionable; but respecting someone else's notion of civility and professional decorum is not on the same plane. There's far too much of that already. I offer two historical anecdotes, unreferenced, to support my point: many older faculty who remembered the influx of veterans into higher education under the GI Bill spoke of it to me (in my student days) with reverence and nostalgia: they had never had such stimulating classes before or since. A major reason was the vets' refusal to respect the existing culture and sacred cows of academic life. Similarly, some now forgotten piece I read years ago commented on the astonishment of British townspeople when large numbers of American enlisted men began to appear among them in WWII: they 'did not defer' to privileged individuals. It has been our great strength, I believe, always to salute windbags with a thumb to the nose. Long may it waggle.

Ralph E. Luker - 11/2/2002

I have a couple of observations about this posting of an exchange of private correspondence.
First, the deletion of names and dates from this exchange does not reassure anyone of its authenticity.
Second, speaking in a polemical context, Professor Sternstein exaggerates the time span which apparently expired between this letter exchange and Emory's formal inquiry. Since the precise dates are deleted, I take his assurance that the exchange took place in the Fall of 2000. That means that it was 15 months, not "almost two years before Emory saw fit to open an investigation."
Third, hard as it may be for non-professional historians to accept, it was only as persons with credentials and authority made their voices heard that Emory had convincing reason to open its inquiry and that did not happen much prior to January 2001. The peculiarity of the early weighty criticism is that it initially came from persons who were academics but not historians. For historians, the decisive moment was the _William and Mary Quarterly_ symposium of January 2002. The University announced the commencement of its formal inquiry in February 2002. That is not foot dragging. That is responsible administration.
Four, Dr. Sanderson was no longer the dean of Emory College when the inquiry did begin. Current administration has no responsibility for decisions made by a predecessor. I have been waiting to hear either journalists or opponents of gun control congratulate the University for stepping up to the plate. The administration's honoring of a faculty member's freedom of research and publication, its restraint -- in the face of a torrent of journalistic and lobbying pressure -- is a testament to strong academic values and procedures. I cannot believe that Professor Sternstein would have had it otherwise.

Thomas Gunn - 11/2/2002


As a recipient (victim?) of censorship I'm curious.

Are you refering to the "NEWBERRY LIBRARY'S JAMES GROSSMAN" affair? It can be reviewed at 'grapevine', to the left.

Before anyone gets the wrong impression, my censorship was of the innocuous kind appealing only to decorum.

You are right about the internet. It is a wonderful thing and oh so pervasive. I love it.


Jerry Sternstein - 11/2/2002

If I forgot to say so before, let me say so now: I accept Prof. Bernstein’s rejection of my apology for bringing up his “cold steel” remark at this time. Having been informed how sensitive he is about being reminded of it, especially in these trying circumstances when Emory’s Select Investigative Committee concluded, as many of Bellesiles’s critics did earlier, that his “scholarly integrity is seriously in question,” and that he was “guilty of unprofessional and misleading work” as well as work exhibiting “evidence of falsification,” I apologized for mentioning it. But since he rejected my apology several times, I accept his rejection. Why he finds this strange is, well, strange.

Accordingly, he leaves me no choice but to mention his "cold steel" statement again since he insists I distorted its meaning. As to whether I have, again, anybody can log on to the site whose address I gave earlier, follow the thread backwards and forwards, and come to their own conclusion as to whether or not he meant that any criticism he personally viewed as offensive -- any, that is, which he thought alluded to Bellesiles’s scholarly integrity in any way, shape or form -- “must be met with cold steel.” That Prof. Bernstein also claims he meant metaphorical "opposition" to persons unknown who might have threatened Bellesiles and his family is surprising because it is difficult to conceive how a person bent on violence will be dissuaded by metaphors, no matter how bold and aggressive they might sound. He would have done Bellesiles a much greater favor by advising him to call the police.

As his present comments indicate, Prof. Bernstein is clearly agitated and defensive, and I can’t say that I blame him. For the past two years, acting as Bellesiles’s lead lawyer and chief enforcer of correct opinion on H-LAW and other H-NET lists, he has been busily smiting one and all -- verbally, I hasten to add -- who dared to mention Bellesiles’s scholarly misdeeds without his permission, all the while demanding that they seek the convening of an official panel to investigate their claims or keep their mouths shut and their commentary out of the press.

Well, though the mandate of the Emory Investigative Committee was narrower than many would have liked, and despite being “seriously hampered” by the not so mysterious “pulping” of Bellesiles’s yellow legal pads as well as his repeated “failures of memory,” the Committee found against Prof. Bernstein’s client on virtually all counts under its purview, except that it could not conclude with certainty he was guilty of “intentional fabrication and falsification.”

Bellesiles asserted in his response -- which his counsel, naturally, totally agrees with -- that he “never fabricated evidence of any kind. . .” But, according to the Chicago Maroon, the University of Chicago student newspaper, “[Hanna] Gray and the committee members. . . have their doubts.” In an interview with Gray, they report she said suggestively, “’It’s very difficult to talk about intentionality. Who knows what goes on in the mind of someone? But I think you will see that there are some assertions that go a little bit beyond carelessness.’”

Let’s all hope that Prof. Bernstein doesn’t get too upset by this “euphemistic invocation” on Gray’s part of “deliberate fraud.” Who knows what new metaphor he might dream up to clobber her with for implying the obvious. But maybe the old one will do.

John G. Fought - 11/2/2002

Mr. Bernstein, the media and the internet were at work all along. They first helped to make Bellesiles' work prominent. Now they help to spread knowledge of its great flaws, and of how it came to be misrepresented in the first place. Fortunately, they are not so completely controlled that they only work one way. Most recently, this site has given a clear demonstration of how academe tries to protect its privileged members, regardless of merit. These are all valuable lessons. You should print out the letter from the Emory chair and put it on your mirror.

Thomas Gunn - 11/2/2002

Mr. Bernstein,

I'm believe that I am beginning to understand. Your response to an alledgedly real physical threat against Mr. Bellesiles is "a metaphor. M-E-T-A-P-H-O-R." How quaint. "Hang on there a second mr. big and burly criminal while I poke through my bag of metaphors because you don't scare me!" I've probably hurt your feelings now. Sorry!

As for making your position clear, there is more going on here than an apology from Jerry that you refused to accept. Heck if I offer you a beer to kiss and make up and you refuse it, I aint about to let it go flat. I'll take it back and enjoy it myself.

You've had ample opportunity to, "shed light" and so far have refused to flip the switch. Here's another oportunity.

"You have stated, "I also believe, however, that there is much that is good in ARMING AMERICA, and that the work of such other scholars as Don Higginbotham, Saul Cornell, and Edmund S. Morgan corroborates many of Prof. Bellesiles's claims." I'd like to see cites to those corroborations to the claims in Arming America. Lacking that, point out the usefullness of Bellesiles' other claims in Arming America."

Let's hear what was so good. Let's see the corroboration.

So far all I've seen from you is "Shooting the Messenger". That's a metaphor.


R. B. Bernstein - 11/2/2002

I've made my position as clear as can be. Either you're taking the classic Socratic "I don't understand -- please explain," in which case I've done all the explaining that is necessary, or you actually don't understand my point, in which case I express my regrets. Either way, it is not bellyaching. It is a fair and justified protest against trial-by-media and trial-by-Internet. And, as for Prof. Sternstein, his way-too-swift slap at me for that "cold steel" remark is all too typical of what has been going on in this controversy. That he at first apologized and then took back his apology for "reasons" of mystifying opaqueness only confirms that this controversy is all about generating heat -- as in burning someone at the stake -- and not about shedding light.

R. B. Bernstein - 11/2/2002

Since when did I threaten to use force? It was a metaphor. M-E-T-A-P-H-O-R. To quote someone here, "talk about a disconnect with reality."

Thomas Gunn - 11/2/2002

Mr. Bernstein,

I've been reading and responding to the various posts since the Bellesiles incident was first reported HERE.

Other postings elsewhere are familiar to me only because a link was provided.

What I don't understand Mr. Bernstein is how you feel empowered to demand links and sources for that with which you disagree and yet provide no links or sources for your own statements and allegations.

That Mr. Bellesiles made claims of threats against him is not in dispute but the veracity behind the allegations is certainly under a cloud. Lacking any proof that Bellesiles was threatened his allegations must be taken with a grain of salt. An informal investigation was undertaken and reported in these pages which casts great suspicion on Bellesiles claims of threats.

Your statements regarding the expression cold steel and the application to those who might do Bellesile harms gives me some pause. Who do you envision wielding the cold steel in defense Bellesiles? Certainly not Michael, in as much as his fraudulant tome argues against an individual right to arms. Wouldn't that be just a tad hypocritical or elitest? Maybe you will come to his aide. Probably not. Your contribution so far is not in defense of Michael's physical well-being or his scholarship but criticism of those who have found him in error. Kinda like shooting the messenger.

You have stated, "I also believe, however, that there is much that is good in ARMING AMERICA, and that the work of such other scholars as Don Higginbotham, Saul Cornell, and Edmund S. Morgan corroborates many of Prof. Bellesiles's claims." I'd like to see cites to those corroborations to the claims in Arming America. Lacking that, point out the usefullness of Bellesiles' other claims in Arming America.

I recall also that Clayton Cramer disputed Michael's theory way back in 1996 when the t . t.. t... was first floated. Of course Clayton is one of those extremests you casually dismiss.


[http://hnn.us/comments/2903.html ]

And the response from Dr. Luker, here.

[http://hnn.us/comments/2905.html ]

I don't know about you, but I'm an old man and six years is a long time to wait for the process to fulfill its promise.


A note to Richard Henry Morgan: I am sorry to hear of your health problems. I am also happy to hear that you are still productive. I've enjoyed reading your posts here and look forward to many more.

I thought earlier and have commented that since Emory has ruled, the L'Affair Bellesiles would wind down. My judgment may have been a bit hasty.

I am also looking forward to your treatment of "cognate", I almost understood your discussion with John Fought. ;-o)


Rick Schwartz - 11/2/2002

It's always most amusing when anti-gun folk threaten to use force against those who disagree with them. Talk about a disconnect with reality. :-)

R. B. Bernstein - 11/2/2002

Mr. Fought, your mastery of pomposity is so indisputable that nothing I could attempt in the same vein could possibly compete.

The sound of mental shutters snapping shut is so loud on this bulletin board that it drowns out any competing viewpoint.

I remain unashamed, because I did and said nothing warranting shame. Others here cannot and should not say the same.

R. B. Bernstein - 11/2/2002

Again, as Prof. Sternstein has not seen fit to reply directly to me, I repeat what I tried twice to post here:

"I reject your apology, Prof. Sternstein, because your charge against me is typical of the vehement and wild accusations and charges that have raged in this entire controversy. You did not bother to check your facts. You did not bother to check with me. You did not bother to raise a finger to ascertain what the context of my comment was. No, instead you let fly. Frankly, you should be ashamed of yourself."

Now Prof. Sternstein persists in trying to impose distorted readings of what I meant. I meant two things, and two things only:

* opposition to those who threatened Prof. Bellesiles and members of his family.

* opposition to those who decline to assume the moral and ethical responsibility incumbent on a scholar who seeks to go beyond vigorous criticism of a fellow scholar to accusations of deliberate fraud or euphemistic invocations of such accusations.

Obviously, as even Prof. Sternstein should be able to see, the report of the Emory committee does not fall within either of these two categories. That I think it to be in significant degree unfair and mistaken is another matter.

Prof. Sternstein's innuendo regarding "cold steel" does not mask his own willingness to use it whenever and however he sees fit.

Ronald Best - 11/2/2002

The anti-gun liars started using the "13 children killed each day" deception soon after the Columbine schoot shootings. Thirteen people were killed at Columbine and suddenly thirteen children were killed each day. Is it any wonder that Sarah Brady and her anti-gun crowd who areso willing to deceive the American people, embraced Bellesiles' book of fiction?

Thomas L. Spencer - 11/2/2002

Don't you just love the Dean's note? Talk about eating crow, but I guess many of these people hope that academe has a large case of collective amnesia about this affair ASAP; "Dr. Bellesiles and his work are highly regarded in both academic and
publishing communities. His scholarship has been reviewed thoroughly by longstanding experts in the field and determined to be of the highest quality." -yeah.........

Peter buxtun - 11/2/2002


Good work. I trust you have sent it to The Nation. I would not bet money that they will print it.

By taking a wild swing at supporting The Liar, Wiener has done us a favor. He has stuck his foolish head into the noose of lies woven by Bellesiles and, more importantly he has re-ignited the dispute that seemed, till now, to be the exclusive privilege of the Ivory Tower Club. But, Emory's terrified
"investigation" produced a dwarfed and diluted report. The Liar was allowed a strategic retreat with his shabby reputation still partially intact.

There are a dozen books yet to be written about this shameful affair. Bellesiles' mentor at Emory (Dr. Kellermann) is still untouched and may recently have scored a $1.25 million Justice Department grant to "research violence". The Liar used to brag that his Boook of Lies was born "over a bottle of red wine" at a dinner with Kellermann. They agreed that such a book would be a foundation stone of the "Violence Policy Studies Departments" that are springing up on campuses across the nation. They were right. Thousands of copies of the Book of Lies will fester on library shelves and in faculty offices for the next hundred years.

Our enemy is not just one lying gunhater, nor his book, nor his mentor. It is the smug, arrogant, and falsely moralistic clique of intellectualoids who hate guns, love policy and intend to cure american violence even if it kills us. They have learned that laws often follow headlines and that "science" is news. They, like Stalin's favorite "scientist" T. Lysenko, love the power, money and status that comes from being a cover-boy celebrity.

The bell just rang for the next round. The Columbia College Conservative Club has just called for Columbia to recall their stupid award. The 3 days of silence have been deafening. The CCCC had Clayton Cramer, Prof. Lott and another academic do a teach-in near where the award was given 4 hours later. Both the gushing award and the somber teach-in were covered by C-Span.

We still have rolls to play and incomplete justice to pursue.

Be well,


John G. Fought - 11/2/2002

I'm sorry I wasn't there at Irvine: I live near enough. Since I too fall within the age and physical parameters of you Unusually Large Men (except perhaps for height), I'd like to suggest a line of T-shirts. They should do well at gun shows, as would several easily imagined designs featuring Prof. Emeritus Bellesiles. I ask no royalties for myself, but if you go ahead with it, a size L would be appreciated. (Obviously there would be no need for S and M sizes. Did I say that?) Post here and I'll get in touch.

John G. Fought - 11/2/2002

I'm sorry I wasn't there at Irvine: I live near enough. Since I too fall within the age and physical parameters of you Unusually Large Men (except perhaps for height), I'd like to suggest a line of T-shirts. They should do well at gun shows, as would several easily imagined designs featuring Prof. Emeritus Bellesiles. I ask no royalties for myself, but if you go ahead with it, a size L would be appreciated. (Obviously there would be no need for S and M sizes. Did I say that?) Post here and I'll get in touch.

Jerry Sternstein - 11/1/2002

I have little to add to John G. Fought's superb rebuke of Prof. Bernstein, other than some evidence to support his contention that it was almost impossible to get Emory's attention when it came to questioning Bellesiles's research. Here is a letter by the Dean of Emory to a letter requesting that the College open an investigation into whether Bellesiles had committed academic misconduct, based on what Clayton Cramer had discovered. The letter to the Dean, sent in the fall of 2000, almost two years before Emory saw fit to open an investigation, was professional, precise, and not, as Bellesiles always contended about those requests that Emory open an investigation, in the least bit histrionic or accusatory. But it was brushed aside and dismissed, as no doubt everything John Fought brought to the attention of the administration also was. This was a perfect example of Prof. Bernstein's vaunted academic "due process" at work.

Dr. Steven Sanderson
Dean of Emory College
Faculty of Arts & Sciences
White Hall, Suite 300
Atlanta, GA 30322

Dear Dr. Sanderson:

I am writing to request that you open an investigation into the possibility that one of your faculty members, Dr. Michael Bellesiles, may have committed academic fraud in his new book, "Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture".

As you are aware, Dr. Bellesiles' book has attracted much media attention because of its controversial claim that guns were uncommon in early America.

A well-known historian and author who specializes in guns in early America, Clayton Cramer, has concluded that Dr. Bellesiles' work is "intentionally deceptive". Cramer is the author of two books on guns in early America: "For The Defense Of Themselves And The State" and "Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic".

Mr. Cramer has not made a casual criticism. Rather, he has written a 29-page-long reasoned and scholarly paper which contains 86 references and many specific examples. I think the possibility we have to confront here is that previous reviewers of Dr. Bellesiles' work may not have taken the time or trouble to comprehensively check and see if he quoted original sources accurately. Instead, they may have relied upon Dr. Bellesiles' representations.

I have enclosed a copy of the full text of Mr. Cramer's analysis which is also available online at:


Mr. Cramer states:

"Having now read Bellesiles' book-length treatment of his ideas, and checked his sources with great care, I am sorry to report that what is wrong here is a lot more serious than atypical sources, or even excessive zeal defending a mistaken hypothesis. Generally, the errors in Arming America can be divided into the following categories: out of context quotes; using sources that confirm his thesis, while ignoring sources that contradict his thesis; and intentional deception."

If Cramer is correct, then it is possible that Dr. Bellesiles may have committed academic fraud. I ask that you investigate this allegation so that it may be either confirmed or disposed of. Mr. Cramer can be reached at telephone number 707-585-2615.

Sincerely Yours,



This is in response to your letter, reproduced below, and your earlier
e-mail alleging possible academic fraud against Dr. Michael Bellesiles
of our faculty.

Dr. Bellesiles and his work are highly regarded in both academic and
publishing communities. His scholarship has been reviewed thoroughly by
longstanding experts in the field and determined to be of the highest
quality. Such review by peers and publication in the academic world are
the appropriate ways in which scholarly work is evaluated. The
community of scholars and knowledgable others can evaluate Dr.
Bellesiles' work, which has, in fact, happened.

To allege possible fraud is a serious matter. To do so on the basis of
the document you cite does not meet the norms that guide scholarly
review. Mr. Cramer's work is not one that brings the rigorous reviews
of Dr. Bellesiles' work to bear in his criticisms, nor is it
justification for my questioning the quality of Dr. Bellesiles'

Steven Sanderson
Dean of Emory College
Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Randall N. Herrst, J.D. - 11/1/2002


You ask if there was a black "skinhead" there, but recall that Wiener specifically identified the "shaved head" man as being one of the small group who distributed flyers or asked questions as part of a supposedly NRA/gun nut effort to intimidate. I cannot say for certain that there was not a black man with a shaved head in the audience of 50 people, but I can assure you that on this particular day, there was no person matching that description in my team. That pretty much negates any black skinhead intimidation by my group of friends. Two people in my group were minorities, but not black, and none of my black or asian friends were available to attend on that day. Remember that my purpose there was simply to show the sudience that there was a rational opposition with substantive evidence and real-world questions. I had no reason to call in dozens or hundreds of people for the purpose of intimidation or disruption, since a few people were sufficient to do what I wanted.

I can also say that although I do not remember every one of the 50 people in the audience, I think that I would have remembered any "unusually large" black skinheads who acted in a threatening or disruptive manner during the meeting. Things like that would make a permanent impression on most people.

It is also useful to point out that there aren't many neo-Nazi, skinhead black people. However, there is a fashion among some younger black men to shave their heads because it "looks hip-hop", or some such thing. So it is somewhat possible that there was a black student with a shaved head, but the irony is that he would probably be a liberal who supported Bellesiles.

Yes, there were two questions that seemed somewhat similar, if one were not paying attention, or if one wanted to manipulate the facts to make the questions look like they had been fabricated and clumsily inserted in a redundant manner into the Q&A. One of those questions, from "Unusually large man #2", was (approximately), "Why would your research assume that most guns would have gone through probate back then, when it is so common even today, to give guns to family members in an informal manner? As a personal example, my father gave me 4 guns when he died without including them in any will or probate proceeding." Bellesiles' response was (approximately), "Well, back then people were more formal and tended to be very strict in their accounting." Anyone who has been following the Bellesiles controversy has already seen that assertion laid to rest; researchers have shown that many common items of the day rarely showed up in probate records. IIRC, one researcher stated that most probate records do not reveal any hatchets, which was the preferred weapon according to Bellesiles. How can that be, if people accounted for every possible item? Maybe people wanted to be totally defenseless? Another example is the relative lack of clothing in probate records. Did most people run around naked?

At that point, "Unusually large man #3" (me), followed up with a question that addressed Bellesiles' claim that accounting was very formal. I asked (approximately), "Why would it make sense for people of that era to be so formal, when it would often require them to travel for a week on horseback in order to record their goods at the county courthous? On top of that, the laws regarding firearms transfer are much more restrictive today, so there would have been less legal pressure back then. As another example of non-probated firearms transfer, I received two hunting rifles when my grandfather died, and that was done informally because everyone in the family knew that I had an interest in firearms, so there was no point in going through probate. Can you comment?" Bellesiles basically repeated what he told "U.l.m.#2".

I can verify both accounts as being true and individual, rather than some fictional story accidentally blurted out by two idiots who didn't know that they weren't supposed to repeat themselves. Of course, Wiener portrayed a repetitive set of questions, rather than the individuality of the stories, since he wanted to make the questions look like they were concocted for base political advantage.

Just for reference purposes, note that very few states required you to record the transfer of firearms within the basic family unit, until quite recently. Many states still don't.

Yes, Bellesiles did request sympathy for his "persecution". He spent approximately 20-25 minutes of the scheduled hour talking about all the horrible things that had been done to him. Hacking his web site, massive e-mail complaints to his e-mail box, telephoned and personal death threats, ad absurdum. He only spent 15 minutes talking about his book, leaving 15 minutes for Q&A. Even at that time, I think he realized that his only possible salvation was to portray himself as a victim or a vast, redneck conspiracy. But you have seen how few of his claims have turned out to be true, so you can evaluate his victimization claims for yourself.

I know his and Wiener's explanation of the UCI meeting was grossly misleading. Or use any of the terms used by the Emory report to describe Bellesiles' work.

Jerry Sternstein - 11/1/2002

For those who want to evaluate whether or not Prof. Bernstein did indeed state that critics of Prof. Bellesiles "must be met with cold steel" a good place to start is here, with Prof. Bernstein defending his excessive response to a simple posting of an unfavorable rehash article about Bellesiles.

Interested readers -- if there are any on this issue -- might then want to move backwards and forwards on this thread, which I did, to determine its context and meaning. It is open, they will see, to various "alternative readings." Some might conclude that Prof. Bernstein's "cold steel" remarks seem to encompass a wide range of Bellesiles's critics, others might view them as directed at only minor players in the controversy, while still others might see them as pointed at those who played a significant role in exposing Bellesiles's fabrications. And others, still, might conclude that Prof. Bernstein, as he seemed to hint at one time, meant his remarks to apply only to those who might have posed a physical threat to Bellesiles.

But it is clear that Prof. Bernstein did utter those words and it appears, at least to me, that he directed them at anybody he personally believed raised what he regarded as unseemly questions about Bellesiles's "professional integrity and the integrity of his scholarship."

Since the Emory Investigative Committee has done just that, stating for the record that Bellesiles's "scholarly integrity is seriously in question" and concluding that he was "guilty of unprofessional and misleading work," I wonder if Prof. Bernstein now feels that they too deserve to be met with "cold steel"?

After reading his other posting in which he refuses to offer an "olive branch" to any of Bellesiles's critics who have obviously been proven correct in their criticisms, I would assume he still does, and that we can thus expect similar excursions into the realm of excessive responses from him in the future.

John G. Fought - 11/1/2002

I will be disappointed if by now you haven't read my article on this site about the persistent problem of accountability for academic misconduct, but just in case, let me call it to your attention here. You will see its relevance.
Your extreme indignation can hardly be due only to Mr. Sternstein's writings and actions. Indeed, I can't imagine what earthly cause could bring you to such a pitch. Unfortunately for your arguments, since you have no more standing in this matter than Mr. Sternstein, your dudgeon is comically inappropriate.
Due process, as I and others have noted already, seems to be very difficult to start up. It seems that the presumption of innocence can be prolonged indefinitely, in the face of any amount of evidence, even after resignation or firing. I posted an essay of about 10,000 words reviewing AA, complete with academic niceties of citation, many months ago, soon after I had read it. It was and is on a website called Guncite.com. In it I made a number of criticisms of AA, some that are mine alone, and some that have also been made independently in other sources, often in more detail. Knowing something about academic review processes, I wrote some weeks later to the then acting chair of the Emory Department of History, calling the controversy formally to his attention, though I did not doubt that others had done so as well. Later, I wrote a similar letter to the acting Dean. Still later, in March 2002, when I learned that a panel had been assembled by Emory, I sent another letter addressed to all of them along with a brief outlining specifics of what I thought were the most serious issues falling under their review guidelines. So, whether Mr. Sternstein or others had done so or not, these matters were brought formally to their attention. I suspect others did as much or more. None of these people replied to me, nor did I expect them to. There is no evidence that any attention was given to these matters because of anything I wrote, nor did I expect to find any. My point in rehashing all this is that the use of these due processes is entirely at the discretion of the academic officers of the moment, and they have every incentive not to use them, unless they are literally forced to do so. Only two forces are powerful enough to accomplish this, I believe, as the course of this affair confirms: the threat of the institution losing federal research subsidies and the threat of losing institutional credibility in the public at large. I think it was primarily the latter that forced Emory to convene first one and then another panel, and thereby finally to make resignation the shortest path for Bellesiles between stick and carrot. I suspect that the unusual pomposity of your postings here may be due to your embarrassment at the outcome more than anything else. That would be appropriate. I have often regretted my feelings of futility as I watched this matter drag on for months, but it pleases me to observe here that my futility has been as nothing compared with yours. It is you, not Mr. Sternstein, who should be ashamed.

R. B. Bernstein - 11/1/2002

I reject your apology, Prof. Sternstein, because your charge against me is typical of the vehement and wild accusations and charges that have raged in this entire controversy. You did not bother to check your facts. You did not bother to check with me. You did not bother to raise a finger to ascertain what the context of my comment was. No, instead you let fly. Frankly, you should be ashamed of yourself.

R. B. Bernstein - 11/1/2002

I reject your apology, Prof. Sternstein, because it is too little, too late. Your citing of my remark out of context and with no attention whatsoever to the reasons I made it exemplifies the way in which charges and rumors have taken the place of reasoned scholarly discussion. You should be ashamed of yourself.

R. B. Bernstein - 11/1/2002

Given your repeated and vehement assault on Prof. Bellesiles's use of sources and his integrity, it behooved you to cite your sources for statements in your article. I am relieved that you now have done so, but I also find it troubling that you had to be asked to do so.

As for my alleged need to proffer an olive branch, I fail to see any need for it. I have been accused repeatedly of seeking to censor critics of ARMING AMERICA and of seeking to suppress their criticisms. Nothing could be further from the truth. All I did was to demand that those who were engaged in a vehement assault on a fellow scholar's integrity assume the responsibility of standing behind their charges and demanding a formal inquiry. That was the soruce and the context of my comment about "cold steel." I was and remain bitterly opposed to attempts to short-circuit scholarly discussion by what various people in other realms have called "the politics of personal destruction."

If Prof. Bellesiles's critics were so certain of their case, why not demand that such a group as the American Historical Association or the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture launch an inquiry? There were notable precedents for such a move, chiefly the Horn Papers hoax of the late 1940s (IEAHC) and the Stephen Oates controversy of the late 1980s (AHA).

Instead, the drumbeat continued on the Internet, via the H-NET list-servs and HNN, and via the news media until Emory University itself, at Prof. Bellesiles's request, launched an inquiry.

I fail to see how insisting on standards of due process, fair play, and the presumption of innocence requires me to proffer an olive branch to anyone. And I also fail to see how insisting on such standards constitutes demands for censorship. If anything, various posters on various H-NET list-servs and on HNN owe me a few olive branches.

Finally, Prof. Sternstein, you seem to think that somehow I can't quite believe that an eminent scholar might change his or her mind. Nothing could be further from the truth. But, given how many weird and bizarre claims have been made about Prof. Bellesiles and his book, I think that it was only fair and appropriate for you to substantiate the claims that you made. That you now have done so has ended this detour in this sad business.

I will say this, however: My comment elsewhere on HNN on how this controversy was "Internet-accelerated" was not some sort of elitist snub of those lacking PhDs or university appointments or other paraphernalia of academic rank. Rather, it was an observation that the Internet is notorious for propagating nonsense -- for example, the nonsensical claim that Israel was behind the attacks of 9/11 and advised all Jews to stay home -- a claim that persuaded the poet laureate of New Jersey. Much of what has been said about Prof. Bellesiles is noxious nonsense -- in particular, the claims that his book and his fate somehow exemplify the dangers to historical truth posed by leftist academics who skew truth in favor of political concerns. Yet again, Prof. Bellesiles was till recently a registered Republican, a supporter in 2000 of Senator John McCain's presidential candidacy, and a card-carrying member of ... the National Rifle Association.

I know Prof. Bellesiles; I have known him, via e-mail and telephone, for several years, since we first amiably but vigorously disagreed on the merits and drawbacks of historical documentaries in a discussion on H-SHEAR. I consider him, then and now, to be a valued friend and colleague. I deeply admire his REVOLUTIONARY OUTLAWS (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993), a book that was praised enthusiastically and with considerable justification by scholars left, right, and center. I have benefited extensively from his advice on my own work-in-progress, and his reviews for H-LAW, which I assigned him solely because of his qualifications for writing those reviews, have been models of cogent historical commentary and scholarship -- despite the efforts of some of his critics to assail them and him and me. For these reasons, I reject the imputations on his integrity.

I now believe that he made serious mistakes in ARMING AMERICA, and that the book is gravely flawed. To be sure, he has said as much himself. I also believe, as I have always believed, that the ordiinary processes of scholarly discussion would have exposed the book's flaws. I also believe, however, that there is much that is good in ARMING AMERICA, and that the work of such other scholars as Don Higginbotham, Saul Cornell, and Edmund S. Morgan corroborates many of Prof. Bellesiles's claims.

There was no need to destroy a good man. The penalty for being wrong in a work of historical scholarship, even seriously or catastrophically wrong, should not be the destruction of an academic career and a man's reputation.

Thomas Gunn - 11/1/2002


You make assumptions that may not be correct.

First Bellesiles' lie: What was it? In its most basic form the lie is that the 2nd protects a collective right rather than an individual right. His book was used as a source in the Emerson court case. The court wisely turned away the argument. The lie is necessary. Lacking that the only way the Feds can infringe an individual right to arms is by constitutional amendment, a difficult process. Which would not abrogate the right, just make infringement by the fed legal.

It is not clear gun control would indeed reduce gun violence. Even if it would there is a trade off. There is some violence stopped by an innocent with a gun. Remember also that all gun violence whether by a criminal or a defender is chalked up as gun violence. Then too, taken to the extreme, gun violence would be reduced by taking guns from the police and the military. Gun control in this instance starts to sound absurd.

It is also not clear that gun bans would keep criminals from getting guns. Even in the most resrtictive regimes perps seem to be able to get guns.

Terrorists bent on killing have turned to bombs and aircraft to effect their murder. Most serial killers have used means other than guns for their killing.

There is also the problem of unintended consequences. What will happen as bans take effect? Recall that the Brady Bill bans high cap mags. As a consequence manufacturers began building guns (particularly handguns) with the smaller mags. The guns became smaller and easier to conceal, now the banners are bitching about small guns.

This is the last specifically gun control post I'll make in this forum, and you may have the last word.


John G. Fought - 11/1/2002

Let me catch up here with both of your posts today. Yes, I've thought about the parallels with prohibition, and with the old progressive movement generally. I think it's an excellent parallel with the more familiar authoritarianism of the right. Instead of 'do as I say because I'm telling you it's right' one gets 'do as I say for your own good, because it's right.' A softer boot on the neck. One of the earlier progressive descriptions of juvenile deliquency, a term apparently invented by the progressives way back when, was of a bunch of young men hanging out in the evening on a street corner with nothing to do, not improving themselves.
Traffic trauma and death is a revealing topic too, since it quickly becomes evident that saving 'even one life' is not actually the point. If it were, 5 gallon paint buckets would have lid locks and our drunk driving laws would be as draconian as the Swedes'. The last time I checked, they weren't just taking your license: they took the car too. Permanently. That would never do here: driving is a right. Why, it's protected by a constitutional amendment, isn't it? I just don't remember which one.

David G. Wrone - 11/1/2002

On the subject of the lies routinely trotted out by the anti-gunners to establish the righteousness of their cause, "child deaths" comes immediately to mind. Depending on the lefty to whom you listen, the figure of "children killed every day by a gun" varies from between 10 and 13. No one but a heartless brute could envision 13 bullet torn pre-schoolers, life blood splattered on their juice boxes and crayons, and not shudder. It is precisely the brand of emotion evoking political speech that sends the soccer moms to the polls in their hundreds of thousands. "Ban guns! It is for the children," they insist when punching the Democratic candidate's name on the ballot. In truth, "13 children a day are killed with a gun" can only be described as 'accurate' if one is willing - like the Brady Bunch/Chuck Schumer crowd - to include in the figures those gang bangers in their late teens who are slaughtering one another in our large cities. Brady et al will never admit this; they understand that even a soccer mom won't have too much sympathy for the gun-related death of a sociopath. However, the myth of a daily pile of Kaitlyns and Ryans, toddling about the house only to be blown into the land of eternal happy meals by daddy's bedstand pistol, appeals directly to the suburban folk who make or break an election. I will look the statistics up, but the actual figure for ACTUAL children (as opposed to 19-year-old thugs) killed annually by guns in the United States is something like 600. It goes without saying that this is a tragic figure, but bear in mind that more children drown in a bucket or bathtub every year. Gun owners have known for years that the forces arrayed against them not only enjoy exclusive control of mainstream media, but that the "facts" deployed in advocating registration and seizure of firearms are usually nothing more than acts of bald mendacity.

Thomas L. Spencer - 11/1/2002

Mr. Lowe,
I do not own a car. I get around via the public transport system where I live. I find it a bit inconvenient at times, somewhat cheaper than owning a car, but would I say you don't have a right to own one? I'm sure that somewhere out there there are those who say that we should do away with private ownership of automobles and go to pure mass transit. They might cite as part of their case the business of pollution, of health hazards posed by car exhaust fumes not to mention traffic accidents. They might also cite that our dependence on foreign oil has led us to all the problems in the Middle East and the ongoing war with Al Qaeda and possibly Iraq. Would you be willing to have your car confiscated, even if you were a safe driver, if some group of people started a movement to ban privately owned autos?
What if one of them wrote a hot button book "proving" that America's "Car Culture" only started around 1925 and that there is no true right for ANYONE to own a car? Suppose they made up the "evidence" for this book? I hope you see my point.

Thomas L. Spencer - 11/1/2002

Just a thought that I've been pondering for some time; have you ever noticed the parallels between the "gun safety" movement and the prohibitionist movement a century ago? I wonder if this might not be an interesting topic for historical research? Did the prohibitionist movement doctor the facts for the "cause"? Did they have their Bellesiles? What about similarities in lobbying and political efforts?
We all know how this story ended, with organized crime supplying the demand. Reading about gun crimes in Britain I can't help but wonder. The IRA certainly had no problems obtaining small arms, explosives, etc..

Steve Lowe - 11/1/2002

That's the problem: I don't think anyone on the gun rights side of the issue can argue that gun control proponents justify their beliefs based on the Bellesiles "lie." If you are referring to other alleged "lies" perpetrated by the anti-gun lobby, I would argue that yes, beliefs based on lies should be revised. I use the word "alleged," by the way, because I haven't done my own research and I don't necessarily trust either side in this pro-gun/anti-gun debate.

As to your other question on whether gun control will end violence generally or only gun violence in particular, the answer is clear. However, I don't believe that individuals who would take a gun and kill people at random would do the same if all they could get their hands on were knives. Does that mean I'm for gun control? Not necessarily, but I certainly don't see the logic in stating unequivocally that restricting access to guns will not reduce the number of violent deaths. So, what I think is: gun control WOULD PROBABLY reduce the number of violent deaths in this country, just as reducing the number of cars on the road would reduce the number of deadly accidents. (By the way, I'm much more of a car "nut" than a gun "nut" so don't go thinking I'm for taking people's cars away.)

Thomas Gunn - 11/1/2002


Bellesiles wrote a book. Folks write books and they get published for all sorts of reasons. Arming America was written for a reason. One might assume to enlighten rather than entertain, and done so under the color of authority. Michael was after all a scholar and peer reviewed for accuracy.

Something happened on the way to the US Supreme Court however. Michael's book was shown to be a pack of lies.

To finally get to your question, if the justification for a belief is based on a lie does it behoove one to question the belief?

What do you think?

The whole question of Gun control boils down to one of violence (another pet project of Bellesiles). Will gun control end or lessen violence, will gun control end or lessen only GUN violence? What do you think?


John G. Fought - 11/1/2002

Plainly, the discussion here all along has been about two related things at least: one is Bellesiles' scholarship itself; the other is the uses made of it nationally in the Second Amendment debate and also in state and local debates about gun laws and their strange pattern of enforcement. It is the second that gives the first much of its importance beyond Emory University and the discipline, if that is the right word, of American history. It is the second, I would say also, that made the book possible in the first place, by creating a big honey trap for scholars on the make. There is no need to be arch about it: nobody has been trying to deceive you.

Russell Jane Samal - 11/1/2002

Clayton -- I think the answer is pretty clear: Prof. Bernstein is a potically motivated fellow who will continue to look for ways to change the subject until the cows come home. He has no argument.

Steve Lowe - 11/1/2002

Thomas Gunn said: "I am a bit amazed at the tenaciousness with which the anti-right's side holds onto their emotional beliefs re guns. (I know Ralph there I go again.) It would be interesting to learn if this episode has changed any minds."

Speaking as someone who does not own guns but has no problem with ownership of guns by others, I would ask why this episode SHOULD change anyone's mind on gun control or any other "emotional belief re guns"? I thought the debate was about whether Bellesiles's scholarship was valid or fraudulent. If that was indeed the subject of this debate, then shouldn't the only question be: "It would be interesting to learn if this episode changed any minds about Bellesiles's book." The answer to that is obvious.

Or is Bellesiles's scholarship (and others' use/misuse of same) really not what this discussion is about?

Thomas Gunn - 11/1/2002


It has been reported here and elsewhere that one of the "skinheads" was in fact a black man, can you comment?

There are reports that the same question was asked at least twice, something like, "My father gave me his guns, they were never listed in his will, how do you explain that with respect to your probate data?" That Bellesiles made some victim like gesture requesting sympathy from the assemblage.

It was good to hear a second side to the story.


Randall N. Herrst, J.D. - 11/1/2002


First, I would like to thank Prof. Sternstein for the excellent article on Wiener's attempted defense of Bellesiles.

Second, I admit that I do not have any degree in History, but it is one of my favorite topics.

Third, I proudly state that I am a self-defense activist.

Let me tell you what really happened at the UCI meeting where Bellesiles was supposed to discuss his book.

I was one of the "four unusually large men" who supposedly came to intimidate Bellesiles or disrupt his presentation, as Wiener clearly implied. Wiener portrayed a dramatic, intimidating entryway presence (emotionally analogous to Gov. Wallace's blocking the entry of a segregated school) by the "four unusually large men", apparently to frighten people away from the event. Wiener claimed, "People coming to the talk were startled, and some were a little frightened, but Bellesiles said calmly, 'Ah, so they did come.'" Wow! Bellesiles must be really brave to face down those monstrous bullies, right? And he had the courage to show up, even knowing that huge, violent thugs were hounding his every move!

As one who knew 5 of the 8 firearms owners prior to the meeting, and the one who printed the one page flyer (which was not titled "Bellesiles is a LIAR!"), I can provdie you with some personal information on the people who attended. Wiener's description of "four unusually large men" is obviously meant to evoke an image of four, young, tough football linemen, each 6' 5" tall, weighing 290-360 pounds, and replete with bulging muscles. Naturally, they must be mindless redneck thugs with a cumulative I.Q. approximating room temperature. Their purpose could only have been to intimidate or disrupt, since none of them could be a college graduate, or even literate. They didn't "look like faculty members or even history grad students."

"Unusually Large Man #1" is 6'2" tall, 215 pounds, slightly overweight and out of shape. He is approximately 50 years old, a respected millionaire businessman, and is often mistaken for a professor due to his demeanor and appearance. He was one who I did not know prior to the event, but I did get his contact info afterwards. He was not one of the people at the two entryways, so his "frighten away" value was minimal. He just took one of the flyers and sat at the back of the room, and I don't recall him saying a word during the entire meeting. He certainly did nothing loud, violent, or threatening.

"Unusually large man #2" is 6'2" tall and 300 pounds, but he looks more like a roly-poly Santa Claus than a tough football lineman. I doubt that anyone would be physically intimidated. He is approximately 50 years old, an author of many books and articles, and the owner of a publishing company. He did not appear at either of the entrances, so his intimidation value was also non-existent. He was the one who asked 2 or 3 questions, based on his real-world experiences with non-probated firearms transfers. His questions were directed at the issues, with no attempt to threaten Bellesiles.

"Unusually large man #3" was me, 51 years old, 5'8" tall and 225 pounds, and definitely overweight rather than ultra-muscular. I was supervising the two people who were handing out flyers at the two entrances, but I am certain that no one would view my appearance or behavior as threatening. In addition to my normally peaceful nature, I suffered a back injury 2 years ago, which makes the very concept of physical fighting impractical. I have a Juris Doctor degree and I have acted as a political consultant to several political candidates. I was the one who called a few friends and organized the flyer handout. I would not allow any of my friends to even attempt to intimidate anyone trying to enter the classroom; but that precaution wasn't even necessary, since my friends are not the ignorant rednecks portrayed by Wiener.

"Unusually large man #4" at the entrance or in the room dis not exist as far as I could see. There were two other flyer distributors at the door, but one of them was 5'6" tall and 180 pounds, which is practically the opposite of Wiener's description. He is an independent businessman in the production machinery business and he is 48 years old and a non-skinhead.

Another flyer distributor is 5'11" tall and 180 pounds, 60+ years old, and resembles your favorite uncle. He is now retired, but he worked in the military and commercial nuclear industries for 40 years and attained secret clearances so high that they won't even tell the public the designations of those clearance categories. Not exactly an irresponsible, violent skinhead.

And if the purpose of our appearance was to intimidate or disrupt or riot, why do you suppose "Unusually large man #2" brought his 75 year old mother to attend the lecture? For the intellectual exchange or because she would be a powerful ally in a brawl? Of course, Wiener didn't mention her presence, even though it was obvious that she was accompanying "Unusually large man #2". Incidentally, she is a gentle and cultured soul who loves classical music and whose deceased husband was a concert violinist.

Wiener chose to denigrate all of us as being of a lesser caste than professors or grad students, yet it should be obvious that these people are solid citizens with real accomplishments.

There were a couple other firearms owners who attended the meeting, but they asked no questions during the meeting, and they did nothing to harass or heckle. They simply wanted to see if Bellesiles were better informed in person than he appeared to be in the media. Bellesiles' pathetic lecture, wherein he spent most of the time talking about his "persecution", convinced them that Bellesiles was as incompetent and misinformed as they had already seen.

You might also wonder about Wiener's description of somebody wearing a "flak jacket". I am something of an expert in the field of military history and technology, and I can assure you that I saw no such clothing. If anyone was wearing such clothing, they must have kept a very low profile during the meeting, which essentially negates the intimidation potential, doesn't it? I recall that "Unusually large man #2" was wearing a dark colored jacket, which could be maliciously interpreted as having a slight military theme. It seems that Wiener felt that such a normal jacket on a large, overweight man could be portrayed as threatening, especially if he described it in military terms.

You might also like to know about the "Unusually large man" with the "shaved head". I am the one Wiener identified as having a "shaved head", which of course can only be intended to evoke frightening images of "young, tough, violent, neo-Nazi, skinhead gang members". For the record, I do not shave my head, but I do suffer from alopecia, which causes a substantial loss of hair. My head actually has a few patches of hair, but the overall effect is rather unsightly, so I ALWAYS wear a full-brim golf/hiking hat in public. Wiener failed to mention the hat, since it did not fit his political agenda.

Wiener stated that the flyer was titled "The Lies of Michael Bellesiles", which might lead you to believe that it was an ad hominem attack. There is a flyer that I printed from my computer and I still have the file. The actual title is, "IS BELLESILES TRYING TO DECEIVE YOU? DECIDE FOR YOURSELF!" I think that this is quite different in approach, since it asks you to go to some linked web sites (including Cramer's) and use that information to evaluate the information that the attendees receive from Bellesiles. Is that not in the spirit of honest intellectual inquiry? My purpose in printing and distributing the flyer was to let the attendees know that there was another side to the issue. Yes, I stated that Bellesiles was engaging in academic dishonesty, but I was not wrong, just ahead of the curve.



Regarding those incidents with which I am personally familiar, Prof. Wiener has proven to be no more accurate and has shown no more integrity than Bellesiles.

Jerry Sternstein - 10/31/2002

Please don't worry Thomas. I thought your post was superb and never felt you were stepping on my toes. Not in the slightest. I'm impressed by your ability to track things down so quickly.

I would like to amend my previous post somewhat. Several people have informed me that Prof. Bernstein's "cold steel" remark was not directed at Prof. Lindgren but rather at unnamed people who challenged Bellesiles's integrity after H-NET posted a vapid and error filled Australian newspaper rewrite of Kim Strassel's first Wall Street Journal article.

When criticized months later for excessive harshness in his responses to Bellesiles's critics, Prof. Bernstein said that his "cold steel" comment alluded to using "cold steel" against those who might have made threats of violence against Bellesiles, and not his verbal critics.

I think we can all agree that this is a minor point that need not be rehashed, and I apologize for mistakenly bringing it up at this time.

And I hope that Prof. Bernstein will not take my remarks as anything but a suggestion that those involved in the controversy over Arming America should lower the decibel level of the discourse.

Clayton E. Cramer - 10/31/2002

I notice that Professor Bernstein is still trying to deflect attention away from Bellesiles's fraud. Why? Is it so difficult to demonstrate that the criticisms of Bellesiles's work are wrong?

I ask the question again that I have asked Professor Bernstein repeatedly in many forums: can you please explain the many discrepancies between Bellesiles's claims and the documents he cites:

1. Why is the wording of the 1792 Militia Act not just incomplete, but actually has words added into it that reverse Bellesiles's claimed significance for it?

2. Why does Bellesiles cite a 1628/9 shopping list of arms for Massachusetts Bay Company as a 1630 census of all arms, both privately and corporately held, actually present?

3. Why does Bellesiles claim that colonial legislatures required nearly all firearms to be centrally stored, when NONE of the colonial statutes he cites for that claim say anything of the sort?

These are not "differences of interpretation." These are not trivial details. These are issues of integrity that are at the core of the problem.

I am getting tired of Professor Bernstein's continual evasions of this simple question: why is Bellesiles's accuracy so astonishingly low, and at the same time, not at all random (as simple carelessness might cause)?

Orson Olson - 10/31/2002

YES--indeed!--Mr. Cramer: you are lucky just as you say, and so are we. Which simply atests to the corruptability of our elites.


Thomas Gunn - 10/31/2002


For the record, I never intended to "step on your toes" by my reply to Prof. Bernstein. I spent all of thirty seconds on a slow connection in a google search for +"Gary Wills" +Bellesiles, to find many references to the Wills quote.

My point here is that even if a layman such as myself can find the proof so quickly what is Bernstein's problem.

It was obvious to me that the information re Morgan was of a personal nature, but I had no doubt that it was accurate. Again what is Bernstein's problem?

I am a bit amazed at the tenaciousness with which the anti-right's side holds onto their emotional beliefs re guns. (I know Ralph there I go again.) It would be interesting to learn if this episode has changed any minds.

Btw, thanks for your contribution here.


Jerry Sternstein - 10/31/2002

First off, I would like to thank Prof. Bernstein for reminding me that we were once colleagues, though very briefly, at Brooklyn College, CUNY. I hope his year there was pleasurable, as was my almost three decades at that fine urban institution. But why our collegiality at Brooklyn College should make any difference whether one is truthful or not in citing evidence or sources to support statements in published articles is difficult for me to comprehend. Even if we were never colleagues, I would try to be as honest in what I publish as I possibly could be, and I hope Prof. Bernstein would expect that of me or any historian, for that matter.

Mr. Gunn’s posting already effectively deals with your question but I would like to add several facts. I’ve sent the Gary Wills, March 2002 e-mail reply to the organizers of the conference, to Rick Shenkman of HNN for verification. In it, Wills states when asked about defending Arming America that “No one defends it.” I wrote that he said, “Nobody defends him,” and for this I plead guilty. But the meaning of these words are the same: he has obviously concluded, that Arming America was indefensible. In April, at Northwestern University he told Prof. Lindgren in even more blunt words, “I was took. The book is a fraud.” I didn’t mention that Lindgren was my source because at the time he had informed me in confidence what Wills said, and I hadn’t asked him when I wrote this article about identifying him as the source. Similarly, after speaking to Prof. Lindgren, I now feel free to report that Prof. Lindgren is the recipient of Edmund Morgan’s two page, handwritten letter on his personal stationary expressing his views about Arming America I reported in my article. If Prof. Bernstein doubts its authenticity, Prof. Lindgren will be happy to send a copy to the editor of HNN to vouch for it.

What I find curious about Prof. Bernstein’s challenge, however, are several assumptions that seem to be implicit in it. One is that once historians like Wills and Morgan praise a work of purported scholarship, it is difficult to believe that they would change their minds and conclude that the work was unworthy of their praise once they come upon convincing evidence to that effect. I would think that any open-minded historian worth his salt would act similarly, and convey to those responsible for exposing the questioned scholarship that they made a mistake in originally praising it. Why is it so difficult for Prof. Bernstein to believe that decent people interested in the truth would behave any other way when confronted with evidence that they were wrong? Apparently, Prof. Bernstein has failed to notice that most historians reached similar conclusions after the William & Mary forum and other critiques of Bellesiles’s research were published.

I am confident that many other historians, no doubt impressed with how fair and distinguished the Emory panel proved to be and how powerful and persuasive their Report was, will express similar views as other strong supporters of Bellesiles have already done, two of whom I quoted in my article, one anonymously. This doesn’t mean they will publicly announce that they were taken in by Bellesiles and the party line hawked by him, Wiener, and a few other hard core apologists, but I wouldn’t doubt that they are expressing their beliefs privately now. This is how decent, honest scholars react when faced with evidence that they have been deceived.

The other assumption that seems to pervade Prof. Bernstein’s challenge is that Bellesiles’s academic critics might also be lacking in “scholarly integrity,” as Emory’s select panel has concluded about him. At one time, I note, you said that those critics, especially Prof. Lindgren, should be met with “cold steel,” a statement Prof. Bernstein, I’m sure, must have meant metaphorically, because I’m certain I never saw him walking through the corridors of Brooklyn College so armed. But why, I wonder, at this late stage when the Emory panel concluded as it did, does Prof. Bernstein appear to join Jon Wiener as one of the last members of the rear guard seeking to enforce their discredited notion upon the academy that Bellesiles is a victim of the NRA and not a victim of his own scholarly misdeeds. Why does Prof. Bernstein even hint that Arming America’s academic critics might be as deceptive and untrustworthy as the Emory panel said Bellesiles was?

As a former colleague, I hope, Prof. Bernstein, you will not mind if I offer a bit of advise. Perhaps you should look look back on your own behavior over the past two years, often on display on H-LAW and other H-NET sites, and consider whether any of the people you attacked, especially Prof. Lindgren, deserves an olive branch from you. It need not be an apology, but simply some statement acknowledging that Prof. Lindgren has done the world of historical scholarship a great service.

That would be my challenge to you, Prof. Bernstein -- an admission that you might have been wrong in some of your statements over the last two years and that Prof. Lindgren’s work deserves the praise it is entitled to and that you never offered before.

Paul H. Blackman, Ph.D., NRA - 10/31/2002

Prof. Sternstein mentions on the second page of his "Shooting the Messenger" (Oct. 28) two statements regarding Prof. Bellesiles's association with the NRA: first, a 1999 Emory Report statement by Bellesiles that "I used to be in the NRA, as a matter of fact"; second, a statement in the Chicago-Kent Law Review by Prof. Jack Rakove thanking Bellesiles "a card-carrying member of the NRA...."
In addition to those reports of Bellesiles's reported past and present NRA membership, he was also interviewed for the Georgetown Public Policy Review (vol. 6, no. 1, Fall 2000), where he said, "Although I've never been a member, I have associated with members of the NRA for a long, long time."
Never? Formerly? Currently? I don't know why anyone would ever doubt Prof. Bellesiles's word.

Jerry Brennan - 10/31/2002

Bellesiles cited many publicly available records which either did not support his claims, or contradicted his claims, as well as some presumably public records which seem no longer to exist, and for such cites he has been criticized to put it mildly.

In the statements to which Mr. Berstein refers in: "On the same standard that you apply to Michael Bellesiles, you owe it to your readers here on HNN to provide your sources for the foregoing statements" Mr. Sternstein does not cite any such public, or presumably public, records. The "same standard" does not apply.

Peter Buxtun - 10/31/2002

Oh battered readers of history,

Bellesiles used to compare himself to a lady Professor at Emory who bravely fought and won a lawsuit against a militant Holocaust Denier. He posed as historian David fighting NRA Goliath. His preening self-congratulation seems premature.

He should exchange his Bancroft award for the first Lysenko Prize in Creative History.


Peter Buxtun

Tim Lambert - 10/30/2002

I find it odd that Prof Sternstein writes "a colleague at Northwestern" rather than "Lindgren".

And I should make it clear that I think his account would have a more credibility if he had attributed Lindgren as the source.

And in case anyone cares what I think of Wiener's article: It was a complete disgrace. I don't think Bellesiles' responses to his critics were adequate but at least he engaged them on *some* of the evidence.

Charles V. Mutschler - 10/30/2002

I agree that it would be nice if everyone would go "on the record" about their honest opinion about _Arming America_. Especially those who have changed their minds. However, I suppose it is human nature not to want to broadcast your own mistakes, especially in a case that has been as high profile as ths one. Although Professors Garry Wills and Edmund Morgan have been pretty quiet, there have been published accounts which seem to support Professor Sternstein's claim that they have changed their minds about the validity of _Arming America_.

In the February 1, 2002 _Chronicle of Higher Education_ is an article by Danny Postel, "Did the Shootouts Over "Arming America" Divert Attention From the Real Issues?" See cover, and pp. A12 - A15.

P. A12, "...Two eminent historians lavished praise on _Arming America_ in two of the most prominent places books can be reviewed: Garry Wills on the cover of the _New York Times Book Review_ and Edmund Morgan in the _New York Review of Books_. ..."

P. A15: "...Doubt has even been sowed among some who had praised the book when it appeared. Edmund Morgan, the professor emeritus of history at Yale University who praised _Arming America_ in the _New York Review of Books_, calls some of the accusations against Mr. Bellesiles' book "pretty incriminating." He says that while it would be "difficult to disprove" the book's central contention - that the gun culturre in America really took hold only after the Civil War - "if people do find that Bellesiles has cheated on the evidence, it could discredit the whole thesis." (Mr. Morgan has not written anything about the subject since his review and says he will not. Garry Wills declined to be interviewed for this article, explaining he would need more time than he currently has to properly reconsider the matter.) ..."

So there it is. In February, after the _William & Mary Quarterly_ issue came out, but before other critics pointed out increasing problems with Mr. Bellesiles' book and his veracity when discussing the book, there was a published account which indicates that Professor Morgan had serious doubts about the validity of _Arming America_. In the following months came the detailed description of the factual differences between what Mr. Bellesiles said about the water damage in his office, and what actually happens to water damaged legal pads, as well as the nature of the damage as explained by emory University.

In my opinion, Professor Sternstrom has made a good case against both _Arming America_ and Professor Weiner's article in _The Nation_. Would you show us where Professor Sternstron's critique of the Weiner article is in factual error? Specific citations would be helpful, of course.

Thanks for reading. CVM

Charles V. Mutschler - 10/30/2002

I agree that it would be nice if everyone would go "on the record" about their honest opinion about _Arming America_. Especially those who have changed their minds. However, I suppose it is human nature not to want to broadcast your own mistakes, especially in a case that has been as high profile as ths one. Although Professors Garry Wills and Edmund Morgan have been pretty quiet, there have been published accounts which seem to support Professor Sternstein's claim that they have changed their minds about the validity of _Arming America_.

In the February 1, 2002 _Chronicle of Higher Education_ is an article by Danny Postel, "Did the Shootouts Over "Arming America" Divert Attention From the Real Issues?" See cover, and pp. A12 - A15.

P. A12, "...Two eminent historians lavished praise on _Arming America_ in two of the most prominent places books can be reviewed: Garry Wills on the cover of the _New York Times Book Review_ and Edmund Morgan in the _New York Review of Books_. ..."

P. A15: "...Doubt has even been sowed among some who had praised the book when it appeared. Edmund Morgan, the professor emeritus of history at Yale University who praised _Arming America_ in the _New York Review of Books_, calls some of the accusations against Mr. Bellesiles' book "pretty incriminating." He says that while it would be "difficult to disprove" the book's central contention - that the gun culturre in America really took hold only after the Civil War - "if people do find that Bellesiles has cheated on the evidence, it could discredit the whole thesis." (Mr. Morgan has not written anything about the subject since his review and says he will not. Garry Wills declined to be interviewed for this article, explaining he would need more time than he currently has to properly reconsider the matter.) ..."

So there it is. In February, after the _William & Mary Quarterly_ issue came out, but before other critics pointed out increasing problems with Mr. Bellesiles' book and his veracity when discussing the book, there was a published account which indicates that Professor Morgan had serious doubts about the validity of _Arming America_. In the following months came the detailed description of the factual differences between what Mr. Bellesiles said about the water damage in his office, and what actually happens to water damaged legal pads, as well as the nature of the damage as explained by emory University.

In my opinion, Professor Sternstrom has made a good case against both _Arming America_ and Professor Weiner's article in _The Nation_. Would you show us where Professor Sternstron's critique of the Weiner article is in factual error? Specific citations would be helpful, of course.

Thanks for reading. CVM

Thomas Gunn - 10/30/2002


Here is a link for the Wills quote.

[http://www.instapundit.com/archives/001564.php ]

The Morgan quote seems to come from a private email but a quick search of the web shows Morgan expressing doubt in a Chronicle of Higher Education feature article Feb 2002 excerpted here:

[http://www.tamerlane.ca/library/cfd/v4/500-599/cfd-v4-n506.txt ]

(You'll need a subscription for the article itself.)

Arming America has been thouroughly discredited, very few supporters remain. Even Michael doubts his own conclusions regarding his research into the probate data.


R. B. Bernstein - 10/30/2002

Professor Sternstein, you wrote above:

"And what about Garry Wills and Edmund Morgan, considered by Wiener to be two of America's "top historians." Wiener makes much of the fact that neither of them has publicly retracted their glowing reviews of Arming America, though, he says, they have been under pressure to do so. He doesn't say whether he interviewed them for his article. But it is safe to say he didn't -- and it's probably a good thing too. One can only imagine how Wiener would have responded to Garry Wills, who, when asked last spring to appear on a panel to speak in favor of Bellesiles, emailed his refusal back with the blunt message, "nobody defends him." And last April, when asked by a colleague at Northwestern what he presently thought of Arming America, Wills replied: "I was took. The book is a fraud." As for Morgan, he, too, might have upset Wiener. Recently, on his own volition, Morgan sent a highly complimentary letter to one of Bellesiles's leading critics, praising both the substance and the tone of his work, concluding that the critic was right and Bellesiles was wrong."

On the same standard that you apply to Michael Bellesiles, you owe it to your readers here on HNN to provide your sources for the foregoing statements. You owe it to your readers to provide specific documentation of the claims you make above.

You may remember me as a visiting professor in your department in 1997-1998. I hope that, as a former colleague, you will act in a manner befitting a former member of the Brooklyn College history department and cite the evidence you have for your claims above. Basic fairness to all involved demands it.

Richard Aubrey - 10/30/2002

I used to wonder why supposedly bright people would publish such obvious nonsense. Was it worth proving oneself a liar to, say, two hundred people in order to fool one of the gullible? How did that arithmetic work?
Then I recalled an article by W. F. Buckley, Jr. about Holocaust deniers. They did not write for the present, he said. They wrote for the future when, with less and less personal experience with the Holocaust available, their books would just be more books on the shelf, no less credible.
You can imagine professors and journalists quoting Bellesiles favorably ten years from now, or thirty years from now, when all this trouble has been forgotten. Or, when researching the trouble can be demonized as partisan.
Bellesiles will survive one way or another. His work, as they say in bad movies, is done.

David G. Wrone - 10/30/2002

When approaching subjects like gun ownership, the political left and its mainstream media megaphone are unmoved by 'fact', as this delicious Bellesiles fiasco handily illustrates. Objective truth is irrelevant, as is the endangered strain of plain, old common sense that should have screamed to the high heavens that the North American wilderness was surely tamed with something a bit more lethal than tallow candle molds and butter churns. New York, D.C. and West Coast-based media, by and large, hold the Second Amendment in contempt, and have expressed themselves quite clearly in that regard. NOTHING that might undercut the general 'gun safety' movement is going to receive a public airing. Call it a collective sin of omission, as opposed to Bellesiles's sin of commission. In L.A. Starbucks society, modern firearms owners are shameful aberations in an otherwise civilized "progressive" society - and the forefathers of the modern NRA nothing short of knuckle draggers.

David G. Wrone
St. Louis, MO

Clayton E. Cramer - 10/29/2002

I was referring to those people that believe that any lie told to serve a political agenda is justified. I can think of a number of characters over the years who decided that things were no longer true or false but "operative" or "inoperative." They weren't liberals.

Post-modernism is turning into the intellectual's justification for deception. I am fortunate to have earned my MA in History at a third-rate university, where the professors were naively encouraging us to study history towards the goal of finding truth, as best we could. The post-modernist rationalization hadn't taken hold there.

John Gillette - 10/29/2002

I dunno. I think maybe he is getting away with it. He and the book have been thoroughly discredited. How much have you seen in the mainstream media about it? or even specialty media? Granted there were several big stories last weekend, but that just gave additional cover for not running with it.

Washington Post - 4 mini-paragraphs in a summary column stuck in the back (A11?). LA Times - Nothing I saw, etc, etc,

Lots of coverage in Gun media, NRA magazines, History related media but where else? The Anti-Gunners sure aren't going to trumpet the news the way they greeted the book. Heck, it didn't even stay on Drudge.

He's entered his thesis into the modern PC mythology, can it be retracted? Maybe that's all he wanted to do, and of course his martyrdom as an NRA victim is assured.

Terry Mulgannon - 10/29/2002

Sternstein's most elemental observation is that the history community was so easily taken in by Bellesiles fraud. It is a measure of the extent to which professional historians have become so specialized, I suppose, that they didn't recognize the absurdity of his claims from the outset. Anyone who watches the history channel or reads American history knows enough of the long history of firearms in our country and the role they played to see thru the ruse. Half an hour of internet searches using keywords such as "trade musket" and "Kentucky long-rifle" revealed to me countless links to state and local archives telling stories of the thousands of muskets a year filtering thru to Indians in the mid-1700s in return for furs. One presumes settlers hung on to some of those firearms themselves. Or about the German gunsmiths who went to Pennsylvania and created the long-rifle. Or the stories of Colonel Tarleton, the Brit butcher in the Revolution, who so incensed frontiersman from Western North Carolina that they came over the mountains in the thousands--with their weapons--to fight for independence. While academics pontificate from the ivory towers they seem to be blind to the facts on the ground so distant and far below. The really frightening thing is the prospect that they might be equivalently wrong about everything they teach.

Steve Lowe - 10/29/2002

Actually, I was responding to your comment that "this is a crowd that thinks, 'What is the meaning of "is"?' is a clever response to a question."

My apologies for inferring that you meant to include all liberals in your statement. "Crowd" is, after all, a very inclusive and vague term.

What I'm on about is the conflation of every--or at least many--of the perceived injustices suffered by any number of agrieved groups that may or may not have a beef with Bellesiles or his argument about gun ownership.

I believe your mentioning of the great Clinton gaffe in the context of the Bellesiles case was intended to make that connection between Bellesiles, Clinton, and the Left as represented by Wiener. If I'm mistaken, I would appreciate a clarification of what you actually meant.

Thomas Gunn - 10/29/2002


Any particulars, John?


Thomas Gunn - 10/29/2002

I own guns. I hunt. I shoot targets. I smoke!

The reason I can be so honest with you now is you will never know who I am. You will be unable to judge me for the things I enjoy and have a right to do but you find politically incorrect.

You will wonder at *our* candidate not getting elected when so many of us *think alike*. The only way I can deal with your bigotry and predjudices and get a fair shake from you and *our clique* is by keeping my true beliefs secret. I'll laugh along with you over the toothless, redneck, sister marrying, gun owning jokes you tell and cringe inside knowing that I am one of those.

But I'll remember the truth and the history how it was, for I am Taylor Caldwell's, "The Devils Advocate".


John G. Fought - 10/29/2002

One of the best things to come out of this affair is the pleasure of reading some essays researched and written the
way they were meant to be. This is a fine piece of work.
I haven't spent a lot of time on other web-based discussion
groups, but here at HNN I notice that many contributions submitted under a pseudonym have some properties in common. They are often about something else, some topic that the author has a compulsion to discuss, and that is difficult to link to the material in the article at hand. They are often a little ragged, featuring spellings and syntax strained to the limit. And they are often about Clinton.

Clayton E. Cramer - 10/29/2002

I am often asked, "Did Bellesiles really think he was going to get away with this?" I don't know. My suspicion is that Bellesiles assumed that people that disagreed with him about gun control wouldn't know where to find _The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut_ or where _American State Papers: Military Affairs_ would be in the library.

One of the hazards with the political homogenity of the professoriate at the first rank schools is that they don't get a chance to find out what people outside their narrow circle think, and they tend to underestimate their political opponents.

I suspect that Bellesiles and his fellow professors think of the NRA as a small number of educated conmen in Fairfax, Virginia, leading an organization of four million guys in flannel named Billy Bob. A recurring theme of gun control advocates is that we are a bunch of toothless rednecks who marry our sisters. The reality is that the average NRA member is a registered Democrat, is better educated than the general population, and tends to work in a technical or engineering position.

It must have been a real shocker to Bellesiles to discover:

1. LOTS of NRA members have graduate degrees in history.

2. A surprising number read 18th and 19th century primary sources. (You wouldn't believe how many tips I received from "gun nuts" who pointed me to very useful documents.)

3. Some of us know the early Republic primary sources well enough to recognize when Bellesiles was altering quotes.

4. Some of us can even write.

Clayton E. Cramer - 10/29/2002

Actually, Mr. Lowe, I was condemning the "crowd" that thinks that truth can be whatever you want it to be. For some reason, you identify that "crowd" as being liberals. Now, if I did that, I could see why liberals would be upset. But you, a self-described liberal, are identifying a "crowd" as liberals. Why?

khalid rahim - 10/29/2002

This piece was a brilliant demolition of a dishonest and fraudulent defense of a discredited liar. Kudos to Prof.
Sternstein for defending intellectual honesty.

Ekleketos - 10/29/2002

Weinstein = Wiener, sorry got people confused for a second. Too many windows open.

Ekleketos - 10/29/2002

There were plenty of honest liberals out there, instead the dnc attached itself to the butt of a lying criminal. They were so preoccupied with not admitting they were wrong about the man that they defended anything he did. Much as Weinstein is defending Bellesiles. C'mon, say it "Clinton was a lying weasel and he screwed us". Hitchens did and I'm sure he feels much better for it.

American Minority - 10/29/2002


Is this not ironic? Clinton(s) often deliberately mislead people (i.e., ordinary Americans not part of movie and entertainement industry), see for example, "meaning of 'is'", "right-wing conspiracy".

Now, Bellesiles is unable to recognize his own words, or is unable to acknowledge.

In Webster, in future, one can say Bellesiles "is pulling a Clinton".

What do you think?

Richard Noeker - 10/29/2002

BRAVO! What a great article. I wish the major dailies, newsmags, and all the networks, cable stations and the History Channel or A&E investigative reports picked up on this and would "spread the news". Your article is most enlightening. I am not nor ever was a member of the NRA and I do not own a gun. I believe in historical accuracy however and distain attempts to re-write history to fit into one's personal agenda or to sustain a constant theme of lies, falsehoods, innuendo, etc. just to keep one's political motives moving forward "at any cost". Be it either from the right or the left. And I have been on both sides. When I was younger I was a moderate Democrat. I am now a conservative Republican for the simple reason that I saw to much lying going on with the Dems. Also, the party really isn't all that democratic. It seems to me to have been taken over by the far left. It would be more accurate to called the Socialist party. It would be more honest anyway. That's what was so good about the late Sen. Paul Wellstone. He was honest. Too many politiacians on both sides of the coin are way to phoney just as is the now disgraces "Professor" Bellesiles. Thank you so much for your work.

Bradley Ems - 10/29/2002

What a fine dismantling of a polemic this is. Prof. Sternstein has our gratitude for so carefully and thoroughly rebutting Weiner's tract. It's quite disturbing to see a scholar debase himself so completely in service to an ideology, particularly when the work at hand has been irrefutably exposed as fraudulent.

I think the only thing to ponder now is why Bellesiles would even attempt to perpetrate a flim-flam of this size and scope. Given the blossoming of Second Amendment scholarship in the past decade by the likes of David Kopel, Clayton Cramer, Don Kates, John Lott, Sandford Levinson, et al., did he think that informed opposition did not exist?

It would be obvious to anyone paying attention that a faux-scholarly work in support of the pro-control position would be warmly received by America's Right Thinkers, thus driving Bellesiles to concoct his fables for the inevitable kudos. All one can conclude is that Bellesiles believed his political and media cover would be sufficient to sustain the fraud in the mind of the public and a credulous academy. He clearly underestimated the quality and doggedness of those willing to verify his claims, as well as their ability to propogate their message.

Steve Lowe - 10/29/2002

This is exactly the kind of comment that irritates liberals like me: the implicit comparison of Bellesiles and Clinton, as though the fact that both are weasels means all liberals or, indeed, anyone favoring gun control or, indeed, anyone who isn't currently heating the tar and plucking the chickens for Bellesiles is also a weasel.

I think it's possible to believe that Bellesiles is wrong, that Clinton was a good president with _serious_ personal shortcomings, and even be ambivalent about gun control.

Damning people because of their associations of beliefs is exactly what Prof. Sternstein is criticizing, Mr. Cramer.

Gerson Stearns - 10/29/2002


Steve - 10/29/2002

No. Don't fire at Will.

Clayton E. Cramer - 10/29/2002

If I had to pick a sentence that describes the problem that Mr. Brennan is observing, it is that this is a crowd that thinks, "What is the meaning of 'is'?" is a clever response to a question.

Orson Olson - 10/28/2002

There is the argument--it made the popular press in US News & World Report (December 25, 2000: "The Slowing Pace of Progress" by Phillip J. Longman), based on an economist's study--that we are, with respect to material progress, in the midst of decline.

What struck me was the booming silence in response to the notice. I have detected debate about it, admittedly based solely on online searches, only in an MIT Engineering Alumni newsletter and a SciFi newsletter. Now that's serious silence!

Thus, I do believe there is cause for concern, and the utter silence makes me worry for civilization.


Thomas Gunn - 10/28/2002

I've mentioned a theory of mine before, that all past civilizations have ended because they refuse to accurately and truthfully record and assess their history. It is not terribly original the old saw about reliving ones history has been around for along time.

I wonder if that is happening here? Not just with gun control or second amendment debate, but the whole of human endeavor. I'd be interested in your thoughts, and provide you a devestating prediction. If civilization is waning again, the most likely survivors will be the folks with the guns,(metaphorically) and the understanding of what it takes to be responsible for oneself. And then the process will start anew.


John J. Brennan, III - 10/28/2002

Thank you, Professor Sternstein. The most disturbing aspect of this is the utter obliviousness of Bellesiles and his defenders to the damage to the cause of honesty. Certainly, it demonstrates their willingness to sacrifice a core value of human discourse if it advances their agendas.