An award-winning book that was
hailed by gun control advocates when it was released
last year was based on distorted interpretations of
historical records and cited evidence that, in some
cases, may have been completely fabricated, the New
York Times reported Saturday.
Emory University professor Michael Bellesiles,
whose book "Arming America: The Origins of the
National Gun Culture" caused a sensation with
Second Amendment foes last year with its claims that
gun ownership in the U.S. was "an invented
tradition," may have perpetrated what the paper
described as "one of the worst academic
scandals in years."
Scholars who have examined Professor Bellesiles'
data could not substantiate his claim that
11,000-plus probate records from 40 counties in
colonial America showed that fewer than 7 percent
actually owned working guns.
Academics trying to corroborate "Arming
America's" sensational findings were stunned by
"an astonishing number of serious errors,"
the Times said, "almost all of them intended to
support [Bellesiles'] thesis."
"In some cases his numbers were off by a
factor of two or three or more," said Randolph
Roth, a history professor at Ohio State University.
"The number and scope of the errors in
Bellesiles' work are extraordinary," Roth told
the Times, saying they include misinterpretation of
militia returns, literary documents and data from
many other sources.
Professor Bellesiles has offered a number of
excuses for why his data fails to check out. For
example, he says most of his research records have
been destroyed in a flood.
Several of his other excuses seem even less
Bellesiles told one critic that he'd managed to
obtain detailed probate records from the 1850s from
the San Francisco Superior Court. But the courthouse
said all probate data from that decade had been
destroyed in the great earthquake of 1906.
"[The San Francisco records] were not
available in two other Bay area libraries,
either," the Times said. "Mr. Bellesiles
now says he must have done the research somewhere
else and cannot remember where."
"Arming America" won Columbia
University's prestigious Bancroft Prize in American
History and Diplomacy. Before the book's rampant
errors were discovered, legal scholars had said
Bellesiles' work could impact on several court
challenges to Second Amendment protections.