The Bellesiles Controversy

OpinionJournal: Bellesiles Misfires: An antigun ‘scholar’ as today’s Galileo? Oh please, just shoot me.
I’m surprised The Professor hasn’t been all over this, but he’s been stuck on dial-up and might have missed it.

Bellesiles is apparently trying to resurrect his reputation after being caught publishing a book full of lies regarding guns and early America. I didn’t follow the controversy that closely — other than what I saw at The Professor’s place — but it seems to me that it’s a good example of history becoming politicized.

The idea that he’s being persecuted is laughable, at best.

History has its fair share of persecuted geniuses, men who were ahead of their time and made to pay for it. There’s the hemlocked Socrates, the house-arrested Galileo, the exiled Rousseau. And to this list of giants it seems that we are now expected to add the name of Michael Bellesiles.

Mr. Bellesiles is the former Emory professor who shook the scholarly world in 2000 with his book “Arming America.” An academic bombshell, the tome went against long-held beliefs by claiming that few colonial Americans actually owned guns. This set off a riotous public debate over whether the Second Amendment was designed to protect individual gun rights. Mr. Bellesiles was showered with prizes and media praise, becoming an instant academic star.

That is, until his peers started looking into that little thing called research. Reputable scholars in the ensuing months tore apart his work on probate and military records, travel narratives, and other documents. Mr. Bellesiles, when asked to explain, provided ever-more outlandish excuses: that his notes had been lost in a flood, that his Web site had been hacked, that he couldn’t remember where he’d found certain documents. The officials of the prestigious Bancroft Prize stripped him of his award, he left Emory and Knopf chose to stop publishing his book. Most of us sighed happily and figured that was the end of that academic scandal.

But oh, no. It turns out that Mr. Bellesiles is still riding his dead horse, his nonexistent guns still blazing. Soft Skull Press (which takes pride in putting out books that other publishers avoid like ricin) has not only agreed to reissue “Arming America” but has decided to release Mr. Bellesiles’s latest response to his critics. This 59-page pamphlet, “Weighed in an Even Balance,” is a spirited attempt by Mr. Bellesiles to turn himself into the world’s latest misunderstood genius. As such, it’s worth reading for pure entertainment value.

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