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"America's gun culture is an invented tradition. It was not present at the nation's creation.... Rather, it developed in a single generation [following] the Civil War."
--- Michael Bellesiles, Arming America, 2000.
"A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks."
--- Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, 1785. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors.
Emory University history professor Michael Bellesiles's controversial book, Arming America, brings to mind the expression: What he says that is true is not new, and what he says that is new is not true.
The few remaining defenders of Bellesiles's book, as well as Bellesiles himself, claim his study of probate records (which has come under heavy criticism and vanished), is only a small part of the book, and that it makes many other important points. However, what these defenders still fail to acknowledge (because they have either ignored, or failed to read or investigate the substantive criticisms for themselves), is that the book's citations are being exposed as bogus as well. (It's more than mere differences in the interpretation of historical documents. Again, see the link referenced at the top of the page.) This page does a little further exposing with the advantage that the reader can view most of the sources Bellesiles cites.
Before addressing three passages, from his book, that will be examined here, it should be noted that Bellesiles has the same penchant for error in his other research and interviews. A couple of examples follow.
In this interview, Bellesiles claims, "Scholars of violence who have looked at homicide found that there was little interpersonal violence in America prior to the 1840s...The most violent counties averaged one homicide every four years."
"One homicide every four years" from the most violent counties? New York City's homicide rates, alone, demolish the notion of pre-Civil War, pre-evil-profit-minded-mass-producing-handgun manufacturer bliss. See this chart of New York City homicide rates from 1784-1865. (Source: The Varieties of Homicide and its Research . Monkkonen, Eric H., "ESTIMATING THE ACCURACY OF HISTORIC HOMICIDE RATES: NEW YORK CITY AND LOS ANGELES," p. 14 [http://www.fbi.gov/hq/td/academy/bsu/homicide.pdf]) Not only is it obvious that Bellesiles's extraordinary assertion is wrong, but New York City's homicide rate often hovered near today's rates. (New York had 7.8 homicides per 100,000 in 2000. [Crime in the United States, 2000, p. 102 (http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius_00/00crime213.pdf)] (This article briefly mentions problems with Bellesiles's homicide counts in his book.)
Stunningly distorting a citation in this paper, published in the Chicago-Kent Law Review, Bellesiles writes:
"The efforts of these nationalists to find and then create a stable source of firearms for the United States began a long process on the part of the federal government to arm its white male citizens. On the other hand, many in the elite held the belief that more guns equaled more to fear. Poor whites might put such weapons to an incorrect, class-based use that could disrupt or destroy the new nation. Senator Rufus King warned his colleagues in 1790 that 'it was dangerous to put Arms into the hands of the Frontier People for their defense, least they should Use them against the United States.'"
Based on what Bellesiles is telling us, it seems certain that Rufus King did not trust the poor with arms (assuming the frontier people to be predominately poor). However, after checking the passage Bellsiles cites (footnote 18 in his paper: William Maclay, The Diary of William Maclay [April 16, 1790], in 9 Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States, 1789-1791, at 245, 246 [Kenneth R. Bowling & Helen E. Veit eds., 1988).], and its accompanying footnote, it is obvious that King's comments had absolutely nothing to do with the "elite's" fear of the poor.
Here is the same quote with the context rendering sentences included:
"Now a dreadful and dangerous conspiracy, is discovered to be carrying on between the people of Kentucke and the Spaniards.22 King unfolded this mysterious business. adding, he conceived his fears were well founded. he firmly believed there was a Conspiracy. That it was dangerous to put Arms into the hands of the Frontier People for their defense, least they should Use them against the United States."
Note the mention of a conspiracy between "Kentucke and the Spaniards." Then there is footnote 22. Footnote 22 on pages 245 and 246 explains the nature of the conspiracy:
"During the 1780s the political leaders (emphasis added) of Virginia's Kentucky counties became increasingly discontented with their situation. They accused Virginia of postponing statehood for the district and Congress of supporting Spain's insistence on a twenty-five year closure of the Mississippi River to American trade. In mid-1887 James Wilkinson of Kentucky met with the Spanish governor of Louisiana in New Orleans and informed him that Kentucky was on the verge of declaring its independence and seeking foreign protection for itself from the United States."
The footnote continues to explain that "considering the amount of correspondence engendered" betweeen the political leaders and Spanish officials, it wasn't surprising a conspiracy was known to the members of Congress by April 1790.
Thus, King's fear of arming the Kentucky frontier didn't spring from a class conflict, but was due to political intrigue in the West.
Bellesiles's deception certainly seems intentional. (The scanned images of pages 245 and 246 are from the identical edition Bellesiles cites.)
These are the three passages from Arming America, to be examined:
Click here to see each passage's full paragraph, page number, and footnote (clicking on a footnote will bring-up its scanned image) as it appeared in Arming America.
- "At the same time, legislators feared that gun-toting freemen might, under special circumstances, pose a threat to the very polity they were supposed to defend. Colonial legislatures therefore strictly regulated the storage of firearms, with the weapons kept in some central place, to be produced only in emergencies or on muster day, or loaned to individuals living in outlying areas. They were to remain the property of the government.The Duke of York's first laws for New York required that each town have a storehouse for arms and ammunition. Such legislation was on the books of colonies from New Hampshire to South Carolina." [footnote 10 omitted] [Referred to as Claim 1 hereinafter]
- "The eventual solution to the lack of care devoted to firearms was to make all guns into the property of the state, subject to storage in central storehouses where they could be cleaned and repaired by paid government gunsmiths." [footnote 30 omitted] [Referred to as Claim 2 hereinafter]
- "No gun ever belonged unqualifiedly to an individual. It "had to be listed in every probate inventory...Guns might be privately owned, but they were state-controlled." [footnote 31 omitted] [Referred to as Claim 3 hereinafter]
Why were these three passages chosen? It had nothing to do with whether they were the best or worst of Bellesiles's work. It was noticed that in its brief of the the Emerson case, the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence (CPHV) claimed "Colonial legislatures from New Hampshire to South Carolina imposed communal storage of firearms and permitted them to be removed only in times of crisis or for muster day." (citation omitted) This was a startling claim. Checking the citation showed that this was only the case for publicly owned arms (see GunCite's "Is there Contrary Evidence of an Individual Right?").
It was realized that the brief's wording was very similar to Bellesiles's, although Arming America had far more citations. The nature of the claim, and curiosity, prompted the researching of the first excerpt above. While scanning the notes page for footnote 10, it was noticed that footnote 30 contained another startling claim: "At the end of any campaign, the militia was 'to lodge ye Armes in some convenient and safe place.'" (citing Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society 13:306-07) This turns out to be another "Bellesilesism."
First, and most importantly, nowhere in that citation does it make the claim that after any campaign the militia's arms were to be stored communally.
Another error, although minor, it wasn't the end of a campaign as Bellesiles claims. (It had not begun either.) The soldiers mentioned in this particular campaign (a planned expedition against Canada) were given a one-month furlough and then ordered to return "and wait for further Orders."
Also, Bellesiles omits an important detail. The arms supplied for this particular expedition had been purchased by the Colony of Connecticut (The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut 15 volumes, 9:211, 232). Naturally, the Colony expected their arms to be returned. (Subsequently, the Crown ordered the arms transfered to Boston [Id. at 10:214]).
"At the same time, legislators feared that gun-toting freemen might, under special circumstances, pose a threat to the very polity they were supposed to defend. Colonial legislatures therefore strictly regulated the storage of firearms, with the weapons kept in some central place, to be produced only in emergencies or on muster day, or loaned to individuals living in outlying areas. They were to remain the property of the government.The Duke of York's first laws for New York required that each town have a storehouse for arms and ammunition. [footnote 10]."
--- Arming America, 2000, p. 73.
The citations that were obtained are discussed first and listed in the order Bellesiles gives them. The unchecked citations are listed afterwards. The reader is again referred to this page containing the full paragraph of each of the claims presented here. Since each paragraph is footnoted, as opposed to each sentence, a citation may relate to other items mentioned in the paragraph, the claim itself, both, or neither.
Public arms and ammunition were stored in armories and magazines, and controlled differently from private arms and ammunition. Individuals were encouraged to keep their own arms and supply of powder (see GunCite's "Is there Contrary Evidence of an Individual Right?"). But large amounts of gun powder certainly presented a fire hazard and were stored centrally. (For example, see The Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, vol. 8, p. 611. [Interestingly id. at 613 declares "nothing in this act shall extend, or be construed to extend, to restrain any person, within the said borough, from keeping in his or her dwelling house, or storehouse, any gunpowder, not exceeding the quantity of ten pounds."]
Public arsenals were maintained so arms could be supplied to those too poor to afford them and to supply the militia with standard arms (making it easier to maintain ammunition supplies). We'll see this was the case as Bellesiles's citations (as well as the ones he fails to cite) are examined, rather than as Bellesiles contends, because of fear of "gun-toters." In other parts of his book Bellesiles does mention that the militia was often poorly armed due to the expense and trouble of maintaining a gun, but Bellesiles is claiming something entirely different here (ie. new).
Now let's scrutinize Bellesiles's citations to see whether he provides any support for his claim that "legislators feared that gun-toting freemen might, under special circumstances, pose a threat to the very polity they were supposed to defend."
- "William Strachey, comp., For the Colony in Virginea Britannia: Laws Divine, Morall and Martiall, etc., ed., David H. Flaherty (Charlottesville, VA, 1969), 9-25"
Strachey documents the proper conduct expected between soliders and officers and vice versa, however the book's only relevance to the paragraph is Bellesiles's quoting directly from it: "each freeman had to be ready to serve as a sentinel, with 'both ends of this match being alight, and his piece charged, and primed, and bullets in his mouth.'" But that quote certainly does not extend from pages 9-25. As this book was first published in 1612, and by Bellesiles's own admission, "In its earliest years, Virginia even required all freemen to bring guns to church," this citation contains nothing in support of Claim 1. (Nor does it address the requirement to bring guns to church, thus the puzzelment as to why 17 pages are cited.)
- "The Colonial Laws of New York from the Year 1664 to the Revolution, 5 vols. (Albany, NY, 1894), I: 49-50)"
Clayton Cramer's page of Historical Sources contains a link to the two pages cited by Bellesiles, as well as Cramer's analysis. The citation does not support Claim 1. The statute cited does require each town to have a storehouse of ammunition, but no mention is made of arms being stored in a "central place." In fact this citation supports the opposite of Claim 1, ie., requiring all able-bodied men to own a firearm. Earlier in the paragraph, Bellesiles does say, "These governments in turn hoped to limit their expenses by requiring all freemen to own a gun." So one could be generous and say this citation supports that claim, however this is the only citation pertaining to the whole colony of New York and thus Bellesiles is wrong when attempting to tie this statute to a threat from "gun-toters." Remember, Bellesiles did write, "Colonial legislatures therefore strictly regulated..." and specifically mentions the Duke of York's first laws.
- "Lyon G. Tyler, ed. Narratives of Early Virginia, 1606-1625 (New York, 1907), 273"
No support for Claim 1. However it does support his statement that "In its earliest years, Virginia even required all freemen to bring guns to church," (more precisely, those who were capable of bearing arms).
- "William W. Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, 13 vols. (Richmond, VA, 1809-23), 2:304, 405"
Page 304 contains a statute authorizing the county courts to levy taxes to raise money for the purchase of arms and to provide them to members of the militia who did not have the required arms. Miltia officers from their respective counties were then responsible for selling the arms to the militia members who required them. This citation does not demonstrate a mistrust of privately held arms when some soldiers were being forced to personally purchase them, but it does support Bellesiles's claim in the paragraph that laws were passed to procure arms for those who could not afford them.
Page 405 orders arms and ammunition, sent by the King, to remain in the public magazine where they were lodged until the next assembly when the arms were to be distributed to each county (again not supporting Claim 1).
Page 403 (uncited by Bellesiles) declares "all persons have hereby liberty to sell armes and ammunition to any of his majesties loyall subjects inhabiting this colony, and that the Indians of the Easterne shore have like and equall liberty of trade or otherwayes with any other our ffriends and neighbouring Indians." During this period (1676), even certain native Americans were trusted with firearms.
- "Harold L. Peterson, Arms and Armor in Colonial America, 1526-1783, (Harrisburg, PA, 1956), 321-322"
This citation is irrelevant. Perhaps Bellesiles meant to reference page 331 which shows the Colony of Maryland supplying arms for an expedition against Canada, but that in and of itself is not evidence of Bellesiles's assertion in Claim 1.
- "Browne et al., eds., Archives of Maryland, 3:103, 46:398-99, 58:122-124, 340-342, 390, 395, 58:146-47"
3:103 is another passage requiring all householders to own guns and those capable of bearing arms to bring their guns to church and carry them when traveling a considerable distance from home.
The remainder of the citations fail to support Claim 1. Most report on the condition and number of arms stored at the City of Annopolis armory and the rest deal with the firing and hiring of an armorer.
- "Herbert L. Osgood, ed., Minutes of Common Council of the City of New York, 1675-1776, 8 vols. (New York, 1905), 6:54"
This is another citation that is irrelevant to Claim 1. The only mention of guns on page 54 reads:
"Ordered that the Committee who were Appointed the Eighteenth of August Last to Receive Sundry Arms from on Board Captain Garrison &c be a Committee to make a Closet Opposite to the one Lately made in the Common Councill Chamber for the use of the City Arms"
Perhaps (based on Claim 1) Bellesiles would like us to think that this reference to arms being stored in a central place is due to fear of "gun-toters." However, pages 2 and 3 tell us the real reason:
"[A]s there are a Great Number of Inhabitants in this City Very poor and not able to furnish themselves with fire arms in Case of an Invasion &c..."
(Incidentally, this order for one-thousand muskets probably provided for roughly half of the militia. The population of the city and county of New York in 1756 was 13,046 [source]. Pages 19, 20, and 22 also mention this order which the Council hoped to fund by a lottery!)
- "J. Hammond Trumbull et al., eds., The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, 15 vols. (Hartford, CT 1850-1890), 1:134, 6:363, 406, 8:386, 9:473, 580,14:343, 392"
1:134 is another citation concerning publicly owned ammunition that was used in a joint colonial campaign in which Connecticut supplied 40 men (see footnote at 1:130 and 131). Bellesiles provides no evidence that this ammunition was supplied due to a distrust of the populace. During this period the usual laws requiring soliders to keep arms and ammunition at home, and to carry them when attending church were in force (see 1:3-4, 96, and 2:19). Also, the plantations/towns were expected to maintain minimum inventories of powder and lead in their magazines (1:91, and 2:20).
The rest of the citations from the Colony of Connecticut are similarly unsupportive of Claim 1. 6:363 orders inspection of the towns' magazines to insure sufficient supplies. 6:406 is an order to purchase gun powder to be lodged in various towns. 8:386 is a statute directing the towns to "provide, keep, and to renew" stocks of ammunition. 8:380 (uncited by Bellesiles) directs "every listed souldier and other house-holder (except troopers)" to be "always provided with, and have in continual readiness, a well-fixed firelock... one pound of good powder" and "four pounds of bullets..."
9:473 orders a cask of gunpowder found belonging to the Colony to be sold. 9:580 does same with another supply of powder.
14:343 doubles the amount of "powder, ball and flints" to be provided by the towns.
14: 392 orders an inquiry into the acts of a couple of soldiers who "in contempt of the authority, in this Colony, did attempt and endeavour to prevent the introduction of certain barrels of gun-powder into this Colonly for the government's use.." (As explained in a footnote on that page, in 1774 the exportation of arms and ammunition from Great Britain was prohibited.)
Uncited by Bellesiles is 14:418 which orders:
"That each inhabitant so inlisted shall be furnished with good fire-arms, and that the fire-arms belonging to this Colony, wherever they are, shall be collected and put into the hands of such inlisted inhabitants as have not arms of their own; and that each inlisted inhabitant that shall provide arms for himself, well fixed with a good bayonet and cartouch box, shall be paid a premium of ten shillings; and in case such arms are lost by inevitable casualty, such inhabitant providing himself as aforesaid shall be allowed and paid the just value of such arms and impements so lost, deducting only said sum of ten shillings allowed as aforesaid..."
The same statute also ordered the procurement of three thousand stands of arms, and other equipment (such as pick-axes) for the use of the Colony (14:419). Obviously this part of the statute did not arise out of a mistrust of "gun-toting" freemen or as an attempt to keep guns away from freemen.
- "William Brigham, ed., The Compact with the Charter and Laws of the Colony of the Plantation of New Plymouth, (Boston, 1836), 84"
This citation quotes a statute ordering each town to provide "two sufficient snaphaumes or firelock peeces two swords and two pouches for every thirty men they have in their Township..."
Page 84 is another citation which is irrelevant to Claim 1. No evidence of mistrust is cited. And as usual, this is another Colony that encouraged private ownership of firearms. Pages 44 and 45 direct "Every person to have arms, powder, &c." At 115 is an enactment ordering one-fourth "of each military company to carry their arms to meeting on the Lord's day," from May through November, and 285-86 orders "A stock of arms and ammunition to be kept by the colony" and "Every male of 16 years of age and upwards to be provided with arms."
- "Charles J. Hoadly, ed., Records of the Colony and Plantation of New Haven, from 1638 to 1649 (Hartford, CT 1857), 131-32"
There is no support for Claim 1 here, but the citation does support the fact that governments required all freemen (from 16 to 60) to have arms and ammunition. Also ordered is that one-fourth of the militia attend church with their arms and that a common stock of powder and shot be maintained.
- "Hoadly, ed., Records of the Colony or Jurisdiction of New Haven, from May 1653 to the Union (Hartford, CT 1858), 500" [This link is to Clayton Cramer's site, referenced earlier.]
The citation has no relevance to Claim 1 or its paragraph.
Pages 1:25-26 are irrelevant to Claim 1 and its paragraph.
Page 84 orders all persons to have arms, and those unable to afford them shall have them provided by their respective towns. The next page (uncited) orders men to provide themselves with ammunition, and travelers are "not to go unarmed."
125 orders a recently received purchase of public arms to be divided among the several plantations.
190 (uncited) under penalty of a fine for not complying, all persons traveling over a mile from home "except in places wheare other houses are neare together" are to be armed.
The only item remotely relevant at 2:72-73 reads: "It was ordered that the surveyor of the armes shall deliver to the deputies of Newberry two snaphance muskets, instead of those wee had of them, and not of lesse valewe."
Since all inhabitants of the Colony should endeavor to own arms that are useful to both their own defense and the country's defense, 134-35 orders that only certain kinds of muskets will be acceptable for mlitia duty.
2:222 has several references to arms: Those exempt from militia duty were to be "provided of armes as other men are." Any person who by law was required to provide arms and ammunition, but could not afford them "shall bring to the clarke so much corne or other merchantable goods...But if any person shall not be able to provide himselfe armes & amunition through meere poverty, if he be single & under thirty years of age, he shallbe putt to service by some; if he be marrjed, or above thirty years of age, the constable shall provide him arms, & shall appointe him with whome to earne it out." A standard musket size was set, gunsmiths were ordered to repair guns and accept the rate as the "country affords," the "surveyor general" was authorized to sell any of the "common armes when he sees occcasion," and lastly every town was ordered to provide a storage facility to keep public arms and ammunition and subject to a fine for each default.
- "Alexander S. Salley Jr., ed, Journal of the Grand Council of South Carolina, 2 vols. (Columbia, SC, 1907), 1:10-12 " [Links are to Clayton Cramer's site, referenced earlier.]
Another Colony requiring it's inhabitants to have arms and ammuntion.
- "Thomas Cooper and David J. McCord, eds., Statutes at Large of South Carolina, 14 vols. (Columbia, SC, 1836-73), 7:397, 417, 418, 419. " [Links are to Clayton Cramer's site, referenced earlier.]
7:397 is unrelated to anything having to do with firearms.
7:417-19 is another bring your gun to church law or pay a fine.
- "John Russell Bartlett, ed., Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, 10 vols. (Providence, RI, 1856-65), 1:79-80, 94, 223-34"
Clayton Cramer has done an analysis of the Rhode Island citations here. It is more of the same: Men being required to have arms and ammunition, and requirements for each town's magazine.
The following citations were not located:
- "Walter Clark, ed., The State Records of North Carolina, 30 vols. (Goldsboro, NC, 1886-1909), 22:311-14"
- "Theodore Jabbs, The South Carolina Militia 1633-1733, Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina, 1973, 62"
- "William J. Novak, 'Salus Populi: The Roots of Regulation in America, 1787-1873' (Ph.D. diss., Brandeis University, 1992), 188-89.
Claim 1 Conclusions
Bellesiles does not furnish a single citation to support his claim that fear of "gun-toting" freemen gave rise to strict firearms storage regulation. Two of the three sources not verified are secondary sources. One (Novak) apparently deals with the post-Colonial period. The South Carolina Militia is another unchecked secondary source, but it's extremely unlikely that most guns were going to be held in central storage in a colony full of slaves, especially during the early to mid-Colonial period. (The primary sources, for South Carolina cited by Bellesiles, contradict Claim 1.) Even if the last unchecked source, The State Records of North Carolina, supported Claim 1 (which is highly unlikely), it still renders the Claim false since Bellesiles asserts "[s]uch legislation was on the books of colonies from New Hampshire to South Carolina."
What is true (and not new) is that public arms were stored and treated differently from private arms. However Arming America with its sloppiness (at best) blurs this distinction.
"The eventual solution to the lack of care devoted to firearms was to make all guns into the property of the state, subject to storage in central storehouses where they could be cleaned and repaired by paid government gunsmiths.[footnote 30]."
--- Arming America, 2000, p.80.
- "Trumbull et al., eds., Public Records of Connecticut, 2:217, 3:431, 4:177, 485, 6:363, 406, 9:111, 10:479"
2:217 establishes and authorizes "muster-masters" in each county to inspect the militia's arms and ammuniton. Fines are levied for each defect.
3:431 authorizes militia officers to ensure, at least yearly, that its members are listed, armed, and equipped. Fines are levied for each defect.
4:177: "To prevent and suppresse the disorder of souldiers in not coming into the field in their armes compleat and well fixt," they will be fined for each defect.
4:485 declares "no souldier shall presume to spoil, sell, convey away, or imbezel, any amunition delivered to him, on pain of having double the value of the ammunition so imbezeled or spoiled deducted out of his wages." And anyone who buys arms or accoutrements from any Englishman or Indian, "retained in her Majesties service," will be fined and such items returned to the owner. This enactment also authorized militia officers to impress soldiers, arms, etc., and to record an account of who and what was impressed.
6:363 orders the "majors of the respective counties speedily to inspect the towns within their several regiments respecting the town stock of ammunition, and take care that the towns be supplyed with ammunition according to law."
6:406 orders a half-dozen barrels of gunpowder for "the publick service of the Colony."
9:111 orders that persons who had any arms or other accoutrements impressed in a recent expedition, upon the return of such arms, may have their arms re-appraised if they feel it necessary, and compensated accordingly.
10:479 authorizes the impressment of arms, ammunition, and blankets. The amount to be paid for each impressed sword, gun, etc. is given. If the arms returned are damaged, they may be reappraised and the owner compensated accordingly. Arms not returned or lost, resulted in full reimbursement for the owner (minus the original payment). (10:480)
114 authorizes the Council of War to impress men, horses, arms, provisions, and "all things necessary for them and what charges shall arise to bee levied on each town..." 115 orders that from March through November, one-fourth of the militia is to bring their arms to church. (As an aside, also enacted was a penalty for every town that failed to provide a drum.)
- "Shurtleff and Pulsifer, eds., Records of New Plymouth, 3:138"
Nothing relevant in this citation to Claim 2 or its paragraph.
- "Shurtleff, ed., Records of Massachusetts Bay, 1:84, 414 (arms 'to be provided by the several towns for their inhabitants')"
Bellesiles cites page 84 again (see Claim 1 above). 84 orders all persons to have arms, and those unable to afford them shall have them provided by their respective towns. The next page (uncited) orders men to provide themselves with ammunition, and travelers are "not to go unarmed." Just as his citation is irrelevant to Claim 1, again it is with Claim 2.
A tad amusingly, Bellesiles cites an index page (414) which refers to the already cited page 84. The parenthetical quote: "(arms 'to be provided by the several towns for their inhabitants')" is from the index which is pointing to page 84.
- "E.B. O'Callaghan and B. Fernow, eds., Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, 15 vols. (Albany, NY, 1856-87), 1:156, 166"
1:156 (and 1:155) itemizes the cost of running a garrison. Unremarkably, one of the items listed is "a soldier to clean the arms, being also a smith..." Thus another quote not relevant to Claim 2. (Uncited by Bellesiles is 1:154 which says, "Colonists and their servants should, under certain penalties, be obliged to provide themselves with good firelocks and other weapons for their own defence.")
- "At the end of any campaign, the militia was 'to lodge ye Armes in some convenient and safe place.' Collections of the Conecticut Historical Society 13:306-07"
As mentioned in the introduction, Bellesiles's account of this citation is incorrect. (See the introduction above, for an explanation.)
The following citations were not located:
- "Alexander S. Salley Jr., ed., Journals of the Commons House of Assembly, 21 vols., orig. 1697 (Columbia, SC, 1907-46), 16"
- "Cooper and McCord, eds., Statutes at Large of South Carolina, 2:15-18"
- "Bartlett, ed. Records of Rhode Island 1:221.
The first (Salley, vol. 1) and second (Cooper and McCord) un-verified citations refer to South Carolina's colonial period (the former covering the years 1636-1663). As we've seen above, South Carolina did not restrict or regulate the private ownership of firearms to the degree of either Claim 1 or Claim 2. And similarly, the last un-verified citation pertaining to Rhode Island, during this period, required its men to keep arms and ammunition.
Claim 2 Conclusions
Without examining the citations for accuracy and context, it appears that Bellesiles is providing evidence that not only were private arms centrally stored where they could be properly maintained, but moreover, some Colonies kept private arms in storage virtually permanently. However, after perusing his citations there is no such evidence. Again, as in Claim 1 Bellesiles (at the very least) is blurring the distinction between private and public arms.
"No gun ever belonged unqualifiedly to an individual. [It] had to be listed in every probate inventory...Guns might be privately owned, but they were state-controlled. [footnote 31]."
--- Arming America, 2000, p. 80.
- "William W. Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, 13 vols. (Richmond, VA, 1809-23), 7:26-27, 125-26, 9:292, 10:218, 11:493, 12:12-13, 24"
7:26-27authorizes the impressment of provisions, arms, boats, and also "any smith, wheel-wright, carpenter, or other artificer whatsoever, which shall be thought useful for the fixing of arms, making carriages for great guns, or doing any other work whatever, where need shall be of such artificer." And before goods could be impressed, they had to be appraised.
125-26 contains an act concerning ferries and has nothing to do with firearms or the militia.
9:292 (and 291) is an "act for providing against Invasions and Insurrections." If an "invasion or insurrection be so near and pressing" that the soldiers of such militia assembled are "not well armed and provided with ammunition, [they] shall be furnished with the arms and ammunition of the county, and any deficiency in these may be supplied from the publick magazines, or if the case admint not that delay, by impressing arms and ammunition of private proverty, which ammuntion, so far as not used, and arms, shall be duly returned, as soon as they may be spared."
10:218 is an "act for recovery of arms, cattle, horses, and other property belonging to the commonwealth [Virginia], or to the United States." (In other words, another irrelvant citation.)
11:493 declares all arms and equipment "of the militia, shall be exempted from executions and distresses at all times..." (Note, only state-owned arms were exempt from executions. Even Bellesiles acknowledges that in Claim 3's paragraph.)
12:12-13 supports a part of Bellesiles's first sentence in Claim 3's paragraph -- "[T]he colonies supported and subsidized the private ownership of firearms." Those too poor to afford them were given public arms and the act details how these arms shall be accounted for.
The relevant part of 12:24 is a re-enactment of 11:493 above.
- "J. Hammond Trumbull et al., eds., The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, 15 vols. (Hartford, CT 1850-1890), 1:282, 350, 2:19-20, 181, 347, 8:380, 9:341-44, 473, 580"
1:282 authorizes several towns to "examin and censure all defects of armes... and allso deffects upon training dayes..." 350 deals with same and orders fines to be imposed for defects.
2:19-20: Upon complaint from any soldier or inhabitant of the Colony, the "Assistants or Commisioners" in the respective plantations can order gunsmiths in their townships to repair deficient arms "for a rational consideration for their time and paynes" and to be paid upon completion of repairing the deficiencies. To ensure that the militia has proper arms and ammunition in readiness, page 20 authorizes militia officers to perform inspections at home or in the field and assess fines. Further, the townships were ordered to maintain adequate supplies of ammunition. The towns as well, were subject to fines for deficiencies.
2:181 reads, "This Court upon speciall occasion have thought good and doe hereby order that the cheife military officers in each plantation doe forthwith take speciall care that the armes of their plantation and the severall soliders therof, be viewed and set in sufficient repayre, well fixed and fitted for service; and that every person be furnished with ammunition according to law...quot; The plantations were also to be furnished with ammunition according to law and any defects in either were to be reported.
2:347 orders dragoons to be raised in two counties with arms and ammunition complete and ready to march within an hour's warning. Also, due to hostilities with Indians, "all persons be duely prepared and provided with armes and ammmunition according to law" and are ordered to meet the following Monday "at the meeting house in their respective plantations" and await further directions. A five-shilling fine to be levied for non-appearance.
8:380 instructs every listed soldier, householder and trooper (cavalry) to have in readiness their respective arms, ammunition and equipment. During musters or training days, clerks chosen by each company shall "call over the roll of the souldiers and to take notice of their defects, by their absence or otherwise."
9:341-44 authorizes several persons to "receive and secure, all that can be had of the arms and accoutrements...raised for the late intended expedition against Canada..." This passage refers to the same expedition mentioned in Claim 2 where Bellesiles erroneously cites and claims, "At the end of any campaign, the militia was 'to lodge ye Armes in some convenient and safe place.'" These arms had been purchased either through mutually agreeable terms, or impressment. (Impressed items were paid for too). If "reasonable contracts and bargains" could not be made, the purchasing agents were authorized "to impress victuals, transports, cloathing, arms and other necessaries that cannot otherwise reasonably be obtained." (9:232) This was the only time during Connecticut's Colonial period (at least as documented in the Public Records of Connecticut) that impressed arms were not returned to their owners. (For example see 9:341 and 10:479.)
Chalk-up two more irrelevant quotes at 473 and 580 ordering the sale of gunpowder (before it spoils) owned by the Colony but held in private storage.
Claim 3 Conclusions
Although possibly true, Bellesiles fails to supply a single citation supporting the claim that privately owned guns had to be listed in every probate inventory or that such proceedings required them to be treated differently from teacups.
Bellesiles writes "No gun ever belonged unqualifiedly to an individual." This is true, and the quotations concerning impressment verify that. However, the same could be said for almost any form of private property then and now (especially with respect to real estate). The Fifth Amendment in-part reads, "... nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." Indeed, Bellesiles does provide citations showing many other items, necessary for public use (including blankets), being impressed (after they were paid for). (For an elaboration of this state and national power, click here.)
It seems Bellesiles can't resist twisting a theme or anecdote any chance he can. On page 15 he writes, "That which was once perceived as subject to communal regulation is now seen as an individual right." Communal regulation and individual rights are hardly mutually exclusive. (Again the reader is referred to GunCite's "Is there Contrary Evidence of an Individual Right?")
Another (and final) example of what can only be described as an intentional attempt at distortion is this passage from page 393: "New York required that volunteer companies keep their guns in armories or drill rooms rather than at home in order to avoid any unauthorized firings [emphasis added]. The state had the right to determine where individuals kept their guns, and in 1834 the New York legislature thought that volunteer militia should call upon their arms only for musters and public emergencies. In return, the state granted a lifetime exemption from jury duty and paid for an armorer to care for each regiment's weapons, freeing the volunteers from a task few enjoyed, or performed."
Not only do Bellesiles's sources fail to support the highlighted contention, they contradict it. Further, in this case it wasn't the state that determined where individuals kept their guns. Here's the real story, straight from his source:
About this time the practice was introduced in several companies of keeping the arms in racks, or "armories" as they were called, at their drill-rooms, and the good, old-fashioned, and primitive custom of each citizen soldier taking care of his own musket, carrying it in full uniform upon his shoulder to and from the particular place in the Park where his company had been ordered to assemble, was gradually abandoned. The Fourth Company is believed to have introduced this aristocratic innovation, which was soon adopted by the other companies of the Regiment, and finally by all the militia of the city." (emphasis added) (Clark, Emmons, History of the Seventh Regiment of New York, 2 vols., p. 1:227.)
Once again, Bellesiles blurs the distinction between public and private arms. The state in 1843, decided to supply the militia entirely with public arms and as a result made it necessary to provide "armories." "The time-honored custom for each member to take his musket after drill or parade to his own house, and to be responsible for its good order and cleanliness, entirely passed away with the appearance of the State arms." (1:299-300) His citations make no mention of "unauthorized firings." According to his citations New York militia arms ended-up in armories because the majority of the militia apparently did not want to go to the time, trouble and expense of owning and maintaining a military gun.
The story Bellesiles tells, should be an interesting and informative read, however unfortunately, whether due to incredible sloppiness, deliberate deception and omission, or all of the above, his book simply cannot be relied upon (assuming one is looking for the truth and perspective). Although, the bibliography provides a wealth of useful sources.
No wonder gun control acolytes such as Robert Spitzer gushed over the book initially -- "Meticulously, even extravagantly researched, this book is a tour de force...This book will transform the modern gun debate by moving it from hysteria to sensible analysis. In every respect, a superb piece of historical work." (emphasis original) "Hysteria?" One can almost hear the heavy breathing coming from Arming America's praisers. (See the book's back jacket.)
It's a shame that Bellesiles did not write an honest account of the history of guns in America. As his citations show, it can be quite fascinating on its own, but that probably would not have been as inviting to those interested in a black or white picture rather than the gray world where the truth often (but not always) resides.
If nothing else, it is hoped that visitors to this page recognize that Bellesiles's work is anything but "meticulous."