I just posted this piece at Legal Blog Watch--thanks in advance for posting any comments there.--LS
Jim Lindgren tells a story on The Volokh Conspiracy today about Michael Bellesiles' disgraced book, "Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture" that may be new to you -- I know some details are new to me. Like the fact that Wonkette, or Ana Marie Cox, may have lost her job at The Chronicle of Higher Education because she was doing too good a job of investigating Michael Bellesiles for her then-employer. Like the fact that Bellesiles' book was cited and then un-cited in appellate law, as described by this excellent article from the Idaho Librarian.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, the back story. You may remember that Bellesiles eventually resigned from Emory University. After staunchly defending his book, "Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture," against criticism of his research and findings, Bellesiles offered his resignation when an academic investigative committee "researched the allegations of scholarly fraud and concluded that Bellesiles was guilty of both substandard research methodology and of willfully misrepresenting specific evidence in" the book. (Quote source: The Emory Wheel. Hat-tip: Gordon Smith.)
One of Bellesiles' leading critics at the time was none other than blogger Lindgren. Working with Justin Lee Heather, he published "Counting Guns in Early America" in the William and Mary Law Review. It's a shocker -- as Lindgren later wrote for The Yale Law Journal...
"'Arming America' is a well-written and compelling story of how early Americans were largely unfamiliar with guns until the approach of the Civil War. It tells a wide-ranging, detailed, but relatively unnuanced story of gunlessness in early America. Bellesiles writes: "The vast majority of those living in British North American colonies had no use for firearms, which were costly, difficult to locate and maintain, and expensive to use." His primary evidence was low counts of guns in probate records, gun censuses, militia muster records, and homicide accounts. ... Unfortunately, except for the last claim of militia ineffectiveness, all 15 of these major contentions of 'Arming America' turn out to be false ..." [Emphasis added.]
These pieces were published after Cox was put on -- and taken off -- the Chronicle story, as Lindgren relates today. In his post, Lindgren details the talk he gave in Madison, Wis., last night about the scandal:
"As I told the group, Ana Marie Cox (Wonkette) was the reporter assigned by The Chronicle of Higher Education to do an in-depth story on Bellesiles in late August/early September 2001. In 2001, The Chronicle was vigorously defending Bellesiles and was willing to print as fact ridiculous stories that he told them. Much later a Chronicle reporter privately apologized to me, and said that they were taken in and had gotten the story all wrong.
"At the time, however, they were Bellesiles' strongest supporters in the press. Cox is very smart and well-educated, so despite the Chronicle's strong editorial bias, I decided to try to get her to examine the evidence, not just guess at what was going on, as most historians were doing. The Boston Globe and the National Review were also working on major stories at the time. The Globe reporter actually went to Vermont to check out our claims and won a prize for confirming our research.
"I sent Cox copies of probably over 100 records that Bellesiles cited so that she could see a dozen examples supporting each and every major claim that we were making in our scholarly article, at least where the documents Bellesiles claimed to have read actually were in existence. Cox interviewed me several times for extended periods of time, as she almost certainly interviewed Bellesiles as well. I believe that Cox was beginning to understand the major problems with the book, though she never actually said that to me. Suddenly, Cox called me crying, saying she had been fired and taken off the story for the rest of her time there. Although she said that the stated reason was that they were unhappy with a previous story, I suspect that she didn't actually believe this, nor would that have necessitated removing her from the Bellesiles story before she left The Chronicle. I strongly suspected that Cox was fired because she was getting too close to writing the truth about Bellesiles."
Why does this matter to attorneys? Here's an excerpt from this excellent article from the Idaho Librarian, which traces Bellesiles' legal legacy:
"Bellesiles' ideas have also influenced two recent legal decisions concerning the meaning of the Second Amendment. San Francisco’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals cited Bellesiles' research in its decision Silveira v. Lockyer, Dec. 5, 2002, which ruled that the Second Amendment established a collective, not an individual, right to 'keep and bear arms.' It later deleted the citations from its decision, in a move legal experts called very unusual."
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