Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Broken Guns

Some of the 200 firearms turned in at Uptown Baptist Church on Saturday as part of the city's annual gun buyback program. Virtually all of the guns were non-functional and not likely to be used to commit crimes.

Historian and author Michael A. Bellesiles got into a world of hurt when scholars began checking the sources of his book Arming America. Bellesiles had argued that early Americans were not nearly as well-armed as had been thought, and that gun-ownership in 18th and 19th-Century America was actually rather rare. Instead, he argued, the idea of an armed public was the creation of the 20th-Century NRA-rightwing-gunlobby, etc.

Bellesiles's sources for his book were probate records of the 1700's and 1800's. In poring over thousands of wills filed during the previous two centuries, Bellesiles said that he found very few firearms mentioned in wills, and those he did find were frequently described as "broken" or "damaged".

Arming America received glowing reviews in The Right Places (New York, Boston, The Bay Area) and also won Columbia University's Bancroft Prize for the best work of history by a new author.

Maybe Bellesiles's ambition got the better of him, because the unraveling began when other historians noticed that Arming America used wills from 19th-Century San Francisco as source material. These records had long been assumed irretrievably lost in the 1906 earthquake and fire, and no copies, facsimiles or summaries were known to exist. Anywhere.

When contacted for details on where he had discovered these long-missing files, Bellesiles mentioned the San Francisco Public Library; but they didn't have them. Then the California Historical Society in Sacramento; nope. Then the Mormon Research Library in Salt Lake City; nix.

Other researchers began looking deeper into the sources. They found many instances in which wills listed guns, and Bellesiles had appended "broken" or "damaged" where it did not exist in the original. An investigation was begun. The Bancroft Prize was rescinded and Bellesiles resigned his professorship.

In Chicago last Saturday, a gun "buy-back" program netted over 4,000 firearms, air-guns, replicas and what-have-you's.

At Uptown Baptist Church, one of two North Side collection points, area residents had dumped 200 rifles by 12:30 p.m. Saturday, including a machine gun that had been in a fire. Another man presented a box of replica handguns, each worth $10.

Virtually all of the guns turned in Saturday at Uptown aren’t the kind likely to be used to commit crimes.

“There’s not a functional gun in the lot,” said Sgt. Alex Silva, a 23rd District CAPS officer.

I'd settle for a functional historian.

h/t Second City Cop.

No comments: