Final Update: The Finished Paper

I finished my final paper about a week ago, and am now waiting to hear back from my adviser on it. It ended up being 44, double-spaced pages long–a bit longer than I intended. Still, I could see myself writing even more on it. With a year to research I could easily write a 100-page monograph.

The questions that sought answers to changed during the course of research, and ended up being:

“Why did gun supporters react so negatively to Bellesiles’s thesis, ignoring the obvious flaws in the work to simply attack him as an “anti-gun-nut”[1]? Second, why did academics ignore the book’s  mistakes and quickly accept his argument even though it challenged traditional explanations of gun culture and contradicted scholarly consensus on probate records, travel accounts, and basic statistical analysis? Lastly, I conclude with a reflection on the current gun debate, and an inquiry into Bellesiles current relevance. In sum, what does the Bellesiles’s controversy and the media reactions surrounding it tell us about the American Gun Culture Wars?

I addressed each question in a section of its own–one on the gun advocates and one on the gun control activists/academics. If I had more time to on this project, I would strengthen my conclusion. My Adviser intelligently steered me away from researching the history of American gun culture because it was such a big topic. Even with this narrower scope I bit off a little too much though. I would have liked to study the direct effects of Bellesiles more closely, instead of just examining what was revealed through media reactions. I also would have liked to compare media attention given to his scandal with attention given to Doris Kearns-Goodwin, Joseph Ellis, and Stephen Ambrose, to see if the controversial nature of his subject made his downfall more public than the ethical dilemmas around the other historians. Lastly, I would have liked to do a better compare and contrast of gun activism in the early 2000s with gun activism today. Overall, I did a fairly thorough survey of the Bellesiles affair.

This project challenged a lot of my view on guns and gun control, and I can’t help but talk some policy here. Dare I say that I have moved to the center, if not center-right, on this issue. Gun control measures just don’t prevent violence and crime. National registries are ineffective and costly, waiting periods don’t work, clip limits can be circumvented, and one-gun-a-month policies don’t prevent people from stockpiling. And direct bans of certain classes o?weapons are illogical and impossible to enforce. The cat’s out of the bag–there are 300 million guns in the United States, and we will not be able to confiscate, register, or regulate them all. So what can we do? First, seriously strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. Created in the Brady Bill, NICS has proven to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous individuals. Next, the ATF  should partner with local police to crack down on straw purchases at Federal Firearm Licensed dealers. Straw purchases are when  one person buys a gun to turn over to soimeone that couldn’t pass NICS. In police operations in Chicago, undercover cops were able to but guns for people standing right next to them with no problem. Third, we must close the private-sales loophole. Many gun owners are upset about this prospect, because it makes it harder to purchase firearms. But many guns pass through hands completely untraceable because of the gun-show and private sale loophole.

Lastly, We need to start a real conversation on guns. Gun control supporters need to understand that people have legitimate, safe, and rewarding uses for firearms that don’t impact anyone negatively. Target shooting, skeet, machine-gun enthusiasts, tri-gun competitions, and  hunting are all legal, often fun, and rewarding hobbies. Likewise, gun owners need to be sensitive to the fact that many people don’t like guns. Instead of shunning them and alienating them, invite people to learn about them, teach them gun safety, and be a positive face to the community.

All in all, this has been an incredible opportunity and I can’t wait to learn more about guns. Thank you Charles Center for everything.


[1] Larry Pratt, “Part I Michael Bellesiles: Mega Anti Gun Nut”, Gun Owners of America, September 29, 2008 (Accessed June 28, 2014). The Author, Larry Pratt, has in total of 38 articles entitled “Michael Bellesiles, Mega Anti Gun Nut”. They appear to date from the origin of the Bellesiles’s scandal, for the GOA only provides the 9/29/08 date for all of them.