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Michael A. Bellesiles
618 pages (Fall 2006); 2.5MB download
Soft Skull Press; ISBN: 1-932360-07-7
"The mythology of the gun would be elaborated and drummed into Americans, during the second half of the 19th century, by massive advertising and by popular celebration in dime novels and Wild West shows ... Bellesiles has dispersed the darkness that covered the gun's early history in America. He provides overwhelming evidence that our view of the gun is as deep a superstition as any that affected Native Americans in the 17th century."
- Garry Wills, The New York Times Book Review
Beginning with the European tradition from which the American colonists emerged, Bellesiles indicates that ordinary people had virtually no access to or training in the use of firearms; it was swords, axes, and fire that were most commonly used against the Indians, and the few guns that did exist were kept under strict control by colonial governments. By the mid-1850s technological advances and the soaring gun production and industrialization encouraged by the Civil War era transformed the gun from a seldom-needed tool to a perceived necessity and fostered an emotional connection between man and weapon.
There was an immediate outcry from the anti-gun-control lobby. Questions qrose as to his research in probate records and the political firestorm expanded to include a committee of scholars and historians who devoted months to checking Bellesiles's footnotes in the archives where he did his research -- a practice that is extremely unusual in historical scholarship -- and found evidence of sloppy research in five pages.
In this revised edition, Bellesiles answers his academic critics, providing updated research addressing their legitimate concerns, and finding that the underlying thesis of his book remains as solid as ever.