July 29, 2002

BELLESILES UPDATE: One of Michael Bellesiles’ contentions was that guns at the time of the American Revolution were too expensive for individuals to own, and hence rare. But here’s what Joyce Malcolm says, in her book, Guns and Violence: The English Experience, about the situation in England, a hundred years earlier (p. 49):

Coule Englishmen afford firearms?. . . By 1658, during the Commonwealth, the price had decreased to 11 shillings a musket, and in 1664 the government considered offering 10 shillings per musket to citizens who turned in serviceable weapons. . . . Used guns were, of course, less expensive. In 1628, when a new pair of pistols cost two pounds, a stolen handgun was valued at only 3 shillings. But the clearest evidence of the widespread ownership of weapons comes from court records. Indictments for misuse of firearms reveal an amazing array of persons of humble occupation — labourers, wheelwrights, bricklayers, carpenters, weavers, blacksmiths, farmers, and servants of both sexes — who appeared before the courts charged with misusing firearms.

Just a reminder to those who continue to claim that Bellesiles just got a few numbers wrong in a handful of paragraphs. Actually, his book is shot through with errors.

Emory, meanwhile, still isn’t talking about what its investigation of Bellesiles has revealed. I imagine that if it had produced an exoneration, we probably would have heard about it by now. But rumors are swirling. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: A reader asks why figures for firearms availability in 17th century Britain mean anything regarding 18th century America. Well, firearms prices tended to decline over time, but more importantly 18th century Americans were considerably richer than 17th century Brits, and had more reason to own firearms. So an argument that firearms were rare and expensive in 18th century America seems even less plausible in the face of evidence that they were cheap and plentiful in 17th century Britain.