Gun History Disarmed
Thanks to Joyce Lee Malcolm for her well-written and well-presented piece on Michael Bellesiles' Arming America ("Disarming History," March). I've read a few other articles and criticisms of the issue, but Malcolm's was the most complete and understandable. It's amazing to me, a nonacademic, how easily some folks are deluded by a "scholarly" book because it supports their position. It appears that's what happened here, and Bellesiles should be ashamed of himself for attempting to delude the public.
W. B. Clark
As a Columbia grad, I have wondered why none of the articles that I have read on Bellesiles mentions the names of the Bancroft Prize jurists. It seems to me they should be held accountable or at least be cited for their foolishness.
I am no historian, but I have also wondered why probate records, particularly those from cities, would be considered essential evidence of gun ownership. I grew up during the 1950s and '60s in the poor, rural South, where every house contained a gun or several and where a will was as rare as a diamond. Guns were frequently handed on to children as parents aged. People died and property was divided by children, without the use of wills or the involvement of government in any form. I cannot imagine that there was better record keeping regarding gun ownership in the 18th or 19th centuries.
San Diego, CA
Malcolm quotes Haverford College historian Roger Lane, a gun control supporter who gave Arming America a laudatory review: "I'm mad at the guy. He suckered me. It's entirely clear to me that he's made up a lot of these records. He's betrayed us. He's betrayed the cause."
The cause? Would that cause be maintaining the integrity of historical research -- or the political effort toward more gun control? One really would think that in the wake of this mess historians would be more circumspect about making such comments. If Lane is known as a gun control activist, it also raises a question about why he was selected to review the book.
Second, I wanted to point out that the book is now being sold as a remainder, complete with its "Bancroft Prize Winner" banner and no indication of any problems with its contents. At $9.98, it will likely now get wider distribution than if it had been allowed to languish at the original price.
Sandia Park, NM
Douglas Clement's "Creation Myths" (March) provides an interesting presentation of the economic debate surrounding economists Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine's call for reduced intellectual property rights. Their argument, as I understand it, is that we somehow will create more innovation and progress by reducing or restricting the individual ownership and associated individual economic rewards of innovation and progress.
As a noneconomist, I'd thought we'd learned via the collectivist failures of the 20th century that reducing or limiting the right of individuals to hold, retain, and benefit from private property (whatever its nature) is a prescription that inevitably impoverishes us all. Economic rationale and theory aside, what Boldrin and Levine advocate is the use of state power to take property from its rightful owners.
In economics lingo, the government is giving creators a "monopoly" over a work by registering a patent or copyright. But to this layman, there is no real-world comparison between a patent or copyright to a very specific invention or creative work and a genuine governmentally granted or sanctioned "monopoly," such as AT&T prior to its breakup, the U.S. Postal Service, or the government-controlled air traffic control system.
Government-issued patents or copyrights affecting recordings, software, or drugs simply establish the property rights of the owners in the same manner as government-recorded deeds on real property or government-issued titles on motor vehicles. These governmental acts do not "grant economic monopolies." Instead they provide a (relatively) efficient means for property owners to assure that the economic (and other) rights inherent in their ownership of specific property are protected under the law.