Rewriting History To Undermine SCOTUS

by
posted on June 28, 2024
18th century British soldiers and Americans
Christine Kohler/iStock

I have been noticing a recurring movement by anti-gun extremists, who now appear to be trying to convince the public that Americans owning firearms is a relatively new concept. The goal seems to be an attempt to reimagine our nation’s longstanding history of large segments of law-abiding citizens embracing the Second Amendment by choosing to own firearms.

That’s simply ridiculous.

Americans have always owned guns, even before they were officially Americans. The British subjects who lived on this continent back in the 18th century eventually used their guns to help expel British soldiers and establish what would become the greatest nation the world has ever known.

And what makes America great is that our nation was founded, in part, on the premise of recognizing inalienable rights and enshrining them in the documents that should ensure our government operates in a manner that does not encroach on those protected freedoms.

Among those freedoms, of course, is the right to arms, and as I noted, Americans (even when they were still British) always embraced that right.

But with several rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court not just affirming that the Second Amendment protects an individual right, but also noting the historical context of that protection and the fact that America has always been a country that owns a lot of guns, anti-gun “academics” seem to be trying to invent a new American “history” that counters what has long been known to be a fact.

Prior to the landmark rulings in cases like Heller, McDonald and Bruen, a man named Michael Bellesiles argued that Americans didn’t actually begin owning firearms on a large scale until around the time of the Civil War.

This Emory University professor was even gifted one of the most prestigious awards for writings on American history: The Bancroft Prize, which has been awarded by Columbia University since 1948. There are 16 past recipients who were also awarded the Pulitzer Prize for History, so it carries with it quite a bit of clout.

There was one small problem: The whole premise was wrong, and, upon closer scrutiny, his “research” was deeply flawed—if not completely made up.

I don’t have the space to delve into the myriad criticisms of Bellesiles’ work—although many readers are likely painfully aware of this scandal—but those interested in revisiting this embarrassing episode can search the internet, including the NRA-ILA website, using Bellesiles’ name.

Nearly a quarter-century removed from the Bellesiles scandal, a new “researcher” has come forward with a new premise. Megan Kang, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Princeton University, apparently believes that America’s “gun culture” only really developed from the mid-20th century onward.

Kang seems to be upping the ante, implying Americans were not very well armed until 100 years after Bellesiles claimed we were. She is careful not to actually say that, as there isn’t a shred of evidence to support such Bellesilian nonsense, so she uses a vague, undefinable term like “gun culture,” and asserts that it has undergone a dramatic change.

It should be noted that Kang clearly doesn’t like the idea of Americans keeping or bearing arms. Her essay promoting her “research” is titled “Why America Fell for Guns,” which seems to imply we were tricked into possessing them at a higher rate than other countries. She claims that law-abiding citizens acquiring firearms for self-defense “makes everyone less safe.” She appears to lament the idea of firearms being “used” (she likely means carried for personal protection} in “shared spaces” (i.e., public spaces) of “learning, worship and leisure.” She writes appreciatively about the “commonsense gun regulations” in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom—specifically noting widespread gun bans (which came with turn-ins and confiscations), licensing and registration. And she uses terms commonly used by anti-gun extremists, such as “ghost guns,” “military-grade automatic weapons” and the aforementioned term “commonsense gun regulations.”

She has even adopted the latest lie that is all the rage in anti-gun circles, claiming “guns are known to be the leading cause of child and adolescent death.” Even The Washington Post has rejected this claim. Perhaps Kang thought she was being clever by using the term “adolescent” to make her claim at least somewhat accurate. But she apparently didn’t know that the cut-off for an “adolescent” is, from a legal perspective, the age of majority, which is 18 in the U.S.

So, her claim remains as much a lie as when it is made by others in the anti-gun circles she clearly inhabits.

In other words, an anti-gun student looked for a way to promote her anti-gun views, so she wrote an anti-gun paper. Then she did a really poor job of supporting her premise.

She claims that “a gun-filled country was neither innate nor inevitable.” She then cites “research” by a number of her fellow anti-gun “scholars.”

In one—a 2023 article that questions the conclusions and validity of the Bruen decision—Brian DeLay of UC Berkeley School of Law concedes, “ …British North Americans were unusually well-armed.”

Sounds pretty “innate.”

She mentions Andrew McKevitt, an anti-gun “historian” who wrote a book about the availability of surplus firearms after World War II, who then tried to claim that this era was “how America became the gun country.” But McKevitt’s book doesn’t even seem to contradict that Americans have always owned a lot of guns, it just suggests that they bought more during the one time period he identified.

Grasping at McKevitt’s premise, Kang’s article claims importers of surplus firearms created “a mass market for civilian guns that had limited practical use elsewhere,” completely ignoring the “practical” use of firearms for self-defense, not to mention hunting, target shooting and collecting. She dramatically proclaims that advertisements promote selling guns that are “the finest made by the Fascists. Carried by the crack Italian Alpine Troops.” To drive that point home, an old advertisement that contains that very language is included.

The only problem is, the ad is from the Lytle Novelty (emphasis added) Company, and is for toy replicas, with a clear message that states the items are “Absolutely Safe! Cannot Be Fired.”

In addition, her “research” trying to show Americans only began owning large numbers of firearms during the mid-20th century only goes back to 1949. While it is certainly true that from 1949 until today, Americans have bought many firearms, there is no data available to show how many were bought or owned prior to 1949.

To put a finer point on the fact that a large percentage of Americans have always owned guns, the “research” by DeLay that Kang cites notes probate records in colonial America showed perhaps greater levels of gun ownership than today. He reports firearms being present in roughly 70 percent of colonial New England probate records, and around the same for Virginia. The lowest mark he shows for colonial probate records including firearms is around 30 percent; again, it sounds like gun ownership in America was, and is, indeed “innate.”

To cap things off, this op-ed masquerading as research makes a couple of glaringly misleading claims near its conclusion, further exposing the author’s anti-gun agenda and deeply flawed “research.” First, Kang claims, “By the 1990s, unprecedented crime rates prompted many U.S. states to adopt gun restrictions that resulted in a substantial reduction in gun availability and saved tens of thousands of lives.” To support this claim, she cites another “research” paper she wrote; one in which she goes even further to claim that “most (emphasis added) U.S. states implemented more-restrictive gun laws.” She also claims in the paper that “the United States experienced a decline in household gun ownership.”

Neither claim is even remotely supported; except, perhaps, by Kang’s own “research.”

First, “most U.S. states” did not impose more restrictions during the noted time period. Most readers are aware that gun laws in many states were actually made less restrictive over that time. The right-to-carry (RTC) movement began in Florida, in 1987, when the state made it far easier for law-abiding residents to legally carry firearms for self-defense. By 1996, more than 20 states had enacted similar laws; some going from may-issue to shall-issue systems, and others going from no-issue to shall-issue.

Along with the push for RTC laws that NRA promoted came many other laws intended to make gun ownership less restrictive, as well as countless successful efforts to defeat the passage of anti-gun laws. Contrary to Kang’s assertion, the time period she cites was known for making gun laws far less restrictive. Reducing limitations on law-abiding gun owners had far more to do with lowering crime rates—including homicide rates—than did the mythical limitations she imagines were imposed.

Any “reduction in gun availability” or “decline in household gun ownership” are merely figments in her fevered, anti-gun imagination.

Sadly, I expect there will be more attempts to rewrite American history by “academics” like Kang. Much like how anti-gun extremists invent new “threats” to public safety by inventing terms they feel will strike fear into the hearts of the general public—terms like “assault weapons,” “ghost guns,” “cop-killer bullets” and “plastic guns”—this new breed of “academics” is trying to undermine Supreme Court rulings by rewriting accepted American history.

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