Very Old Barton: ‘Christian Nation’ Propagandist Channels Louis L’Amour’s Western Fiction

David Barton’s shoddy record means he has not earned the benefit of the doubt.

Since “Christian nation” propagandist David Barton’s book about Thomas Jefferson has been debunked, it seems the Texas-based “historian” has set his sights on a new cause: defending the Second Amendment. But just like Barton’s assertions about Jefferson, his latest claims reek of fiction. 

Back in January, Barton was on Glenn Beck’s radio show. The conversation focused on guns, and Barton told three stories that range from very difficult to believe to patently false in his attempt to defend gun ownership.

First, Barton claimed that the National Rifle Association (NRA) was founded, in part, to arm freed slaves so they could defend themselves against the KKK.

Warren Throckmorton, a professor at conservative Grove City College in Pennsylvania who has exposed Barton before, was quick to question that assertion. Throckmorton pointed out that the NRA’s own website makes no mention of former slaves or the Klan. Instead, it says the group was founded mainly to “‘promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.’”

If the NRA really had been founded to help freed slaves defend themselves against violent racists, I am confident it would make mention of that.

Barton’s second false claim was that conservative icon Ronald Reagan opposed James Brady’s gun control efforts. Barton said “[Reagan] fought gun control, was not going to allow it, and it didn’t, I mean, it didn’t for 15 years. So you had the press secretary of Reagan (Brady, who was also shot during the assassination attempt on Reagan) who is for it but Reagan himself said: ‘No, no, no, we punish the perpetrators, not taking everybody’s guns away.’”

Again, Throckmorton pulled the plug on that assertion. He noted that Reagan wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in 1991 calling for the passage of the Brady Bill.

Barton’s third claim about guns was dubious to say the least. He told Beck that back in the 1850s, a male teacher somewhere in the west was saved from an assassination attempt thanks to his own elementary-school-aged students who were armed. Barton said the would-be killer walked into the schoolhouse with murderous intent, but when he took aim at the teacher “all the kids pull their guns out and point it at [the assassin] and say, ‘You kill the teacher, you die.’ He says, ‘Okay.’ The teacher lives. Real simple stuff.” 

Did this story come from some long-forgotten diary of a Western pioneer? Not likely.

Chris Rodda, senior research director at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said Barton’s story bears a striking resemblance to a novel by Louis L’Amour. In Bendigo Shafter, a reformed gunfighter and gambler named Drake Morrell was working in Wyoming as a school teacher. But Morrell had enemies, one of whom went to Morrell’s school with the intent to kill him, but was stopped by his armed students.

Throckmorton supported Rodda’s assessment of Barton’s story and also wants to see some proof. 

Americans United does not have a position on gun control. This isn’t about guns, though. It’s about Barton’s lousy research and unproven claims. Americans United has been debunking Barton’s revisionist history since 1993, and frankly his act is getting old.

As long as Barton continues to spout bogus history, however, we will continue to demand that he back up his statements. Add AU’s voice to the chorus of those who want some proof for Barton’s tall tale from the Old West.

Barton’s shoddy record means he has not earned the benefit of the doubt. If he has any proof of his latest claims, he needs to bring it forward. The ball is in your court, Mr. Barton.