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Gun Control and the Old West

Updated on December 4, 2014
Dodge City
Dodge City | Source
Dalton Gang
Dalton Gang | Source
Dodge City police comission
Dodge City police comission | Source
Krupp Arms factory, WWI
Krupp Arms factory, WWI | Source
Tombstone, 1891
Tombstone, 1891 | Source

Did the gun settle the west?

Most claim it was the gun that settled the “Wild West”, so here’s some interesting reading to that point...

From the Daily Kos;

“Not according to Katherine Benton-Cohen, history professor at Georgetown University.

In an article she posted in Politico immediately after the Gabrielle Giffords' shooting in Tucson in January, 2011, she argues that many people have the lesson of Tombstone all wrong, that Tombstone was NOT a place of carefree gun usage and wild shootouts (except for the obvious one):

"The irony ... is that Tombstone lawmakers in the 1880s did more to combat gun violence than the Arizona government does today.
For all the talk of the “Wild West,” the policymakers of 1880 Tombstone—and many other Western towns—were ardent supporters of gun control. When people now compare things to the “shootout at the OK Corral,” they mean vigilante violence by gunfire. But this is exactly what the Tombstone town council had been trying to avoid.
In late 1880, as regional violence ratcheted up, Tombstone strengthened its existing ban on concealed weapons to outlaw the carrying of any deadly weapons within the town limits. The Earps (who were Republicans) and Doc Holliday maintained that they were acting as law officers—not citizen vigilantes—when they shot their opponents. That is to say, they were sworn officers whose jobs included enforcement of Tombstone’s gun laws. Yet this is all based on a widely shared misunderstanding of the Wild West. Frontier towns -- places like Tombstone, Deadwood, and Dodge -- actually had the most restrictive gun control laws in the nation.
In fact, many of those same cities have far less burdensome gun control today then they did back in the 1800s.
Guns were obviously widespread on the frontier. Out in the untamed wilderness, you needed a gun to be safe from bandits, natives, and wildlife. In the cities and towns of the West, however, the law often prohibited people from toting their guns around. A visitor arriving in Wichita, Kansas in 1873, the heart of the Wild West era, would have seen signs declaring, "Leave Your Revolvers At Police Headquarters, and Get a Check."
A check? That's right. When you entered a frontier town, you were legally required to leave your guns at the stables on the outskirts of town or drop them off with the sheriff, who would give you a token in exchange. You checked your guns then like you'd check your overcoat today at a Boston restaurant in winter. Visitors were welcome, but their guns were not."

So, Katherine Benton-Cohen makes a good point, but one could take it further…

Basically, in most frontier towns, the only folks allowed to carry outside of the home were the lawmen and shopkeepers. The movies always show different, and there were a few "lawless" towns (those with no gun control) but they were "settled" or perished, as most citizens didn't think guns belonged in a "modern" society, which every new town wanted to prove they were "modern" for the day. Hollywood and reality are two different things. Hard work, the military and cheap labor won the west, in spite of the outlaws that were by no means the heroes they are portrayed to be. They were simply lazy low-life rapists, thieves and killers and had nothing to do with any positive part of settling the west. The point is, why romanticize an era of violence and the violent, when it was the "peacemakers" that practiced gun control and thus "settled" the west? The reality is that it goes nowhere toward the point of the argument that guns settled the west. It was implementing law that settled the west. As far as I can tell, the law still has guns, and still has their hands full with dealing with lazy low-life rapists, thieves and murderers with guns.

As far as claiming crime rates were lower in the “wild west”, they are always lower in smaller communities where everybody knows everybody and higher in the cities. Crime rates were very high, as they always are, when America was more of a 2-class society. We are returning to that with the blue-collar trades worker being priced back into poverty from the short-lived middle-class. Crime itself has changed; drug offenses especially and the crime around that has driven overall crime "rates" up. But violent rape, murder, theft and robbery were as prevalent then as they are now, if not more so, considering unreported crimes against Indians and crimes blamed on Indians that didn't factor into the "crime rates, as Indians weren't originally treated as citizens but as enemy combatants.

There is a disconnect that exists now with our past, especially the couple decades portrayed as the “cowboy days”...trail drives were necessary only for a short while with the advent of the trans-continental railroad and all its growing branches reaching the cattle where they are raised. From the official "opening" of the west to farming, ranching, industry and settlement to its actual settling - with cities, counties and statehood- was only a few decades. Oklahoma City’s population went from zero to over ten thousand in a week. Guthrie did it in a day. Growing pains and corruption were rampant until law and compliance were made necessary. The pony express was around for a mere 18 months before it was made obsolete, yet, by Hollywood’s output on the subject, you’d think the horse-powered mail service was around for a century. Millions flooded into what was just recently a natural world full of resources and occupied only by mostly defenseless endemic peoples that had no clue of the coming storm that was to change their way of life forever....for those few who survived. The gun was simply a tool to provide food and protection in a world without a cop or a Von's grocery store. Its use otherwise has been for recreation, war, crime or law enforcement.

My stance on gun control and the Constitution is actually more "old west" than most; "Keep 'em in the country and leave 'em at the city limits". Constitutionally, I am with the framers of the document, specifically Jefferson when he stated that "We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." This, among many quotes of the day by him and other framers, was in direct reference to the need for amending the constitution as societal changes warranted. To still live by the original intent of the 2nd would require now the citizenry have full access to nuclear weapons, F-35s, aircraft carriers, tanks and cruise missiles.... It's a pointless argument to cite the 2nd today (for all other than those who just love a good old red-faced yelling match) because it's been made merit-less against societal change from day one by those who wrote it in the first place.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good old gun. New ones too. Rifles, assault weapons, shotguns and especially a well-tooled and fitted handgun. Give me a Dan Wesson model 65 357 or an old 1851 Navy Colt working replica any day. But I live in the city now, I don't hunt and protection isn't a need. I don't live a life that requires one, and to be honest, if someone is going to get you, odds of your gun being of help are slim to none. This is already a part of a crooks’ contingency plan and I'd rather not get shot myself. Truth is billions are made every year propping up wars by the same folks that want you to put one of their sporting or home-protection firearms in your home. Gun control, to them, is much more than the paltry 1.5 million NRA members or any Constitution of any nation...Gun control means the beginning of the end of them being able to sell a citizenry on fear so they can make a lot of money off of ammunition and arms from 3rd world countries that ultimately require military intervention, thus requiring more bullets and arms be sold to our own military. The military, nor the terrorists, nor any faction out there fighting, make their own weapons. Gun control will eventually show the futility of armed fear-fueled conflict and a multi-trillion-dollar industry is at stake. That's why the NRA, with an enrollment equal to less than one-half of one percent of the US population, has such a strong and very well-funded misinformation policy and lobby.


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