Guns in the wild west: regulated, with no fears about ripping the Constitution

Summary:  An oddity of the New America is how we stumble when dealing with problems solved not just by our peers in other developed nations, but in our past.  Gun control is but one example. Other nations, our peers in the developed world, have accomplished what we’re told is impossible for Americans: reducing gun ownership.  In our past we were able to regulate guns without cries that we shredded the Constitution (the subject of today’s post).   In brief, we see ignorance and amnesia — what conservative leaders consider ideal qualities for citizens.

Sign on main street of Dodge City, 1878:
“The Carrying of Firearms Strictly Forbidden”

Dodge City, 1879As shown in Myth-busting about gun use in the Wild West, the untamed late 19th century West was relatively peaceful — except for institutional violence (eg, against Indians, small farmers and ranchers, unions). Laws regulating gun possession helped make it so. The people who opened the frontier were not dumb, and didn’t want their streets running with blood. Nor were the citizens of Americans during the following century, in which many areas had strict gun controls.

This history has been erased from the minds of millions through the power of propaganda on a willing audience.  It’s become lost history, joining so much of our 19th century in the amnesic clouds of the American mass mind.

But the truth is out there, as in these two excerpts, if only we have the will to grasp it.

(1) Did the Wild West Have More Gun Control Than We Do Today?“, Adam Winkler (Prof Law, UCLA; author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America), Huffington Post, 9 September 2011 — Excerpt:

While people were allowed to have guns at home for self-protection, frontier towns usually barred anyone but law enforcement from carrying guns in public.

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Myth-busting about gun use in the Wild West

Summary:  America’s broken Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action becomes most visible during political debates. For both Left and Right,  fidelity to group dogma about “hot  button” issues defines the group, about which no heterodox thought is allowed. This gives US debates their Alice-visiting-Oz feel, with one of both sides uninterested in inconvenient facts.  Previously we looked at climate change to see this at work on the Left.  In this series we look at similar behavior on the Right: looking at guns in America.  This, chapter 7, looks at the history of guns in the wild west — myths, facts, and echos of our future.



When we think of guns in America, we often turn to the wild west for lessons. Such as how they handled widespread ownership of guns.  How violent was the West? Calculating murder rates for small populations is problematic, especially for societies very different than today’s.

Still, there are lessons.  Look at the famous Kansas cattle towns, where cowboys came to play: Abilene, Ellsworth, Wichita, Dodge City, and Caldwell — described in “Guns, Murder, and Plausibility“, Robert R. Dykstra (Prof History, State U of NY – Albany), Historical Methods, December 2010.

Violence in the Wild West was localized, as it is in today’s America, in certain districts.  And in most western towns it was at levels far lower than that shown in cowboy movies.

{western towns’} population consisted of relatively young males. They commit most murders.  … the middle-class respectables of Dodge City, male and female residents of the north side of town, faced {lower risk} of being murdered as the south-side whores, gamblers, and transient cowboys.  Of the dozen founding fathers of the town’s business community, a group that included Robert Wright, all except one who died of illness survived the entire cattle-trading era without a scratch.

… Dodge City, for example, was very well policed — headquartering over the 10 years it was a cowboy town a deputy US marshal, a county sheriff, an undersheriff, deputy sheriffs as needed, a city marshal, an assistant marshal, policemen as needed, and two township constables. … Five of its 17 adult killings — almost one third — were justifiable homicides by officers. The police meant business …

But there was violence, of a different kind than drunken cowboys shooting each other.  Political violence, aka terrorism.

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