Sunday, April 19, 2015

De-mythologizing the Wild West: gun laws were actually stricter then than now

It's all part of the lore of the Wild West: men armed to the teeth ready to shoot it out with one another on Main Street at a moment's notice.  And it's an image, bolstered by Hollywood, that gun-lovers and the NRA are only too happy to cultivate, as they look to our romanticized view of the past to justify having virtually no gun-control laws today. But is that the way it really was in the Old West?
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.
Adam Winkler, author of Gunfight: The Battle to Bear Arms in America, concurs:

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.  READ MORE
In fact, many of those same cities have far less burdensome gun control today then they did back in the 1800s.

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