Thursday, April 19, 2007

Wild West Era Had Stricter Gun Control Than America Has Today


Despite the exaggerated violent stereotypes perpetuated by dime novels and Hollywood, the so-called Wild West wasn't quite as violent as we've been led to believe over the years.

Take, for example, the 1881 "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," the most famous shootout in the history of the Old West. A mere three people died in this gunfight---an event that would be barely noticed in today's blood-soaked America, where many thousands of people are gunned down annually.

And yet, the O.K. Corral shootout has come to symbolize a wild, lawless West. It's part of the mythology of America that NRA gun lovers claim captures the "rugged individualism" and essence of what our nation is all about (as they furiously work to oppose any and all gun legislation as downright "un-American").

There's only one problem: the image of the Old West that exists in the popular imagination is largely fictional. It's all part of a myth that was created in the late 19th century by the dime novel authors, who enthralled their breathless, eager readers back East. The "Wild West" fantasy created by the dime novel was later taken up by generations of Hollywood films.

Any serious historian will tell you that the truth about the Wild West is rather more mundane. The Wild West era, in fact, was considerably less bloody than the violent reputation it has garnered over the years.

In fact, the exploits of the famous Wild West outlaws were often exaggerated. Take the most famous and notorious outlaw of them all: Billy the Kid. He was reported to have killed 21 men, "one for each year of his life."

The reality was more mundane. Billy the Kid's real name was Henry McCarty and he was born in New York City, of all places. And in truth, he likely only killed only two to four people. In fact, his exploits wouldn't even rate a front page story in today's violent America.

The only reason Billy the Kid is known at all today is because his killer, Sheriff Patrick Garrett, published a fictionalized, wildly exaggerated account of The Kid, hoping to cash in on McCarty's story by hyping it to the dime novel audience of the time.

The dime novelists had to exaggerate the exploits of the Wild West's most notorious killer in order to sell their books. By contrast, no writer today would need to exaggerate the actions of a Charles Whitman or Cho Seung-hui to horrify their audience.

Still, today's gun nuts tend to often point to the Wild West era in making their arguments that guns are somehow an inevitable, integral aspect of American life and culture. The problem is, these people get their ideas about the Wild West from watching John Wayne movies, rather than reading actual history.

Occasionally, a Hollywood film will attempt to actually portray a realistic aspect of the Wild West. For example, Clint Eastwood's 1992 film, Unforgiven depicted a Wild West locale in which a city ordinance requires people entering the town to hand over their guns to the sheriff's office. The ordinance is harshly enforced. At various points in the film, newcomers to the town fail to observe the law. They are then visited by the sheriff, who forcibly disarms them at the barrel of a gun (and viciously beats them for good measure).

Gasp! Isn't this gun control?

The NRA gun nuts went ballistic when Eastwood's film was released. They claimed Eastwood was "inventing" history. When serious historians rose in Eastwood's defense to point out that many Old West towns did in fact have such policies, they failed to silence the NRA gun nuts who were upset that their John Wayne wet dream fantasies of the Old West were, in fact, bullshit.

Here we are, a century later, and there are less gun control laws on the books today in many areas of the U.S. than there were in many parts of the Old West. Despite what today's gun nuts would have us believe, in most of the U.S., it is still remarkably easy to buy a gun these days.

Of course, you'd never guess this was the case, if you listen to the NRA's hysterical propaganda. The NRA would have us believe that guns are already heavily regulated in America today and that the feds are on the verge of kicking in our doors and confiscating every last gun in the nation.

However, if you take a close look at the specific issues that drives the NRA ballistic these days, you realize just how weak gun control laws are in this country.

Take, for example, the NRA's furious, ongoing opposition to the Brady Bill. This modest legislation does nothing more than simply require a check on the backgrounds of gun buyers for criminal activity. And thanks to the NRA, the law is filled with enough loopholes to drive a truck through (such as the gun show loophole).

It's hard to imagine any sane person opposing the Brady Bill. But the NRA took up the case and raised such a hysterical fuss that one might have guessed that the law called for nothing less than the repeal of the Second Amendment.

Despite what the NRA would have us believe, controls on guns in America have actually weakened over the past quarter century. For example, when George W. Bush was Texas governor, he signed a "concealed-carry law" at the NRA's bidding. When he did so, Texas joined 22 other states that since 1986 had made it legal to carry concealed weapons. Today, some 48 states allow some form of concealed carry.

Bush also signed a bill denying Texas cities the ability to sue gun manufacturers (so much for his lip service to the idea that local entities ought to be able to conduct their affairs without meddling interference from state government).

And speaking of gun control ordinances, as Wikipedia points out, the O.K. Corral shootout itself was sparked by Virgil Earp's efforts to "enforce Tombstone's law prohibiting the carrying of deadly weapons."

The fact is, the Old West was downright safe, compared to today's blood-soaked streets in America. For one thing, no one in the Old West ever had to face down a lethal killing instrument like a modern-day Glock semi-automatic pistol. Firearms in the Old West were downright crude and tame, compared to a Glock.

If even a Wild West town like Tombstone could have strict gun control ordinances, why can't we do the same as a nation today?


Anonymous said...

Gun control works.
The U.S. has a vastly higher death toll from firearms of any First World nation. We also have by a million miles the weakest gun control laws of any industrialized nation.
Why is it so hard for Americans to grasp this basic concept?
If you wish to defend the 2nd Amendment, knock yourself out (personally I think it's open to interpretation, but that's another issue).
But whatever you do, don't dispute the fact that gun control works.
I'm always amazed at how the Right-Wing can peddle their bullshit in the face of fact ("Global warming is a hoax," "Evolution isn't proven", etc.).
Truly, we are entering a Second Dark Age in this nation.
The first Dark Ages proved that science and knowledge do not always automatically progress in the course of history.
Today, America is retreating into the same sort of ignorance, superstition, and denial of science and reason that marked the first Dark Ages.

Anonymous said...

I have an idea. Why don't we push for tougher drug laws also? Oh wait. Drugs are already illegal in this country. This country has made cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and other drugs all illegal. Yet none of these are the least bit difficult to come by if one is so inclined. Any time that this country has outlawed a substance or product where there was still a demand, they just opened up a bigger market for organized crime.
When liberals try to legislate in an effort to create a better society, they do so with a Utopian outcome already in mind. Yet when the legislation is against their agenda they seem to be able to examine it a little more critically. Just mention making abortions illegal, and they'll be quick to inform you that making them illegal would not stop them, it would just bring back the days of "back-alley" abortions and coat hangers.
And please, please, stop pointing to programs in other societies, such as Canada, UK, Ausralia, etc, and equating them to our society. None of these countries are the USA. Whether it's because of our loose borders, or large scale presence of organized crime, traditionally, laws enacted to "ban" substances are usually met with failure. Ask that same serious historian about prohibition for example. What started out as legislation to reduce crime and improve society, ended up being a complete disaster. Crime went skyrocketing, people drank more than ever, and the Kennedy family was created.

Anonymous said...

What's the matter, Jack? Bitter that everything conservatism has done, invariably FAILS?

Why can't you rightards admit that YOUR utopian vision of a Wild West America is a fraud? Prohibition was one of your babies, as was the stockmarket crash of '29, as was the abortion ban. You picked all your fights wrong, and now you're doing it again. You have no one but yourselves to blame if it keeps jumping up and biting you. (And leave the Kennedys out of it. They're a long sight better than the Bushes, who made their bundle thanks to Hitler.)

Personally, I like it here in Canada. No prohibition EVER, no criminal abortion law since 1988, and stricter gun control, with a low crime rate to match, since 1995. Life is good up here. We can even absorb thousands of fugitive Americans who are tired of war and gun nuttery without blinking.

No thanks, Jack--you can keep your insanity where it is. Fester in it until you hit bottom, and then man up and haul ass to a 12-step program for violence addicts.

Look: if you're serious about stopping gun crime, go after the manufacturers and illegal sellers for a change. Just because someone can make money off murder, doesn't make it ethical, no matter what your Second Amendment says. You want an end to gun violence? Fine--kick the NRA out of your politics and reform your campaign financing laws.

And don't anyone shoot back with that BS about an armed society being a polite one. Where do you suppose that phrase "the ugly American" came from, eh? We Canadians are, among other things, MUCH politer. Must be that long-standing preference for gun control as crime control.

Up here, we just believe in doing what works.

Anonymous said...

Well, while YOU are obviously extremly polite, how do you no that the "Ugly American" tag was not directed at Canada? Last I saw a globe your nation was in the Americas. And as most liberals do, you missed the point entirely. I have never owned a gun. I do not support the NRA. Ban guns in the US tomorrow if you want. I am simply saying, in this country, it won't work. As long as there is a demand, organized crime will take care of the supply. Prostitution, drugs, and illegal immigrants are all still really easy to find. I do want to thank you for taking in our fugitives however, and on behalf of my grandfather thanks for sending in the Canadian Club about 80 years ago.

Anonymous said...

In response to Jack Graham's argument, re: that we've already made drugs illegal.
You say the likes of cocaine and heroin aren't "in the least bit difficult" to obtain. I don't know, maybe I'm just not that hip, but frankly, I wouldn't have the first clue as to how to go about obtaining these if I was looking for them.
Secondly, the logic of your argument is lacking. Nobody is talking about making guns illegal.
You NRA types always take things to the extreme. If there is some very mild, basic gun restriction under consideration, you always act as though it means nothing less than the end of the Second Amendment.
In contrast to hard drugs, gun ARE incredibly easy to obtain in our society. You can buy a Glock as easily as a loaf of bread.
Last but not least, I really get nauseated when I hear some GOP politician claim that he's "standing up for the Second Amendment." The fact is, the Second Amendent speaks of a "well-regulated" militia and is so vaguely worded that even Constitutional scholars have been pondering its meaning for two centuries.
The Second Amendment isn't why our nation has practically zero gun restrictions. The real reason is because the NRA is the wealthiest, most powerful lobby in Washington and is able to buy the votes of our corrupt politicians as a result.

Anonymous said...

Would someone please define what gun control really is? There is a contention in this discussion that only "mild" forms of gun control are desired. What does that mean? Do we not already have "mild" forms of gun control?

What would happen if you walked out of your house to buy a loaf of bread at the neighborhood grocery, but this time you decided to carry a shotgun with you?

What if you tried it with a machine gun?

I do not know anyone with a bazooka or an RPG.

Guns are already highly and regulated in the U.S. What is the real desire of the gun control side? Do you not truly wish to abolish the legal right for a person to own a firearm?

What about "sporting firearms?" I always hear gun control enthusiasts promise that sporting firearms are absolutely A-OK.

You started this Marc. How about if I point a "sporting firearm" at you. Would that be OK? If you then had an illegal firearm handy, how quickly would you beome "regressive."

What exactly is the point you are trying to make. Are you saying we should outlaw all guns, or are you just making the progressive argument that we should be killing ourselves with different guns instead. You have not really offered any solutions. Please state your point.

The Sneaky Uncle said...

I started reading this article with an open mind, until i read the extremely biased language used to portray anti-gun control advocates as nutjobs.

Honestly I don't care either way.

Thanks for creating a new anti-gun control supporter with your complete intolerance of opposing viewpoints.


Anonymous said...

I have tried to read your article with an open mind but I only got about half way through it. Perhaps without your antagonistic rhetoric I may have been able to read the rest and take your claims more seriously.

Sorry but that is the way I feel...

Anonymous said...

This author is so bias that he destroys any point he makes with exaggerations. Any decent person will see through his name calling and hyperboles to the core of the writer's faults. Two minutes of research and whole lot of bias doesn't make a compelling argument. It is only the ant-gunners making the old west analogy with modern gun right legislation. This invokes hollywoods fictional version in the minds of people rather than the truth. Which is much more powerful imagery that supports a negative view of gun ownership.

Anonymous said...

Gun control simply does *not* work, and the statistics prove it. Furthermore, it is a gross over simplification to say that guns are the cause of crime.

Also, note that gun control laws have failed to prevent any of the recent high profile shootings, and instead only disarmed the victims.

Finally, note that it is not just republicans who support gun rights. I and many other people I know are democrats, and support gun rights for self defense.

Anonymous said...

I am a Deputy Sheriff in a county located in Texas.I would just like to leave this thought with you.... WHEN SECONDS MATER THE POLICE ARE JUST MINUTES AWAY.. think about this the next time somebody is trying to injure or kill you, your family or trying to break into your home. I guess you might try to be polite but I dont thing that it will help too much.

Unknown said...

Would you rather they get pushed out a window?

Jeremy said...


What a way to take a 70s TV show line designed to (and very successfully done) show how stupid the NRA position on this subject is, and somehow try to push it as a good argument. Guns are responsible for many thousands of deaths in this country. The fact that it is so easy to just pull out a gun and kill someone in the heat of the moment, or accidentally kill someone, is just one reason why your comment is so worthy of such a brain-dead character like Archie Bunker.

Marc McDonald said...

>>In fact it is not guns control,
>>but ITS ABSENCE, that is TRULY
>>KILLING United States.

Thank you very much for your intelligent comments. Since I wrote this piece, I've been dismayed at all the gun-worshipping extremists who've clogged up this comments section with their predictable idiocy. Indeed, I've been seriously considering just leaving this f*cking insane country and living elsewhere. Actually, I've been to Prague before and I really enjoyed my visit there. Lovely country, friendly people.

Anonymous said...

In response to the texas deputy,I just wanted to say it's nice to see a cop admit that you can't ALWAYS depend on the police. We need more cops like you where I live.

pj said...

Registration wouldnt limit or prevent honest people from owning a gun by registering ur gun ur actually saying i am a responsible and legitimate gun owner. The other and more important issue is illegal guns
and how to deal with the criminals that use them. finding a way to either remove the guns or making the punishment so harsh that the criminals will think twice before taking a gun out with them. registration is not a cure but if u know who has and where the legal guns are then everything else is illegal. at least u then have a chance to end the madness of gun crime in this country.

Anonymous said...

PJ said "gun registration"
We have that, all of my guns are registered. Had to fill out the federal and state forms when I bought each of them way back in 1983.

Anonymous said...

The problem is the gun shows where most illegal guns come from

Anonymous said...

Gun control in The USA. Ain't it grand! So far in Chicago this year - 219 killed, 1000 wounded.

Anonymous said...

I am educating myself and guess what you are WRONG. This article is so biased that it is sickening. Gun control does not work it never has worked. I have seen some old "Wild West" documentaries and I don't think most law man do that.

Marc McDonald said...

>>>I am educating myself and guess
>>>what you are WRONG.

I am educating myself and guess that you never even bothered to read my article.