Growing up, I loved Westerns. I was a devoted fan of U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon from “Gunsmoke” and the Cartwrights of “Bonanza.” And like them, I would often save the day with my plastic six-shooters when my backyard was under attack by bloodthirsty bad guys.
A lot of kids grew up with similar fantasies. The Wild West mythos is as American as apple pie.
I wish it wasn’t. I figure our weird national obsession with guns is partly rooted in the Wild West savior-with-a-gun mentality, and is therefore part of the reason we have gun troubles in this country that other nations with saner, more grown-up gun policies simply don’t.
That mentality was literally all over the grounds of our state Capitol recently when “open carry” enthusiasts, or ammosexuals if you prefer (I’m trying to be nicer these days by not calling them gun nuts but it’s hard), with assault rifles, six-shooters, and other weapons of mass destruction gathered for what one wag called their annual “Look, I Own a Gun Day.”
It was quite the affair. A newspaper account mentioned a female attendee with two, single-action revolvers strapped to her legs “cowboy style,” as she described it, and a belt of bullets wrapped around her waist.
“We’re trying to keep our rights from being trampled into the ground,” she said. (There were no tramplers in sight, by the way. There seldom are. The truth is almost no one – despite hysterical bleating to the contrary by the NRA and its followers – proposes taking guns away from Americans. People simply want common sense limits and restrictions. How dare they.)
She also didn’t mention anyone else’s “right” to not feel afraid or even creeped out, which they were. As a friend of mine put it, “It’s tough to enjoy a grilled cheese when a dude stands next to you (at a downtown restaurant) with an AR-15 strapped over his jacket.”
I’m shocked – shocked, I say – that he didn’t feel safe and secure. That’s how gun enthusiasts say everyone should feel with them around, after all. Their motto is “The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
And yet almost no one else believes that. Instead, most people feel unnerved in the presence of gun-toters who aren’t cops, and with good reason: They don’t know the toter and whether he or she is a good guy or a guy who’s about to commit a whole lot of bad.
They also don’t believe that some rinky-dink Marshall Dillon-wannabe is going to save the day if shooting starts.
And why would they? Mass shootings have become nearly a weekly occurrence in the U.S., which would suggest that the good guys with guns aren’t doing such a bang-up job after all.
It would also suggest that maybe – just maybe – the NRA and its minions are wrong about guns. Maybe the proliferation of guns in recent decades – especially those that can spit bullets faster than an army of grade schoolers can spit watermelon seeds – has something to do with the number and lethality of mass shootings, and if so maybe part of the solution is tighter gun control, not looser.
Sounds crazy, but there is Wild West precedence that restricting guns leads to safer streets.
After all, when gunplay got out of control in Dodge City, the first thing Marshall Dillon would do is require visitors to check-in their guns.
This is actually true, by the way. Here are several stories about how the Wild West had tougher gun control than we do today:
- Gun laws were tougher in old Tombstone – L.A. Times
- Did the Wild West have tougher gun control than we do today? – HuffPost Politics
- Even Tombstone had gun laws – Politico