I want to point everyone to a favorite article of mine: “Gun Control Is as Old as the Old West: Contrary to the popular imagination, bearing arms on the frontier was a heavily regulated business.” Penned by Matt Jancer, it appeared in the Smithsonian Magazine in February 2018.

The point is extremely basic. There’s a massive misimpression about how gun laws worked on the frontier in the 19th Century. Everyone was not walking around these newly settled towns with a six-shooter on their hip. Law and order didn’t depend solely on a brave and daring sheriff willing to stand up to any group of rascals he might encounter.

The reality is that with few exceptions these towns had extremely strong gun control laws. Generally speaking, no one was allowed to wear a sidearm. Strangers and visitors were supposed to check their guns either at the local hotel or the sheriff’s office. Residents were supposed to leave their guns at home. This was true even in the most notorious Old West towns like Abilene, Dodge City and Deadwood. The shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona was caused by the Earps’ efforts to enforce the law against packing heat within the city limits.

These laws were not considered unconstitutional. The federal government made no effort to adjudicate them and the town elders would have considered it tyranny if it had. It was far more important that these towns be attractive to new settlers than that everyone have the personal liberty to carry a gun at all times and in all places.

This history matters because the anti-gun control crowd likes to argue that they’re restoring things to the way they used to be. That is not the case.

To be sure, almost every adult and many children had guns in the Old West. They were a vital tool, essential for hunting and self-defense. It would have made no sense to anyone to deny people guns. But it also made no sense to them to let people carry their guns around in town. That just invited trouble and gave the impression of disorder and lawlessness.

Basically, the prerequisite for convincing people that you’d established some civilization on the frontier was that people were not armed. ┬áThis ought to be the same prerequisite you use today to judge whether states and localities are safe and civilized.

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