Gun Laws in the Old West

~ by Ruth Nordin
An old wild west poster forbidding firearms in the city limits.
An old wild west poster forbidding firearms in the city limits.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of the historical western time period in the United States, I think every man had a gun.  More than that, I imagine he never went anywhere without it.  The gun would always be nearby in case he needed it.  Now, outside of town where the Old West was untamed, guns were frequently carried for protection.  Wildlife and bandits did pose a threat, so you stood a better chance if you had a gun to defend yourself.  Also, it made sense if you had to hunting for food.

However, in frontier towns, gun use was restricted.  Towns such as Tombstone, Deadwood, and Dodge had the most restrictive gun control rules.  For example, in Dodge City in 1879, there was a billboard that read: “The Carrying of Firearms Strictly Prohibited.”  (http://thehill.com/opinion/columnists/mark-mellman/294353-even-the-old-west-had-gun-control)  Another example is in Wichita, Kansas in 1873.  There were signs that read: “Leave Your Revolvers At Police Headquarters, and Get a Check.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adam-winkler/did-the-wild-west-have-mo_b_956035.html)

So when you entered some frontier towns, you would most likely be asked to leave your guns with the sheriff or some place deemed safe, and when you left, you could get them back.  In homes, people could have guns, but they were to use them only to defend themselves.  The only people allowed to carry guns in public were those in law enforcement.  In fact, if you were caught carrying a gun illegally, you could very well end up in jail.

Why did the people in frontier towns fight for gun control?  Basically, it was for safety.  Business owners didn’t want to worry about getting robbed, and the people wanted to attract new residents who would be “civilized”.  It’s really similar to today.  Business owners don’t want to be robbed, and we want to live in safe neighborhoods.

Human nature hasn’t changed all that much, but gun laws are more relaxed today than they used to be in the United States.  I didn’t expect that to be the case.  I thought there were more gun restrictions today than there was in the historical west, so the research was very enlightening.

Did this mean every frontier town restricted gun use?  I doubt it.  I think these were the larger frontier towns we are looking at that had gun laws.  It’s easier to enforce gun control with a larger body of law enforcement.  Also, I think as towns expanded, more people, especially family men and women, wanted to make their homes safer for their families.  It’s really common sense when you think about it, but it does make me wonder what other things largely assumed about the Old West don’t match up with reality.

That all being said, as a historical western romance author and reader, the fantasy of the Old West definitely has its appeal.  Romance is a fantasy.  It’s a fantasy of the heart.  And sometimes it might be fun to throw in a gunfight that results in the hero saving the heroine, or, in some cases, the heroine might be the one saving the hero.  Either way, the goal, much like in Hollywood, is entertainment, and sometimes embellishing the truth leads for some great stories.


Ruth’s next book with Janet Syas Nitsick, entitled A Groom’s Promise, releases on December 20th and is available for pre-order. Readers will get two novels in one book with their purchase.
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“The Bride’s Choice” by Ruth Ann Nordin ~
“Stop stuttering, Jack. Don’t be so clumsy. What’s wrong with you?” Over and over, Jack Warren heard such words his entire life from his father and others. When his brother comes across an ad looking for hired hands in Lincoln, Nebraska, Jack jumps at the chance to go. Finally, he’ll get to live his life in peace since he’ll be far removed from others. What he doesn’t count on is the owner’s attractive daughter who happens to be available.
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When the new hired hands arrive at her pa’s farm, Maybell is immediately drawn to Jack. Though he wasn’t the most graceful of all men to work for her pa, there’s a certain charm and sweetness about him that appeals to her. Her pa, however, has other ideas. Certain someone as timid as Jack wouldn’t make a good husband, he rejects Jack’s suit. Instead, he plans for her to marry his brother, and he’ll do everything he can to make that happen.

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“When the Whistle Blows” by Janet Syas Nitsick ~

When the Whistle Blows, Hugh Warren paces outside the depot, waiting to see if his love, Winifred Preston, will step off the train to meet him. He only had himself to blame for his predicament. Could she give him another chance? He did not know. Heart in his throat, he looks this way and that hoping against hope she did not already marry the beau back in Virginia.

When the Whistle Blows takes readers to the Midwest of 1877, where two unlikely individuals collide with each other physically and emotionally. However, only Winifred can determine whether duty and Hugh’s betrayal will keep her in Virginia or allow her to return to the man who still haunts her heart.


Ruth Ann Nordin lives in Montana with her husband and four sons. When she’s not playing wife and mother, she’s reading and writing. She has written over sixty books, and about fifty of those are romances. Her romances include Regencies, historical westerns, and contemporaries.

Visit Ruth Ann Nordin on the Pioneer Hearts Bookstore or online at www.ruthannnordin.com.

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