Columns 2013

The Wild Wild West that never was

I grew up watching westerns on TV. Maverick. Bonanza. Have Gun Will Travel. Rawhide. Gunsmoke. The Rifleman. They presented Americans with a fantastical view of our past in which the silent stranger with a gun solved all the town’s problems. Shootouts at high noon always ended with the bad guy dead and the good guy walking away – tall, proud, a loner who brought justice to town and then moved on to the next one that needed it.

Then westerns disappeared. You can’t find one on TV now that Deadwood is gone. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to swallow that myth anymore.

The Wild West was not tamed by a lone gunman who rode into town, shot the bad guys and left. And, quite frankly, more than one Native American group would probably be happy to argue that the west was not so wild and untamed given that they’d been living there and surviving off the land for thousands of years before that lone gunman arrived. The Old West storyline simply no longer holds water.

Whether you believe those days ever existed exactly as Hollywood portrayed them, the reality is that they are gone. People no longer stroll through towns on wooden walkways with six guns strapped to their waist or rifles held at the ready. They don’t do this because they no longer need to. Law and order has been established by a civilized society that created rules of conduct and agencies responsible for enforcing those rules. This means that we can unstrap the old six-shooter and enter a bar or grocery store with nothing more than our smiles and credit cards.

I was apparently mistaken in believing that society would continue to move forward in time and not backwards, because suddenly I am again in the land of Bret Maverick and Marshall Dillon. People – ok, mostly men – demand the right to strut through commercial establishments, churches, city halls, schools and every other venue you can imagine with six guns strapped to their sides.

I imagine on some level this makes these men feel like real men, their virility visible to all. Perhaps they are under the impression that women will look at the size of their gun and swoon in anticipation of what it might portend. Maybe without those guns they don’t feel as safe and secure as they do with them. Maybe these men simply don’t trust their ability to care for themselves and their families without an instant means of visiting death on anyone who seems to threaten them.

I feel as though we are backtracking through time with the latest trend of pushing for guns laws that allow everyone to carry a gun everywhere, concealed or not. This tends to make me very nervous, especially now that background checks have been shot down by our frightened little congress. Because the argument that passing laws will not stop people intent on breaking them is so transparently inane as to be almost beyond laughable. Based on that theory, why pass laws that make murder or theft a crime. Murderers are going to murder whether or not there is a law. Thieves intent on stealing will steal no matter how many laws we pass saying its illegal to do so. If we only passed laws that we thought everyone would follow, we’d have precious few laws and general chaos in society.

Background checks will weed out some who should not have guns. It will not weed them all out. Neither will a law against rape stop rapists. But we still find value in that law.

I loved watching those old westerns. I loved the idea of the loner in the white hate who rode into town, cleaned it up and rode out again leaving peace and justice behind him. But that concept has always been a myth. What one person may see as justice, another sees as vigilante action.

I don’t want random individuals with guns strapped to their waist shopping next to me in the grocery store. That does no make me feel safer. It mostly makes me feel as though Pa and Hoss should be one aisle over buying flour for winter.

Surely America can find a way to move forward towards an even more civilized society and not backwards to a world that never was.