Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Eyewitness From History

My husband Rasty, who was born and raised in rural Arizona, has some memories from his childhood back in the days before gun-control was even dreamed of, anywhere outside of New York City.

His grandfather was the town marshal of Yuma, a town out in the boondocks which serviced the local mines and ranches.  This meant that once a week bunches of rough-and-ready miners and cowboys would come into town with their pay, looking for fun rather than supplies -- and that meant the town saloon.  Now miners and cowboys and alcohol and guns often made for trouble.  The townsfolk didn't mind if drunken miners and cowboys shot up each other, but those drunken shots often went wild and shot up the saloon as well -- not to mention innocent passersby.  For that reason alone, the townsfolk decided on a common custom, enforced by the local marshal;  within half an hour after coming into town, visitors had to hand over their guns to the marshal -- or the bartender -- and leave them there until half an hour before leaving town again.  Most people saw the plain sense of this, and complied.

Ah, but there's always a fool in the bunch, and one day a miner who fancied himself a gunslinger came into the saloon and refused to hand over his six-shooter.  The bartender quietly sent out for the marshal.  Grandpa-the-marshal showed up, strolled over to the miner and politely informed him about the town ruling.  The fool miner mouthed off that nobody was taking his gun -- and made the fatal mistake of reaching for it.  The marshal shot him dead. 

Nobody complained about this action, except for maybe some grumbling on the part of two other miners who were picked to drag the carcass down to the undertaker's and the bartender who had to mop the blood off the floor.  Nobody even thought to bring charges against the marshal -- or any of the miners, for that matter.  There wasn't even a coroner's inquest, since everyone knew how the fool had died.  And everyone went on about their regular -- and untroubled -- lives.

A few years later there occurred another shooting in Yuma.  Two ranchers, who had been arguing for months over some suspiciously altered brands on some cattle, happened to come into town on the same day.  The first rancher was walking down the one street in town when he saw the second rancher come riding up, dismount and hitch his horse to the rail in front of the general store, about a block away.  The first rancher, overcome with outrage over those cattle (and perhaps a bit the worse for a visit to the saloon), pulled out his Colt pistol and aimed a shot at the second rancher.  It was a close miss, but he missed. 

The second rancher ducked behind his horse, pulled his Winchester rifle out of its saddle-scabbard, rested the rifle across his saddle, aimed at the first rancher -- and didn't miss.  In this case a coroner's inquest was called for.  A jury was chosen and sworn in, witnesses (everyone who'd been out on the street that day) gave their testimony, and the jury eventually gave it's verdict;  the decision was that the first rancher had died of "suicide".  Why suicide?  Why, because any fool who shot -- from a block away -- with a pistol at a man with a rifle, was clearly committing suicide.  QED.  And everyone went on about their regular, and untroubled, lives. 

Shooting deaths were really that rare back in the real Old Wild West.

Bear in mind that back then, in Yuma, Arizona, everybody kept pistols and rifles in their houses and places of business, and rode around with them when they left home, and could buy guns and ammunition -- and dynamite -- in the general store, or the hardware store, for nothing more than laying down sufficient money.  And of course anybody could make a private sale to anybody else.  There were no background checks, no sanity-checks, no waiting-periods.  Anybody who acted stupid or insane with a gun simply didn't outlive the action by very long.

So what made the big change between then and now?

First, everybody had guns, and everybody knew it.  Guns were common tools, which everyone was obliged to learn to handle sensibly-- yes, even the "repeaters" with their multi-shot magazines.  Parents usually taught their children basic gun-handling and target-shooting, not to mention hunting, but there were also shooting clubs attached to the schools, and the town civic centers, and even the churches, and there were firearms merit-badges awarded by the Boy Scouts.  Guns weren't romanticized, demonized, forbidden, extensively lied about or used as political footballs.  Much the same was true of dynamite.

This is probably why (it takes some work to look this up, but you can find it), in the entire 50-year history and half-a-country extent of the Old Wild West, there were fewer shootings than there were last year alone in Chicago -- which has some of the fiercest gun-control laws in the country.

Despite all the frantic exhortations of the mainstream media, don't emote -- think.

--Leslie <;)))><   )O(   


Prof. Godel Fishbreath, Otter said...

Check for both population and population density. Some things do not scale well. And does Chi-town really have more shootings per thousand people than that frontier town?
More population density can change behavior as people do not know their neighbors.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Otter. I lived for a dozen years in Chicago, and noted that most people spent most of their time interacting with people in their own neighborhoods -- which had about the same populations as OWW Yuma. Chicagoans did indeed know their neighbors, because they lived closely with them. And hell yes, Windy City -- even back then -- did have more shootings per thousand than the frontier town. It's much worse now, I hear, because of the unemployment and poverty. Gang-wars were bad enough when I lived there, and they're much worse now. Gangs, then and now, could always get guns -- ANY kind of guns, even including machineguns and rocket-launchers -- regardless of what the law said. The big difference is that in OWW Yuma everybody had guns, and in Chicago only the gang-bangers did (and me, of course, but I had to keep quiet about it).

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(