Years ago, when I was in college, Frontier Violence: Another Look was required reading for one of my Western American History courses. A portion of the book was called “The Myth of Frontier Violence.” The argument: while America’s western frontier could certainly be a violent place, it was no more so than any other part of United States at that time . . .
In terms of violent crime statistics, legendary gunfighting burgs like Tombstone, Dodge City and Deadwood were no more dangerous for the law abiding citizen than any other small town. The western towns were considerably safer than the big cities like New York, Chicago and Boston of that same period, where violent crime against innocent victims was much more common.
What violence did occur was either between admitted criminals, or existed in the lawless, unorganized mining camps that sprung up overnight during the various gold rushes. Those mining camps typically had a very short period of “lawlessness” – measured in weeks or months, not years. After that they either established law and order or withered away when the gold disappeared.
For the most part, the sensationalistic tales of gunfights in the streets were the stuff of pulp novels, much of it invented by Eastern writers eager to perpetuate the myth of the “lawless west” in order to sell books to a gullible public (and the desire of that gullible public to consume said novels.)
Most of what people “know” about the “Wild West” is derived not from historical records but from movies and TV shows of the 1950′s and 60′s (and later, right on up to “Tombstone” and “3:10 to Yuma”).
So when gun control advocates warn that the liberalization of firearms laws will lead to “the Wild West,” you can stop worrying. If only they’d do the same . . .