But in Reality
How many murders do you suppose these old western towns saw a year? Let’s say the bloodiest, gun-slingingest of the famous cattle towns with the cowboys doing quick-draws at high noon every other day. A hundred? More?
How about five? That was the most murders any old-west town saw in any one year. Ever. Most towns averaged about 1.5 murders a year, and not all of those were shooting. You were way more likely to be murdered in Baltimore in 2008 than you were in Tombstone in 1881, the year of the famous gunfight at the OK Corral (body count: three) and the town’s most violent year ever.
As for the traditional Western gunfight as depicted in movies, the inaccuracy of handguns at the time would have made quick-drawing skill irrelevant: It was simply so unlikely you’d hit a guy on the first, second or third shot that it didn’t really matter which guy got out his gun first. The closest history got to high-noon show downs was dueling, where people just stood across from one another with their guns out, aimed and fired until someone got lucky, and someone else was dead. Forget about “fanning,” rapidly cocking a single-action revolver between rounds like Clint Eastwood does in A Fistful of Dollars. You’d be lucky to hit a henchman if the duel took place in a closet.
Why Do We Believe It?
Because famous gunfighters like Billy the Kid wanted you to believe it. If you’ve seen Young Guns on cable, you probably know the guy was gunning somebody down every ten minutes!
Well according to sources who aren’t Billy The Kid, his lifetime kill count was four. Criminals inflated their murder stats for the same reason guys today inflate their sexual experience: It made them look cool. Towns like Deadwood talked up their violent, lawless natures in order to attract adventurous settlers. Books were written about them and movies were made as soon as cameras were invented, and nobody who’d been out west was rushing to correct the misconceptions because, why the hell would they. A century and a half later, we still love that lie…
Miss Malcolm’s Book has some startling examples of a society gone mad, the Brits/English!
Malcolm’s book has shown me that I radically underestimated the danger of gun control. Her detailed study of British legislation on the topic shows the real aim of the disarmers. They wish to abolish the right to armed self-defense entirely. The point is not only to block armed resistance to the state, as I had previously thought; in addition, everyone is to be made totally dependent on the state for protection.
Some of Malcolm’s examples are shocking. In England “[m]erely threatening to defend oneself can also prove illegal, as an elderly lady discovered. She succeeded in frightening off a gang of thugs by firing a blank from a toy gun, only to be arrested for the crime of putting someone in fear with an imitation firearm” (p. 184).
Not even if one’s life is in danger can one legally use a weapon. In another case, two men assaulted Eric Butler in a subway, smashing his head and choking him. “In desperation he unsheathed a sword blade in his walking stick and slashed at one of them. . . . The assailants were charged with unlawful wounding but Butler was also tried, and convicted of carrying an offensive weapon” (p. 185).
You can imagine the legal position if someone goes so far as to use a real gun to defend himself. As British law now stands, you cannot even use a gun in your own home to defend yourself against burglars. In a 1999 incident, Tony Martin surprised a professional burglar and his accomplice while they robbed his home. He fired, killing one of them.
Did the government commend Martin for his bravery in confronting the burglars? Quite the contrary, they tried and convicted him for murder. “Thus an English farmer, living alone, has been sentenced to life in prison for killing one professional burglar and ten years for wounding another when the two broke into his home at night” (p. 216). Fortunately, our story has a “happy” ending: the court of appeals reduced his sentence to five years, on grounds of “diminished capacity.”
Gun control advocates, faced with these facts, will at once begin to yammer uncontrollably, “a correlation is not a cause.” Indeed it is not; but in this instance, a strong correlation holds in two ways: when guns increase in number, violent crimes decrease, and when guns decrease, violent crimes increase. Further, a plausible causal story explains the correlation: the prospect of armed resistance deters criminals. This is about as good as an inductive argument gets. But I do not anticipate that those who wish to take away the right to self-defense will alter their position. They aim to make everyone totally dependent on the all-powerful state.