Thursday, September 14, 2017

The myth of the American gunslinger culture

Christopher Knowlton in his book, Cattle Kingdom (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) wrote:
In fact, most cowboys did not carry weapons at all. If they did own an expensive six-shooter, it was likely the Colt Single-Action Army, introduced in 1873 and known as 'the Peacemaker.' Its price -- a hundred dollars per pair -- would have been a huge amount of money for a cowboy. The cowboy who did own a revolver usually kept it in his bedroll because a loaded six-shooter worn around the waist was both cumbersome and heavy when riding or walking. And most cowboys knew that wearing a six-shooter in a cattle town was an invitation to gunplay; most preferred to avoid altercations. Cowboys tended to settle a dispute with a fistfight. A revolver was best used to kill snakes, put wounded animals out of their misery, or signal for help. As Leon Clare Metz wrote in The Encyclopedia of Lawmen, Outlaws, and Gunfighters, 'The image of the ordinary Western cowboy as a fast and accurate gun-fighter has practically no validity.'
Knowlton’s research reveals that far fewer people were killed than is commonly imagined:
Even in Dodge City's worst year, 1878, only five men died in gunfights. The historian Robert Dykstra counted only forty-five homicides in all of the Kansas cattle towns during the cattle era, an annual average of 1.5 homicides. Thirty-nine were from shotguns, and only six from handguns.
Knowlton even observes that some cowboys disliked guns.
Popular contemporary images of the West as a dangerous place in which almost every man was armed have their roots in late nineteenth “dime novels” written by Ned Buntline and others than in actual fact.
Sadly, those false myths about some of the cowboy origins of the US gun culture currently play out in harmful ways. Contrary to popular thinking, widespread gun ownership results in high, easily preventable rates of accidental gunshot wounds (especially by and to children) and deaths (especially in domestic violence incidents).

Jesus was a pacifist who exhorted his disciples to turn the other cheek. In exceptional circumstances, the Christian tradition justifies minimum use of lethal violence to defend others, not one’s self, e.g., to end the Holocaust. Given the more accurate picture of the Old West provided by Knowlton, now is a good time for Christian citizens to rid themselves of handguns and other weapons not used for hunting.

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