A little over one week ago Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed into law a new measure that permits anyone over the age of 21 to carry a concealed handgun, with no license or training required, so long as that person is not prohibited by federal or state law from possessing weapons.
WELCOME BACK TO THE 1870’S, Kansas.
Ah, yes, the good old days when Dodge City, Kansas was notorious for bootlegging, bribery, and gunplay.
“Kansas has but one Dodge City, with a broad expanse of territory sufficiently vast for an empire; we have only room for one Dodge City; Dodge, a synonym for all that is wild, reckless, and violent; Hell on the Plains.”
— A Kansas Newspaper in the 1870’s
Most of us are familiar with Dodge City only through the TV show Gunsmoke, which the intrepid and unshaken Matt Dillon served as Marshal, chasing off or killing all mannner of scalawags and miscreants in order to protect Miss Kitty, Doc, Chester, Festus, and all the other worthy citizens.
But, despite the stories told in 635 episodes spread over twenty TV seasons, the real Dodge City was much more both dangerous and intriguing. In the link above there is a photo gallery of the city both historically and as it exists today, its Wild West reputation maintained as a tourist trap.
The new law is both ironic in the face of Dodge City’s history and potentially tragic in that Boot Hill may need to be updated and expanded.
For the lesson of Dodge City (and Tombstone, Arizona) is that they were part of the Wild West for one main reason and are still the Wild West only for the benefits of tourists for one other main reason.
Mild? No guns.
Note the picture at the top? Those folks are the members of the Dodge City Peace Commission. You may recognize the names of some of them.
Top row, L-R W.H. Harris, Luke Short, W.B. Bat Masterson and W.F. Petillon.
Bottom, L-R Charles S. Basset, Wyatt S. Earp, Frank McLain, Neil Brown
Yes THAT Wyatt Earp and THAT Bat Masterson, both stars of their own TV series.
And that famous Gunfight at The OK Corral? Also starring Wyatt Earp as well as his brothers and Doc Holliday who made a notable guest appearance in Dodge where he first met Wyatt.
Both towns notorious for gunfights and rowdiness and both towns tamed by…ready for this…are you sure you are prepared….GUN CONTROL!
You see Earp traveled to Dodge City when the state of its character resulted in a letter to the Evening Star of Washington, D.C.
Dodge City is a wicked little town. Indeed, its character is so clearly and egregiously bad that one might conclude, were the evidence in the later times positive of its possibility, that it was marked for special Providential punishment.
And Kansas’s own Hays City Sentinel editorialized
Dodge is the Deadwood of Kansas.. Her incorporate limits are the rendezvous of all the unemployed scallawagism in seven states. Her principal business is polygamy without the sanction of religion, her code of morals is the honor of thieves, and decency she knows not.
Wyatt and his fellow commissioners to the rescue.
Intending to restore order, one of the first things the new lawmen did was to initiate a “Deadline” north of the railroad yards on Front Street to keep the commercial part of the city quiet. On the north side, the city passed an ordinance that guns could not be worn or carried. On the south side of the “deadline”, those who supported the lawlessness continued to operate as usual, with a host of saloons, brothels, and frequent gunfights. The expression “Red Light District” was coined in Dodge City when the train masters took their red caboose lanterns with them when they visited the town’s brothels. The gun-toting rule was in effect around the clock and anyone wearing a gun was immediately jailed. Soon, Dodge City’s jail was filled.
I’ll grant you the entire town was not immediately tamed. The growth of railroads into Texas which negated the need to push herds to Dodge was a major factor in change. But it is notable that at least a part of the town was peaceful after the gun ban was implemented, certainly not subject to the frequent random violence in the wanton section of town.
Likewise the entire Gunfight in Tombstone resulted from the Clantons and their cohorts defying that town’s ban on guns which were supposed to be surrendered upon entering town. They were confronted by the Earp brothers and the ubiquitous Doc Holliday. (Please now remember that the Earps were Republicans enforcing gun control.).
Another little quirk here is that one of the Clanton survivors claimed they had their hands raised in surrender…a la Michael Brown.
Whatever, the principle here is that these towns were not tamed and rendered safe for ordinary citizens until casual gun possession and use was ended. And yes, I recognize there were other elements in the taming of the West but those other elements themselves were why eliminating the open presence of guns was desirable.
Yet in Kansas it is now legal to conceal carry and in many states or localities where open carry is the rule your chances of facing a gun that, in the course of daily activity that can occasionally entail a minor confrontation, may now be escalated into a major, possibly lethal, confrontation.
So watch out honking at that driver who cuts you off in Kansas and most assuredly don’t raise your middle finger to him. And definitely be careful of accidently jostling a guy in a bar.
Matt Dillon can’t help you.