ORDINANCE 9 OF THE CITY OF TOMBSTONE
To Provide against Carrying of Deadly Weapons (1881)
Section 1. It is hereby declared unlawful to carry in the hand or upon the person or otherwise any deadly weapon within the limits of said city of Tombstone, without first obtaining a permit in writing.
Section 2: This prohibition does not extend to persons immediately leaving or entering the city, who, with good faith, and within reasonable time are proceeding to deposit, or take from the place of deposit such deadly weapon.
According to Adam Winkler, professor and specialist in constitutional law at UCLA School of Law, Tombstone had stricter laws on carrying guns in public in the 1880s than it has today. “Today, you’re allowed to carry a gun without a license or permit on Tombstone streets. Back in the 1880s, you weren’t.” This was true of many frontier towns.
According to Stephen Aron, professor of his history at UCLA, the first law passed when Dodge City formed a government in 1878 was one prohibiting the carrying of guns within town limits.
Leaders and merchants considered restrictive gun laws necessary for encouraging people to move to their towns and bring families. This was considered a necessary part of creating a stable community, rather than a transient one.
Gun laws were passed quickly in the Old West. That was because they were instigated at the local level rather than by Congress. The Federal government stayed out of gun battles.
The laws did not ban guns. Owning a gun in the Old West was a matter of survival. The laws simply stated where and how you could carry them. Guns and knives were not allowed within town limits. Visitors were required to leave their weapons with the sheriff, livery or saloon upon entering town. They received a token which they would exchange for their guns upon leaving.
Some challenged the laws in court, but most lost.
Did the gun laws work? If we use Tombstone as an example, the answer would seem to be no. In his book on crime in the Old West, historian Roger McGrath concluded that it was widespread gun ownership that deterred criminality in these areas in which law enforcement had little authority or ability to combat crime.
Then as now, there are no easy answers, and the battle rages on.
Would it surprise you to know that Hollywood exaggerated crime in the Old West? Scholars have established that it was not as violent as most movies and novels would have us believe.