Treat Them to a Good Dose of Lead

While working my way through traffic snarls on the freeways of Los Angeles I listened intently to a radio talk show, when a caller urged that all citizens should go about armed, the program host exclaimed, "My God, that would be like the Old West. We can't go back to that." The host obviously thought that by invoking the image of the Old West he had made a damning argument against gun-toting. It was the umpteenth time I had heard such a response to a proponent of an armed citizenry. Yet the facts of frontier life suggest that the Old West had far less crime and far fewer innocent victims than America has today, and that the young, the old, and the female—those most vulnerable—were far safer in the most wild and woolly frontier towns than they are in any American city today. We could do worse than return to the standards and values of the Old West.

Two frontier towns with widespread reputations for violence were the mining camps of Aurora, Nevada, and Bodie, California. In their heydays, 1861-1865 for Aurora and 1878-1882 for Bodie, they each boasted populations that exceeded 5,000, were alive 24 hours a day, contained dozens of saloons and brothels, and produced gold and silver bullion worth a billion in today's dollars. The economies were boom and bust, with new veins being discovered and old ones being pinched out. The populations were transient, half were foreign born, and men outnumbered women ten...

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