Dr. Sixgun Rides Again: No Guns Ordinance

I’ve written before about the old time radio program Dr. Sixgun, which stands out as remarkable amidst the Western genre for its compassionate depiction of typically disparaged groups, such as immigrants and Indians. Instead of sanitized history, the story lines unflinchingly portray cruelty by American settlers and the human cost of colonization is on full display.

Because Dr. Sixgun presents such a contrary narrative among stereotypical Westerns and doesn’t shirk from social issues, it wasn’t surprising that the episode No Guns Ordinance touched on gun control. This one began with Dr. Grey Matson, the famed Dr. Sixgun himself, entering a town called Rail End. He became surprised upon discovering open carry was recently banned by order of the local sheriff, Marshall Anders. Despite his proficient reputation with a revolver, Dr. Matson remained a thoughtful physician who frequently treated shooting victims. He checked his six-gun without argument and then sought out Anders, curious to learn more about this experiment.

The marshall explained: “I can tell ya, if I had my choice, once I get hold of a crazy drunk on the way to the pokey on a Saturday night, I’d just as soon I was the only one totin’ a gun.” He elaborated as having been inspired by the iconic lawman Wyatt Earp. With this reference, Dr. Sixgun writers knew their history. Back in the day, even such classic frontier locations as Deadwood and Dodge City were known for strict gun control ordinances. In fact, Wyatt Earp’s famous shootout at the O.K. Coral involved his opponents violating firearms regulations in Tombstone, Arizona.

A depiction of the O.K. Coral shootout in 1881

It’s no exaggeration that modern Arizona gun control laws are far more permissive than during Dr. Sixgun’s era. For example, I personally possess an out-of-state permit issued by Arizona which lets me carry concealed firearms there, plus several other states, despite my residence in Oregon. Highlighting this is important, as so much right-wing propaganda builds upon skewed pictures of the past, falsely mythologizing the Old West as a place where Americans lived more freely and that some slow decline in liberty has progressed since then. It’s all complete lies, of course. Frontier times were far more restrictive on individual lives than any conservative today would admit tolerating.

As the story continued, Marshall Anders boasted his policy had successfully reduced murders and Dr. Matson left the town feeling quite inspired, remarking: “That ordinance, that must be the answer . . . . .take the guns away and they won’t be so quick to fight…. I get awful tired of probing for bullets and sewing up wounds. I got more important things to do.”

Dr. Matson subsequently attempted persuading others that gun control could work yet only met with derision from others in the territory. Ranchers and bartenders and even his own local sheriff showed complete disinterest or open contempt for such a scheme, several calling it “against nature.” Faced with overwhelming opposition, he finally gave up promoting the idea. Some time later, Matson’s travels led him back to Rail End where he turned over his revolver to a new sheriff named Marshall Benson. It soon became apparent things were not well, despite surface tranquility. Sinister armed men lurked about, closely monitoring conversations between citizens and keeping tabs on everyone. Each wore an official lawman’s badge

It turned out months before, Benson and a gang of corrupt deputies had pushed Marshall Anders out of power and began running the place as their own personal fiefdom. With everyone else disarmed, no one could oppose them. Whereas most episodes of Dr. Sixgun resolve conflicts, this one concluded on a tragic note. Fearing for his life, Dr. Matson fled the town which remained in the grip of unaccountable cops, maintained through fear, and of course, a firearms monopoly. 

Appropriately, the first scene Dr. Matson encountered after leaving Rail End, with its chilling calm, was a boisterous crowd of drunken cowboys waving revolvers and firing off shots willy-nilly. He regretfully acknowledged this as a preferable trade off against the police state tyranny so recently experienced. Wrap up narration dismally recounted that Rail End residents eventually placed hope in electing a new sheriff, though Benson’s leading opponent was murdered before this could take place.

Armed community defense didn’t stop Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma from being annihilated by white mobs and police in 1921

It sounds reasonable at first, yet Matson’s observation presents a false choice. Banning firearms simply isn’t required for an oppressive government to exist, as examples from the Colfax Massacre to Black Wall Street demonstrate. In more recent times, Black citizens of Ferguson, Missouri were no less armed than other Americans, yet knew shooting back against police terror, as their ancestors sometimes had, would be futile. Just as it’s foolish to imagine eliminating firearms automatically creates peace, the reverse is also true. Well armed societies are often rampant with injustice. Gun control might be one factor in maintaining systems of tyranny, but not necessarily constitute the main ingredient.

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