The Wild West, Americans and their Guns: The American Fundamental Right to Bear Arms

Photo of Ranger John Reynolds Hughes (The Real Lone Ranger) and other Lawmen, Unknown Photographer, 1886

Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

Second Amendment

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The famous western radio and later television series entitled GunSmoke is an iconic film that perpetuated the American myth of the old west. It celebrates the quick drawing Marshall Dillon who settles justice on his own terms by shooting and killing all of the bad guys. American movies celebrate and glorify gun toting heroes, the carefree attitude of the cowboy and his gun. However, guns in reality do not always bring about such a positive outcome. GunSmoke Episode

In contrast, an NPR article by Leila Fidel from November 11, 2018 was entitled “Reporting On Mass Shootings: A Familiar Heartbreaking Script” The article highlights the recent slaughter of 12 innocent people at a bar and grill in Thousand Oaks, California, characterizing it as an “all too familiar script.” Even though these scenes are becoming common place, that does not take from the fact that innocent lives were once again taken, all too soon. People lost friends and loved ones and have to pick up the pieces and figure out how to go on living. When mass shootings take place such as the ones in Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech, questions and discussions resurface such as “why” and “how could we let this happen again?” Here is a list of mass shootings in US from a 2018 New York Times article

A hot button topic in the history of the United States is centered on the right of American citizens to have guns (lots of guns and as many as one wants). Supporters of gun control push for stricter firearm laws. This includes implementing more stringent background checks and longer waiting periods for those purchasing guns. They also push for mandatory child safety locks and a limit of one handgun purchase per month. They further push for raising the legal age limit for gun ownership to age 21 from the current age of 18. Advocates of gun rights argue that the above mentioned kind of legislation infringes on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.

Some people read the second amendment as their American right to bear as many arms as they so wish, as long as they have a permit. With the rise in gun violence and mass shootings this has been a contentious topic. The United States is “one of 6 countries that make up more than half of gun deaths worldwide.” That is, “half of all gun-related deaths in 2016 occurred in six nations — Brazil, the United States, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Guatemala” (, 2018).

Has gun violence become a part of our identity? With the proliferation of shows like The Walking Dead and classic movies like The Godfather or even the popularity of combat video games like Assassin’s Creed violence does seem to be ingrained in the very fabric of what is means to be American. Perhaps these forms of entertainment hearken back to the romanticism of the old west and the myth of the fearless lawman, as well as outlaws who were immortalized by their quick draw of the gun. The golden age of radio and television was full of westerns that glorified the cowboy and depicted native americans as savages who deserved to be shot and killed.

Perhaps our obsession with guns comes from a rising fear of people who are different from us (Racially, ethnically, culturally or economically), what scholars call a fear of “the other.” Or perhaps it is a legitimate concern for increasingly unsafe neighborhoods and more firearms are necessary. The old adage goes something like this “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” But if people did not have access to the guns in the first place they would not be able to commit mass murders or kill people to settle a simple dispute.

This is an important topic for discussion in social studies classrooms, as future generation of citizens in the US will have to figure out how to solve the rising complexity of issues surrounding gun violence that comes in the form of: Mass shootings, African Americans being killed by law enforcement and a rise in street violence. Below are some lesson plans, articles and links teachers can use to foster lessons and discussions about the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.

The Culture of Violence in the American West Myth versus Reality

Second Amendment Lesson Plan

Teaching the Bill of Rights: The Second Amendment

Interactive Constitution

California Bar Shooting Leaves 12 dead, Including Sheriff’s Sergeant, Police Say

The Terrible Numbers That Grow with Each Mass Shooting

Mass Shootings in the United States

There’s a Gun for Every American. But Less Than a Third Own Guns.

8 Charts That Explain America’s Gun Culture

American Guns in Ten Charts

How US Gun Culture Compares With the World in Five Charts



  1. Apart from the laws, the main difference between the UK and the US is the role that guns play in everyday life. In the UK, most gun lovers are involved in shooting sports and are mostly based in the countryside. The idea of using a gun for self-defence is generally pretty shocking in Britain, even within the shooting community, and most people believe that guns should be the preserve of the police or armed forces.

  2. 1. Although I think this is a very important issue, I think it’s important to remember that guns are not the only form of violence that can be done. I truly believe that stricter gun laws will not help this situation that the United States is facing today. These individuals will only find other ways to cause destruction and harm. I do think it will slow this process down but not to an outcome that everyone is hoping for. I do think that video games and movies make it to where our minds are not affected and tend to have a sugar coat affect/ desensitize individuals that surround themselves with these types of graphics. But it’s these individuals that are the first step to solving the issue. Getting more help in schools, making it easier for a student to find help if they are needed it. School counselors being trained to recognize signs of depression and even individuals in work places making themselves familiar with the signs to look out for and get help before it’s too late.

    2. This article relates to many issues we have discussed in class but the obvious one being a race issue and the thought of being afraid of changes. The United States becoming more diverse and recognizing other cultures making it fearful for the unknown. The individuals who are resistant to change.

    3. These teacher resources would help in many informing ways. I think it would be important for my students to know how to make a change and the next steps of what needs to be done.

  3. Kimberly Rockwell
    1. I would like to think we will teach in a country where gun violence doesn’t need to be discussed in a grade school classroom. However, in America, that is not the case. Many of our students and teachers go to school everyday with the thought that they could get killed while inside a school. That is such a sad and crazy reality for our country, and something needs to be done. Our students are practicing active shooter drills weekly, and this is the norm. I strongly believe our country is valuing the wrong ideas and commitments everytime there is another mass shooting, and no change is made.
    2. This article relates back to our class in the way that race issues are brought up. It seems like that has been the main topic of our course, the fear of the other, and a also a main point of this article. While I think that can play a role in the mass shootings we see, I think it is naive to believe that is the biggest issue at hand with mass shootings. This is an issue that needs to be improved on, especially in this day and age. But we also need to look at other problems. Mental health and improved resources within our schools for our students. Mental Health education just recently became a mandatory part of education in New York, and all other states need to follow that example. Our students need us more than we know, and we need to provide them with more than facts on history or content.
    3. I believe we need yo be as transparent as possible with our students when it comes to gun violence, especially as many of them experience training on how to handle it. I think providing them with the literature about what is happening is important. Be honest and create a safe place for our students to voice their concerns and fears and thoughts. I also think we should educate on our students on how to make a change. After the Stoneman Douglas Shooting, we saw a huge movement take over the country. We need to teach our students about that, and teach them how important it is to be the change.

  4. 1. Gun violence is a hot topic going around right now, and has been for awhile. I haven’t ever really thought about how guns really impact our lives around us; whether on the news from someone being shot, in video games or even in songs and movies. I think that the term “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is true due to the points made in this article how we are afraid of those who are different than us whether religiously or culturally.
    2. During our class when we talked about racial issues and discrimination like from the The Well and The Friendship, gun violence was brought up with the problems between the races. Gun violence is a serious issue with bad blood that still exists somewhat between races.
    3. With teaching lessons on the second amendment and gun control, it’s better to have the students be informed and answer their questions about things. It could lead into a lesson going over more of the amendments and even farther into learning and growing with different cultures to prevent violence with guns.

  5. 1.This article makes good points, where I support our country’s right to bear arms, I do believe we should have stricter gun laws regarding safety, how we get guns, and our mental health upon purchasing a gun.

    2.This article relates to our class when you say, “perhaps our obsession with guns comes form a rising fear of people who are different from us.” This relates because we as a society lack education in cultural, ethical, economical, racial differences. With that lack of understanding comes fear, false words, and sadly conflict.
    3. I think a very eyeopening teacher resource would just be the Wiki page on “Mass shootings in the United States”. For the class room I would start by informing them on America’s history with Mass shootings dating as far back as you can find. I would then suggest to the administration for a gun safety program or possibly a fundraiser for those effect by these mass shootings.

  6. Aaron Gullett
    1. I think this article is extremely relevant for today, with all the talk about gun violence / gun control. Hearing that the United States is one of 6 countries that make up more than half of the gun related deaths worldwide, was not that surprising to me with how this country has been the past year or so. Which we have discussed in class recently on how America should go about this issue.
    2. We have talked a lot in class about how to make history seem “more interesting” and having students be more willing to participate in the activity. Making things (like gun control / gun violence) that are relevant to their lives is a way to keep them engaged into the lesson. ‘
    3. I think keeping the younger generations up to date and actively involved with how things are going in the country is great for their futures. I think the articles are a great resource for the students to educated themselves and read up on topics that are relevant to their lives now. Allowing the students to read up on the information themselves, gives them the chance to make a decision for themselves and not be swayed one way or the other.

  7. I really liked this article because it talks about something that is truly relevant to all the students in a classroom. Everyone in a classroom will know about gun violence and how easy it is to buy and use a gun in our society today. Which is something that we have talked about a lot in the class making history more relevant to the students to make the history feel more real and like it happening today (which it is). I would defiantly some of the articles in my classroom to debate want the Second Amendment truly says and does it allow for people to have the automatic guns of today or was it made for the old type of gun of past generations.

  8. Wow. This article was very thought-provoking. There are obviously sides to this debate and usually, they both feel very strongly about the issue. I have my own opinion on the issue and genuinely agree with one side of the debate. However, there are issues and flaws on either side. It is important to recognize both sides and their validity. This relates to several things that we have discussed in class. For example, the fishbowl activity discussing the controversial police shooting involving an officer who walked into the wrong apartment. I enjoyed the teacher resources in that it is important for students to make an educated decision on their thoughts and feelings on the topic. I want my students to be informed not guided to believe one way. These resources allow for students to do such research.

  9. 1. Your thoughts and opinion on the issue covered in the article.
    This article is a very strong article because of how bad gun violence is looked at today in society. Today, we hear more and more about gun violence than we have ever before. After reading the stat about how much gun violence affects our nation, I feel as if there needs be strong laws on guns. There are way to many people in this world that have guns, that shouldn’t. I feel as if we are coming to a point in time where younger kids are using them and not being educated about them.
    2. Connections to something we talked about in class.
    This connects to class because we talked about how certain race are more likely to be accused of having a gun and killing people. Which is very wrong to me. I feel as if it isn’t a race issue, it is a UNITED STATES CITIZEN issue.
    3. Comment on the teacher resources and how you can use them in a classroom or educational setting.
    Educating the youth on such a big topic is very important. The articles provided are good in an educational setting because there are shooting happens at schools that are just like any other students. It allows the students to see there needs to be something happen with that. We could then have a huge talk about the pros and cons and guns and so on.

  10. Kelsey Hiller

    1. I think this is a very important issue in the world today. Gun violence has affected many peoples lives. I do believe there needs to be more laws passed in order to receive a gun. I think it is to easy for anyone to get their hands on a gun today. It is important that schools educate young students on gun control. It is sad what the world is coming to with guns.

    2. In the article you stated,”Perhaps our obsession with guns comes from a rising fear of people who are different from us (Racially, ethnically, culturally or economically), what scholars call a fear of “the other.”” I totally agree with this. I believe people are scared of other races and feel they have to protect themselves. Throughout our course we discussed racism and I just believe we have fear of people who come from different backgrounds than us.

    3. These resources allow students to read about the mass shootings that have happened around the U.S and see the effects it has had on people. It also gives the students the opportunity to learn about gun control.

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