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. Some would say that America holds its 2nd Amendment right in such high regard out of fear. Fear of different peoples and cultures. I would disagree. It was born out of fear yes, but it wasn’t fear of a religion or race, instead out of fear of a king. Absolute power and unchallenged authority is the catalyst of its creation. One thing our country is really good at is not letting anyone forget. I get it; those who forget are doomed to repeat, but how is it that we are willing to forget our history and yet remember our hate and harbor blame? Don’t think for a moment we, 200+ years later, are immune to the whiles of those who would seek to pit us against one another in order to control us. Some may say we no longer need the right to bear arms. We’re civilized and we have a right to free speech. My friends, what good is a mouth with no teeth to bare? Don’t let the acts of outlaws and the infirm sway your decisions. Repealing the right may, however unlikely, find some reduction in crimes in the short term, but what of the day when you find the need to bare your teeth only to reveal soft pink gums? The right to bear arms has been abused, but it’s intended purpose is to keep the ‘honest’ government honest and to ensure our freedoms are not contested without recourse.

  2. I believe this article is very eye opening. I already thought that violent video games and violent t.v. shows helped bring violence to this world, however, I never thought about history such as the wild west having a role. I think that each year everyone who owns a gun should have to go through training and take a test to renew their license. I see both sides of the Gun Control Movement as well. I see the side that people want guns to protect themselves and their families from anyone or any animal, but I also see from the side that if guns are banned the likelihood of a mass murder or shooting is slim to none.

  3. With the current issues arising with gun violence I think this was a good article to read. The decision on what to do when it comes to gun control laws is not something to be taken lightly and I can see why it is such a heavily debated topic.

  4. I think that it’s important to teach students about gun laws, and gun safety since guns are so prevalent in today’s society. As a mother and a home owner where guns are present, I do agree that guns should have mandatory child safety locks. However, I am not sure that changing the gun laws will have any effect on mass shootings. I feel like the people who commit mass shootings will find any way they can to get their hands on these deadly weapons. I also do not think that video games and pop culture influence violent tendencies, to an extent. I do think that children can learn about violence through video games and pop culture, but it is a parent’s responsibility to monitor their behavior.

  5. This article is really good. Gun control is something that is hard for me. I don’t believe gun control would do anything for us as a nation. Even if guns are more regularly monitored, bad people with bad intentions would find a way to get guns and use them for bad things. The problem we have was mentioned in this article: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It is a problem that lies within the hearts of humans. Our hearts are sinful and this causes humans to do bad things. The problem won’t be solved until the good Lord comes back.

  6. The Wild West, Americans and their Guns: The American Fundamental Right to Bear Arms-I thought this article was very strong especially since it touched on gun violence. Gun violence is the biggest issue in our world today. In today’s world we hear about gun violence than ever before. I think the gun violence laws need to be stricter or have them be strong laws on guns.

  7. With this article, comes the question on how gun control affects what’s happening in the world. When we think of the gun related crimes in the US, we can’t help but wonder if these suspects, had their guns legally? I don’t think that it’s gun control, but more gun safety. Taking away guns is NOT going to fix the problem, because if someone wants something, they’re going to do whatever they can to get that one thing. Also, if we put a control on who gets a gun, then when someone walks in with a gun, who is going to either protect themselves and others?

  8. Guns are an extremely important topic, especially in todays society. I currently believe that the age to purchase a gun should most definitely be increased to 21. Its scary to think about how quickly and easily a child, teacher, or even random citizen could come into a school with a gun. It happens so often, it’s become a norm in the United States (and I’m sure in other countries too). Gun violence is so unreal to me. I do believe that it’s necessary for people to own guns, just in case of emergencies but how much testing is done on someone before they actually get to own a gun?

  9. This article makes great points regarding the beliefs many Americans seem passionate about. The Constitutional purists seem to lean entirely too much on the amendment, and it seems although it was important in that time, it now poses a real detriment. Acts of violence against the greater public means we need to reevaluate how we regulate and control guns and who can have easy access to them. I for one, feel extremely unsafe and uncomfortable near people who are carrying weapons in public. I don’t know who they are or what kind of judgments they make. I feel violated that they can bring a weapon into a public place, regardless of if they have a license. I do not trust someone who feels too unsafe to interact in public spaces without a gun. They are anxious..and over alert which could cause a disaster, especially with a weapon that will make it easy to harm another.

  10. I think gun violence is a huge issue in today’s society. I’m not a gun hater, however, I do feel gun laws should become more strict to help prevent guns falling into the wrong hands. More precautions should be used when giving people a permit to carry or even buy a gun. I don’t necessary think guns are the only weapons we should be concerned or precautious with, however it is the biggest threat when it comes to mass murders and other violent incidents.

    This article connects to our class because it goes back to certain races being accused of crimes more often than others. Which is not always the case. Society thinks we just need to worry about specific races and aren’t as timid when giving a white man a gun. Guns are a problems in the hands of any race with the wrong intentions.

    Because of the rise in gun violence I think it is important that we educate students on guns at a very young age. Learning the background on gun laws and becoming familiar with the bill of rights is a great way to introduce this topic. Students also need to be educated on the damages guns can cause, and the tragedy’s they have caused because of careless people who abused their power to own a gun. I would use all of these resources listed above.

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