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. Wow! The size and content of the list of mass shootings is heart wrenching. Our country definitely needs to come up with a solution to this problem. No, we don’t want to lose our right to bare arms, but we absolutely need to figure out how to keep them out of the hands of people who intend to use them to do evil deeds. The problem is that criminals don’t usually get their guns legally in the first place. A lot of people think the violence in our country has something to do with the video games, movies, and music, but I’m not so sure that’s it. In my opinion, it’s deeper than that. Most of the mass shooters have a troubled past which involves abuse and/or neglect. Maybe instead of focusing on the gun laws, we should focus on making sure people who have been subjected to abuse or neglect get the psychological help they so desperately need.

  2. American gun culture is a very unique and interesting one. The second amendment and subsequent calls for gun control have become a contentious topic in the American political arena, and for good reason. Countries with stringent gun control see far fewer gun related deaths than the United States does, as our country routinely experiences mass shootings and gun violence on the street. The gun has become something integral to the American identity, for better and for worse.

    Why does America have this fascination with firearms? Surely it has much to do with our being born of a revolution, an association with a sort of paranoid anti-government sentiment that runs deep in American culture. We must also remember that professional, full time police were not yet fully present in the states at its founding, coupled with a general suspicion of standing armies, and one can see why citizens may have wanted own a rifle. The American frontier likely also heavily influenced American gun culture. Not only was this land nearly lawless and thus dangerous, it was also ripe with animals to hunt, necessitating gun ownership.

    It is hard to say what should be done with guns in modern America. Firearms have evolved rapidly since the bill of rights ratification in 1791, should our gun laws not evolve as well? One easily gets stuck between a rock and a hard place in this debate, as the number of guns currently in the hands of the American population is so large that one wonders whether any gun control laws would make much of a difference. Regardless, this is a great topic to bring up in social studies classrooms, and I look forward to hearing students debate about it in the future.

  3. The article makes very valid points. However, I do not agree with gun control. I agree with the article where it states that gun control is infringing upon the second amendment. Criminals are going to find a way to get their hands on a gun somehow, so I believe good people with guns can stop bad people with guns. Guns are essential to America. Without guns, we literally would not have the freedoms we do now. People need guns to be able to protect themselves and to provide for their families. I grew up going hunting and getting our dinner from the wildlife in the backyard. Without guns, growing up would have been totally different.

    This article was very informative, rather than opinonated; however, owning a gun makes me feel safe in a world that is not.

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