ask the marshall true west old west towns gun laws

Did most Old West towns have “no carry” gun laws?

Gerard Smith
Coos Bay, Oregon

As frontier towns matured, city fathers realized they needed gun control ordinances. Alcohol, gambling and a shortage of women could set off men and have them reaching for their guns.

Tombstone, Arizona Territory, offers a good example. One could wear guns when arriving or leaving town, but in between, the gun had to be checked.

But enforcing Tombstone’s gun law could be problematic. The October 26, 1881, street fight proved what could go wrong. The McLaurys and Clantons—at least a couple of them—were carrying firearms, but that was just a misdemeanor. Ostensibly, they were leaving town.

I don’t think either side expected things to turn out the way they did. But the longstanding troubles between the Earps and the McLaury and Clanton Cowboys came to a head that afternoon. What should have been a simple law enforcement action turned deadly.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen; The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at

Related Articles

  • gary cooper high noon true west magazine

    Folks often ask, "Were townsfolk generally as cowardly and cowered as portrayed in movies like…

  • Were gun silencers used during the Old West era?

    Were gun silencers used during the Old West era? Ray Munkittrick Chicopee, Massachusetts The first…

  • Review of Sharps Firearms, The Percussion Era, 1848-1865, Volume I by Roy Marcot, Edward W.…