Carrying guns in the Old West and the New West

If what I have seen in countless westerns is to believed, in the days of the Old Wild West, cowboys usually walked around wearing one or two guns whether they were out on the range tending their herds or in town getting a little recreation. I assume this was in part because of the real chance of running across snakes, hostile indians, assorted bad guys, etc. and in part the wish to create a macho image. When did this custom of wearing six-guns on the job and in town come to an end? Was it largely because of legal restrictions or because of changing conditions? And, finally, are there any states left where it is legal to walk around town with a pair of Colts on your belt?

First, what you’ve seen on countless westerns is not to be believed. When I watched those movies or Gunsmoke, I always wondered: What do those guys do all day, just wander from town to town, stopping off into the occasional saloon for a drink? Why did Joe Cartwright always have so much time to ride into town? All the action seemed to happen in town and there were always plenty of people there, sitting around doing nothing. I digress.

To the average Joe in the American West, a gun was just a tool, like a hammer or a pair of pliers. If Joe earned his living on horseback, he often found it convenient to leave his gun(s) in his saddlebag or tied onto his saddle. Try to fix a fence with a four pound, ten inch long pistol strapped on your hip and you’ll figure out why. Have the stupid thing hang up on some vines while you’re ducking around in the dark looking for a stray calf and you’ll figure out what. They’re a PITA.

If Joe were a farmer or rancher, the gun would possibly be a shotgun or rifle stored behind the kitchen door. There just aren’t that many reasons to carry one on your person unless you were hunting or travelling across country.

Another thing that could give you the impression (besides the movies) that guns were everywhere is the old photos where every man was holding their gun out in fornt of them. But you have to consider that firearms were quite often a person’s most valuable possession and were to be displayed proudly. A weak example would be like automobiles are today; a status symbol.

Now, in times and places where hostile people or aminals could be encountered, that’s a different story. But these situations were not (nor are they now) so very widespread. But, in those situations then and now, remember you’re not going to be able to call 911 and have a duly appointed officer of the law show up in 5 minutes. You’re on your own. However, I find it most adequate to keep a shooter behind the kitchen door, so to speak, or behind the seat of the truck. It’s just too inconvienent to carry one all the time. Now, there was this one time, with this rattlesnake …

In Arizona, you only need a permit for a concealed weapon. Otherwise, you can walk around almost anywhere carrying guns on your hip or a long gun over your shoulder.

There are some establishments, such as post offices and some banks where there is a sign on the door advising that guns are not permitted within. This often startles newcomers or tourists. I don’t know why, it seems natural enough to me. :smiley:

In the Old West many towns had ‘gun bans’. The first example that comes to my mind is the shootout at the OK Corral. Earp & Co. approached the ‘Cowboys’ ostensibly to disarm them, as they received word that they were in violation of the prohibition of carrying guns in town. (Of course there was a lot of bad blood between the factions – and the ‘Cowboys’ were not really all that unpopular.) From documentaries I’ve seen (on The History Channel, which makes them suspect) this lead to the popularity of certain people carrying ‘hide out’ guns so that they could be armed, but not obviously so.

A little info regarding the present: Open carry states.

I haven’t tried it lately, but open carry was tolerated around here as late as the early 90’s (several suburbs of Denver, I wouldn’t suggest trying it in Denver itself). It’s not too unusual, although certainly not common, to see someone with a gun on their belt walking down the street in several of our of mountain towns. has some more.

In a lot of jurisdictions where people can carry concealed, it’s often advised that you DO carry concealed rather than open, simply because anyone other than a uniformed security guard or police officer will make a lot of people (including cops) nervous if they’re openly carrying. For example, that link provided by Ringo mentions the anomalous situation in Wisconson: apparently open carry is technically legal but you’d be arrested for “disorderly conduct” if you tried.

I’m guessing that a lot of retail stores in those areas restricted folks from entering their premises while openly carrying a firearm. Is that correct?

Not really. There were a few places that put up signs prohibiting concealed carry after CCW became such a big deal a few years ago, but I’ve never seen anyplace except government buildings with signs prohibiting open carry.
At a guess - It doesn’t happen in Denver (you’d have to be an idiot or activist to screw with the Denver PD) so no signs are necessary, and the small towns make a lot of money off of hunters campers and hikers, and aren’t that ascared of guns anyway.

I’ve seen exactly one “no firearms allowed” sign (not counting government buildings) and one “firearms encouraged” sign.

Deadwood, SD, has signs at the entrance to most retail establishments (including the grocery store) stating that guns are a no-no. According to a bar-owning friend there, it’s because “too many morons think they’re gonna run into Doc Holiday.” She didn’t mention it, but I suspect that Bike Week in nearby Sturgis may contribute more than the usual number of morons.

In Podunkville Montana, the post office has a sign. The Bank probably does. You’ll occasionally see an openly displayed side-arm in the cafe at lunchtime. If you look closely, you may see more than one, but you have to look. More a matter of discretion than concealment, but most of the regular lunch crowd has a license anyway, and doesn’t bother to leave it in the truck. They are real “cowboys” (we call 'em “hands” now) who theoretically need to shoot snakes, or coyotes, or rabid skunks, or something during the course of their daily lives, and come into town for lunch. It’s not a problem (aside from the occasional freaked-out tourist) because the guys tend to self police. I know of more than one new-hire who got run off for “dip-shittedness” which usually translates to “acting like that gun made him important.”

In the “real” rural west, guns are no big deal. You either have one, or you don’t. You’re either a moron or you aren’t. Morons with guns are shunned, or encouraged to go away, morons without guns are snickered about. The rest of us are just regular people who would rather talk about who is sleeping with whom and whether it will be a bad winter than fuss about who is packing heat.

Open carry is, AFAIK, illegal in MO. We were the frontier in the early days, and it’s still a pretty rural place with plenty of ranching & farming & hunting & shooting.

OTOH, MO passed a concealed carry law a couple of years ago. Pretty much anyone with a clean legal record & a few hours classroom instruction can get a permit to cary a concealed weapon anywhere any time, excluding government buildings and (IIRC) banks.

But any other business can post a sign at the door saying no guns, and the sign trumps a permit. Almost 100% of multi-location businesses have such signs. IOW, every grocery store, every Taco Bell, etc. In other words, any business large enough to have concern about liability if somebody gets shot on premises. The only places without signs are mom-and-pops, and even many of those have signs too.

Now whether the gun-carrying public obeys the signs I have no idea. I also expect the signs are real rare once you get out of the large cities & their suburbs.

The following applies to Missouri. YMMV

This site: says “While open carry is generally legal in Missouri, their preemption statute is unique in that it preempts the entire field of firearms law except for the regulation of open carry. Consequently, carrying openly in Missouri will expose you to a checkerboard of local ordinances.”

Meaning that open carry is legal statewide, but many cities and municipalities have ordinances prohibiting same. Even where not prohibited by local orninance, open carry may result in someone calling the police. And they of course are required to respond when called. The difficulty lies in determin ing which municipalites have passed these ordinances. There appears to be no statewide list.

Regarding concealed carry in Missouri, the requirements for obtaining a permit are pretty much as LSLguy stated. If you meet the requirements, they MUST issue the permit. But I disagree with his statement that “Almost 100% of multi-location businesses have such signs. IOW, every grocery store, every Taco Bell, etc.” I don’t find this to be the case. In fact, some places that had posted signs at the laws onset have removed them. In my town I can think of only two places posted. And one of them is the License Buro. Also, banks are not one of the “prohibited places” under Missouri law. Heres a list of those places:
(1) Any Police, Sheriff, or Highway Patrol Office or Station,
(2) Within twenty-five feet of any Polling Place on any Election Day.
(3) Any Correctional Facility.
(4) Any Courthouse or Building used by a Court.
(5) Any Government Meeting including State Legislature.
(6) Government Owned Buildings Except Public Housing.
(7) Bars.
(8) Secured parts of Airports.
(9) Prohibited by Federal Law;
(10) All Schools (Including Colleges);
(11) Child Care Facilities.
(12) Casino
(13) Amusement Park.
(14) Any Church
(15) Private Property with 11X14 sign with one inch letters.
(16) Arenas and Stadiums seating over 5,000.
(17)Publicly accessible Hospitals

I’ll also note that: “Carrying of a concealed firearm in a location specified … by any individual who holds concealed carry endorsement issued pursuant to this section shall not be a criminal act but may subject the person to denial to the premises or removal from the premises.” This means that Concealed means concealed, and if thay catch you and you leave when asked you’re in the clear.

Also, Missouir recognizes permits issued by any other stae or political subdivision, so come and visit. :smiley: