I'm hoping cenus information and historical gun manufacturing records make this an answerable question. What percentage of the population in the Old West actually carried handguns? Was it a minority or a majority?

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    Handguns, or just guns? Rifles and shotguns (capable of taking down game, as well as holding off attacks) would have been considered essential, but I could see where handguns might not have been as common.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 14, 2013 at 22:19
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    I'm mainly interested in the handgun count. Western films show most every Frontier town as being populated by gunslingers. Jan 14, 2013 at 22:55
  • IIRC, that depends on whether it was in town or outside; and which towns
    – DVK
    Jan 15, 2013 at 1:41
  • Handguns were luxury items until well into the industrial era. Hunting rifles were more certainly more common.
    – liftarn
    Jun 10, 2014 at 9:01

1 Answer 1


The answer differs between "carried" and "owned", and "in towns" vs "not".

I'll only cover the first of the 4 combinations.

You did not carry guns in many towns. Tombstone, AZ prohibited carrying firearms, as did Deadwood, as IIRC did Dodge City. The ordinances prohibited it, the signs indicated that you had to check in your firearms at the Sheriff's or special points.

As a matter of fact, the infamous fight at the OK Corrall was technically over the issue of police chief Virgil Earp and co trying to make the outlaws comply with the city law and disarm.

A great deal of detail on town in the Old West prohibiting carrying can be found in this Pink Flamingo blog post - while it's a blog and not a peer reviewed article, the author is somewhat of an expert on Wyatt Earp specifically and Old West in general, and is a pro-gun Republican, so it's hard to read some political subtext/spin into the info.

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    rewrite the last paragraph to not be political diatribe and it's a great answer.
    – jwenting
    Jul 25, 2013 at 6:01
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    @jwenting - the last paragraph is to provide context because the first thing an answer sourced from a blog post typically attracts (when information can clearly be suspected to be politically biased) is "this is just <liberal|conservative> opinion".
    – DVK
    Jul 25, 2013 at 11:24
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    then please start doing the same when referring to places like Huffington Post, which is a leftwing propaganda machine sited here as fact all the time without such disclaimers
    – jwenting
    Jul 25, 2013 at 12:06
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    @jwenting - you are welcome to find a post of mine that sources conservative-biased-seeming info from HuffPost (if you want to make exact analogies to this answer, which was liberal-biased-seeming info from a conservative source).
    – DVK
    Jul 25, 2013 at 13:38
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    You mean that all the justifications for unrestricted concealed carry are based on a fallacy? Oh, poo - you're no fun. :-) Feb 10, 2014 at 17:27

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