When a heavily-armed gang of criminals who traveled from their home base in Missouri tried to stage a daring daylight bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota, their raid turned into a bloody rout leaving two of the gang dead and three others seriously wounded because armed citizens fought back…140 years ago today.
The infamous James-Younger gang was literally shot to pieces on the town’s main street. Several private citizens, according to various historic accounts, borrowed guns from local hardware stores to take on the notorious outlaws. They didn’t bother with background checks or waiting periods, either.
The Sept. 7, 1876 attack came less than three months after George Armstrong Custer led several companies of the 7th Cavalry in an ill-fated attack that became their own annihilation at the Little Bighorn on June 25. It was only a month and a few days after James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok had been murdered while playing poker at a saloon in Deadwood on Aug. 2.
Historically, 1876 was a rather eventful year in the annals of the Old West and the Northfield raid provided clear evidence that a decisive way to fight crime is to shoot back.
Sixteen years and one month later, on Oct. 5, 1892, history virtually repeated itself in Coffeyville, Kansas when the Dalton gang attempted the first daylight dual bank robbery in history. They also ran into a barrage of gunfire from townspeople and when the smoke cleared, only a badly-wounded Emmett Dalton remained alive. His brothers and two accomplices were dead.
Armed citizens can make a difference, even today. There are millions of legally-licensed armed citizens across the country. As of Sept. 1, there were 554,545 active concealed pistol licenses in just Washington State. In Arizona, there were another 283,253 active permits as of Sept. 4. Florida and Texas each have more than a million licensed citizens.
Contrary to rhetoric from the gun prohibition lobby, legally-armed citizens are no great threat to public safety. Indeed, with gun sales at an all-time high and expanded concealed carry interest across the country, the number of homicides involving firearms has steadily decreased across the country over the past several years. Places including Chicago, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. are exceptions, and all three have one thing in common: Extremely restrictive gun regulations that haven’t disarmed criminals.
The James-Younger gang, and later the Daltons, learned the hard way that people with the means to fight back will defend what is theirs, and also defend their communities.
It is said that people who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. On the other hand, people who do learn from history might also repeat it, to the detriment of modern-day criminals.