I agree with Daniel Buck that the "armed citizenry" was probably not the reason the James and Dalton brothers met with failure at Northfield, Minn., and Coffeyville, Kan. [letters, Aug. 12]. However, ready access to weapons must have played a role, and most westerners (and midwesterners) felt a need to have a gun.
Scholarly biographies of such western notables as the Earp brothers and Billy the Kid show that the face-to-face shootouts of movies such as "High Noon" were rare. Best research reveals that most gunfights were with rifles (more accurate than pistols) and often from ambush (take any advantage you can). This backs up Mr. Buck's assertion that armed civilians didn't have much of a role in thwarting crime. "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" had it right: No one wanted to join the posse.
Mr. Buck's discussion of relative homicide rates for old west communities and eastern cities of then and now needs more explanation. For instance, if a western county of several thousand square miles and a population of 2,000 had a homicide rate of 10 percent, or 200 people, that's quite a few dead bodies. If for the same period, a city of 200,000 had a lower rate of 5 percent, or 10,000, that's a whole bunch of dead bodies.
Statistics, myths and scholarly research into the Old West will fascinate many of us for a long time. Let's just keep it all in perspective.
JERROLD R. HANEBUTH