Nestled in the middle of the vast Arizona desert, about 30 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, is one of the last surviving remnants of the American Old West.
The saloons and shops that line Tombstone’s Allen Street look largely the same as the mud-brick buildings that stood there in the 19th century, Mayor Dusty Escapule said. Gun-carrying patrons in boots, some with horses that they tie outside the saloons, still walk the small Arizona town’s historic district, he added.
But this former mining boomtown is perhaps most known for the deadly gunfight between two groups of men. The infamous O.K. Corral shootout of 1881 has so far been glorified in several Hollywood western movies anchored by Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner.
“Tombstone became famous because of guns,” Escapule, a fourth-generation Tombstone resident, told The Washington Post. “Guys carry guns every day.”
It seems fitting then that this town, already dubbed “Town Too Tough to Die,” would earn another nickname involving weapons.
Last week, Escapule signed a proclamation declaring Tombstone “America’s Second Amendment City,” making the town, to Escapule’s knowledge, the only one with such title. He said that he read the proclamation during a city council meeting attended by about 50 people on Jan. 10.
The proclamation itself is not a law and does not have any effect on current ordinances and resolutions. It’s mostly symbolic — a recognition of the town’s history and its citizens support for the Second Amendment.
There’s more to that constitutional right than just carrying and showing off guns, Escapule said. Allowing the average citizen to bear arms is necessary, he said, given the town’s proximity to the Mexican border.
“This particular area is known for a lot of drug trafficking and illegal aliens,” he said. “If we have no way of protecting ourselves, the citizens of this part of the country would actually be under attack.”
Johnny Rowland, spokesman for Gun Owners of America, said the gun advocacy organization supports the proclamation, describing Arizona “the most gun-friendly state in America,” the Sierra Vista Herald reported.
Arizona’s gun laws are among the least restrictive in the country and allow open or concealed carry permits for most of the state’s law-abiding citizens.
Escapule said a couple business owners proposed the idea to him. One of whom is Gordon Anderson.
“This represents a great day in our history,” Anderson told the Sierra Vista Herald after the proclamation was signed, adding later: “It fits our past, present and future.”
Indeed, Tombstone is a town that holds strongly to its past.
For instance, town officials have worked for years to keep Tombstone’s Old West aesthetics, even making sure that power lines, unlike in most modern cities, aren’t above ground. Escapule said the town’s restoration commission had to come up with enough money to put power lines underground.
And to this day, gunshots can still be heard daily — except no one is getting killed.
Local groups stage gun skits and reenactments, with actors shooting blank rounds, Escapule said. About 500,000 tourists come to the town every year to check out the shows and the sites.
One such reenactment is that of the shootout at the O.K. Corral on Oct. 26, 1881. Wyatt Earp, along with his brothers Morgan and Virgil and their friend Doc Holliday, faced off against a group of outlaws in a deadly fight for control of Tombstone. While the others were either killed or injured, Earp emerged from the 30-second gun battle unscathed.
Every October, the town celebrates the Tombstone Helldorado Days, a three-day event packed with street gunfight skits, shows and parades.
With a population of about 1,380 people, this Second Amendment City is “in no way, shape or form” going to change, Escapule said.
“It’s always going to be the town that’s too tough to die,” he said.