Unexamined Premises

The Lessons of Coffeyville and Paris

Violence never solves anything, except when it does

Violence never solves anything, except when it does

In 1892, five members of the famed and feared Dalton gang rode into Coffeyville, Kansas, a town near the border with Oklahoma where some of them had grown up. Their plan was to rob two banks simultaneously and then clear out. They never made it. Alerted to their presence, the townsfolk grabbed their guns and shot them to pieces, killing four of them. An eyewitness recounted:

“…Just at this critical juncture the citizens opened fire from the outside [of the Condon Bank] and the shots from their Winchesters and shot-guns pierced the plate-glass windows and rattled around the bank. Bill Powers and Dick Broadwell replied from the inside, and each fired from four to six shots at citizens on the outside. The battle then began in earnest. Evidently recognizing that the fight was on, Grat Dalton asked whether there was a back door through which they could get to the street. He was told that there was none. He then ordered Mr. Ball and Mr. Carpenter [two bank employees] to carry the sack of money to the front door. Reaching the hall on the outside of the counter, the firing of the citizens through the windows became so terrific and the bullets whistled so close around their heads that the robbers and both bankers retreated to the back room again. Just then one at the southwest door was heard to exclaim: ‘ I am shot; I can’t use my arm; it is no use, I can’t shoot any more.’ “

Those who didn’t have guns rushed to Isham’s hardware store, next door to one of the banks, where the merchant handed them out gratis. When some of the robbers exited the Condon Bank, they were met with a hail of gunfire:

“…The moment that Grat Dalton and his companions, Dick Broadwell and Bill Power, left the bank [the C.M. Condon Bank] that they had just looted, they came under the guns of the men in Isham’s store. Grat Dalton and Bill Powers each received mortal wounds before they had retreated twenty steps. The dust was seen to fly from their clothes, and Powers in his desperation attempted to take refuge in the rear doorway of an adjoining store, but the door was locked and no one answered his request to be let in. He kept his feet and clung to his Winchester until he reached his horse, when another ball struck him in the back and he fell dead at the feet of the animal that had carried him on his errand of robbery.

Law enforcement played a brief role as well:

Grat Dalton, getting under cover of the oil tank, managed to reach the side of a barn that stands on the south side of the alley… [At this point, Marshal Connelly ran across a vacant lot into “Death Alley” from the south to the spot where the bandits had tied their horses.] The marshal sprang into the alley with his face towards the point where the horses were hitched. This movement brought him with his back to the murderous Dalton, who was seen to raise his Winchester to his side and without taking aim fire a shot into the back of the brave officer. Marshal Connelly fell forward on his face within twenty feet of where his murderer stood.

But don’t worry, the story has a happy ending:



But even with their marshal down, the citizens kept up their fire until — and this is the important part — the banditos either were all dead or unable to return fire. Only then was the fight, in which three other townsfolk lost their lives as well, over.

The events in Paris bring forcefully home the need for an armed citizenry as Islamic attacks on the West proliferate. That a trio of gunmen could just pull up to the door, leave the car in the middle of the street, murder a dozen people, head-cap a wounded cop, then hop into their vehicle and roar away unobstructed and unconfronted by any armed resistance — even from les flics themselves — is stupefying. But such seems to have been the case.

It is speculative at this stage, but it is also relatively safe to assume that if those officers had been armed they would have had an opportunity to disable the attackers before they fled. As a result of the lack of preparedness on the part of the Parisian police, the three gunmen who killed 12 and wounded 11 more remain at large. Perhaps this atrocity will result in a review of Paris’s counter-terror planning ahead of the next terrorist incident. It is surely coming.

Take a look at the scene, which includes the cold-blooded murder of the policeman.


A narrow street, easily cordoned off. A terrific field of fire from the buildings lining the street. This should have been a death-trap for the Muslim murderers had police responded promptly (by blocking the street at both ends and by actually bringing guns to a gunfight) and had a few armed citizens opened fire themselves. Gunmen are always very brave and bold when nobody’s shooting back at them; their victims might as well be paper targets at the firing range. But they’re not quite so brave when the targets fire back.

Those who know nothing about guns often retort that a single citizen, armed with only a pistol, is no match for commandos, and that is true. But what they forget is that a gunman who’s just been fired upon stops shooting unarmed victims, takes cover and looks to see who’s shooting at him. The good people of Coffeyville knew they were risking their lives when they broke out their rifles and shotguns and opened fire on the Daltons before the Daltons had even fired a shot. They could have just let the robbers waltz off with the cash, and wait for the authorities to “bring them to justice.” But they didn’t. They chose to fight. And that was the end of the Dalton Gang.

Enough armed citizens and pretty soon the gunmen cry “I am shot; I can’t use my arm; it is no use, I can’t shoot any more.” And then they die.