The concept of having the ability to bear firearms and therefore owning the ultimate legitimacy in the law and order of a small community rings throughout “Unforgiven.” In a small town in the rural Western frontier where population is scarce, authority belongs to those who posses the means to defend themselves. In the case of Big Whiskey, only a select few in town have firearms which means they have authority by force. This would not be the case if at least a clear majority of town were armed.
The implication is that the group with the firearms dictate how the law will be interpreted. Therefore, it is critical for as many people in the community to be armed as a means of ensuring that the law is democratically agreed upon and carried out. In the case of Big Whiskey, the law is not democratic—as only a small number of people have firearms thus giving them the sole ability to carry out the law. The questions that “Unforgiven” gives us is about the extent to which the right to privately own firearms should be allowed, the degree of democratic rule that it may produce as a result of power being distributed to the masses and the legality of contract killing.
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