I’ll be doing some spoilers about major plot points so if that bothers you, don’t read on.
I’m not sure what The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has to say about guns solving problems.
Jimmy Stewart is a hero because he killed a man who, based on all evidence, would have killed him first. It was never his goal to kill Liberty Valance but he was pushed to do so because he knew he couldn’t run away.
It complicates things when we learn that Stewart did not, in fact, kill Valance. Given that fact, is the killing of Valance self-defense, murder, or something else?
Valance was shot to save someone’s life. Unlike other Westerns where everyone is a crack shot, the reason Valance is dead is because his killer aimed at the easiest part of the body to hit. Makes sense. He only had one shot.
So where does that leave us? How do we feel about the whole situation? We know that Stewart is conflicted about it. He doesn’t want to be a hero for killing a man. Yet, it is also true that he may be able to do more good for others if he accepts that he is a hero.
To me, Stewart is far more heroic than he believes because he went to face Valance with the knowledge that he was going to be shot to death. Had John Wayne failed to act, the outcome of the duel was unquestionable. Everyone knew that.
The old west that we see in classic films doesn’t exist with the same standards of morality as our world does. Stand your ground laws notwithstanding.