Let's talk about guns.
Guns have always been a part of our national heritage. From the battlefields of the revolution to our backyards. They are everywhere. The vast majority of them, in the hands of law-abiding citizens.
Let's start at the beginning. The Musket. Used by colonists as well as the British. Is a smooth bore, muzzle-loading rifle capable of firing a single shot per load.
Because of its smooth bore, the "rifle" would be closer to a single shot, shotgun by today's standards. (And a poor one at that.) Fighters in the revolutionary war would load one to four projectiles (rocks, lead balls, anything else they could find) with a charge of powder. When fired, the projectile(s) would travel about 500-700 feet per second in the general direction the musket was pointing. There was no assurance they were going to hit what they aimed at.
Because the bore is smooth, the projectile fired from the musket is not accurate.
A modern rifle has grooves in the barrel called rifling. Rifling turns the bullet as it is leaving the gun. This causes the bullet to spin, making it more stable in flight. Much like the feathers on an arrow help to stabilize it. The spinning of the bullet helps in stabilizing its path to its intended target.
Because of the poor accuracy and slow reloading times. The action of the revolutionary war was conducted in volleys. Two sides line up 100 yards away from each other and took turns firing. It was slow and gruesome. When a soldier fired at his intended target, he was more likely to hit a person standing on either side of him.
1791 – The second amendment to the constitution is ratified. “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Pretty simple. The reason this was added to the constitution, is because the guys who wrote this just got done fighting a war with an overbearing government. It states, “the right of the people” because it’s intended to protect the people from an overbearing government. Not protect the government from the people.
Muzzleloading rifles and pistols are the main firearms being used in America until around 1805. This point in our history is when the technology of the gun began to change. Percussion detonating caps become generally used in American firearms around 1825.
This allowed the gun to be fired reliably in various weather conditions. Before this invention guns used a flint to strike a pan full of primer gunpowder that would then ignite the powder charge in the barrel. So, if it were wet, the likelihood of your rifle firing was slim.
This was a large step forward in the world of firearms. The percussion cap would go on to be the predecessor to the primer used in today’s modern cartridges.
The next big step in the evolution of guns was the invention of the Colt Single-Action Revolver. Designed by Samuel Colt, the first single action revolver was released in 1835. This pistol was capable of being fired multiple times before needing to be reloaded. This was a game changer. Because Colt used the industrial technologies available at the time, he was able to mass produce the firearm. This also made it the gun more affordable and more accurate. It was a favorite among soldiers and frontiersmen.
Another big step in gun progression was the development of the pin-fire cartridge. This invention took the hassle out of carrying a gun. Before a hunter/soldier/traveler would have to carry primers, powder, and bullets and prepare them in induvial steps to load their rifle or pistol. If you were fortunate enough to be carrying a Colt pistol, you could fire 5-6 shots before needing to reload. A rifleman could only shoot once before reloading.
To reload one of these firearms: You would measure the powder needed for your gun, pour that measured charge into the barrel of your rifle. Pack the charge with a ramrod, then take a small piece of cloth (patch or wad) and your bullet and seat it on the powder charge with the ramrod. Then place a primer on the rifle or on each cylinder of your pistol and you were ready to shoot again. It has been said that a proficient rifleman (in that era) could fire, reload and fire his rifle again in less than a minute.
The cartridge, developed around 1840, shortened the reloading process by packaging the charge, wad, and projectile together.
Around this time, the predecessor the modern shotgun was developed. The fowling piece was developed for the purpose of hunting birds. This was something mainly done by upper-class people as a leisure activity. True shotguns didn’t become commonplace until 1850.
In 1859, the first full rim-fire cartridge is available. What is now commonly used in a .22 long rifle. The cartridge ignited the primer (the ignition source) by striking the rim of the casing, powder (propellant or fuel), and projectile (bullet) were all now housed in a single package.
This development also led to the development of the Spencer repeating carbine in 1860 and the breech load rifle, which was in common use in 1861. The Spencer Carbine was capable of firing 7 shots in 15 seconds. This was actually looked down upon by the army. They feared the soldiers would fire too much and be a burden to keep ammo in supply for. President Lincoln actually test fired this carbine. His approval lead to the purchase of 107,372 repeating rifles in 1963.
The breech load rifle, muzzleloader rifles, and colt pistols were the main guns used during the American Civil War 1861-1865. The Spencer repeating carbine was also used.
In his book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, David Grossman. (This is all roughly paraphrased from memory) Grossman discusses the psychological impact on soldiers. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of soldiers in the Civil War didn’t even fire their weapons. Because most human beings have an innate resistance to killing other people, the recruits in the civil war weren’t bloodthirsty killers. They were mostly farmers and ranchers. When the fire command was given, because of the noise and smoke, a commanding officer would not be able to tell who fired their weapon and who didn’t. Rifles on the battlefields were found with up to 6 shots loaded into a muzzle-loading rifle’s barrel. This was not an uncommon occurrence.
Those who did fire their weapon, usually aimed over the head of their intended target. It’s estimated that only roughly 10% of soldiers firing their weapons were shooting to kill. Because of the accuracy of weapons at the time, most shots rarely landed where intended. More people died from infections from gunshot wounds and poor battlefield surgery sanitation.
More on this phenomenon later.
Back to the guns.
The Gatling Gun, designed by Dr. Jordan Gatling in 1862, is the predecessor to today’s modern machine gun. This hand-crank, 6-10 barreled, rapid-fire gun was capable of shooting up to 200 rounds per minute. This gun was used in the Civil War by Union commanders who purchased the weapons themselves. The US Army didn’t officially accept the gun until 1866.
Read more about the Gatling gun here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gatling_gun
The late 1860’s and early 1870’s led to significant changes in the development of firearms. In 1869 the centerfire cartridge, the most widely used firearm cartridge today, is introduced. Although they used black powder as a propellant, they made the transportation and loading of a firearm much easier.
1871 brought the world’s first cartridge revolver. While the pistol was still only a single action. The hammer must be cocked manually each time the trigger is pulled. The reload time for the pistol was decreased significantly. Faster reloading leads to more shots in less time.
The introduction of the Winchester rifle in 1873 changed the game once again. Winchester rifles were so affordable and readily available they became the generic rifle. This lever action rifle fired centerfire cartridges housed in a tube magazine running underneath the barrel of the rifle. Depending on the caliber, a rifle could hold anywhere from 5 to 13 rounds. Another great thing about the Winchester is they also fired pistol caliber rounds.
Why? What’s so great about that? Say you’re about to travel west for a new start. You stop in the local store before you hit the trail for supplies. You know you’re going to need a gun, not only for protection but to also be able to hunt for food. With the Winchester’s capability to fire pistol cartridges, you could carry a rifle and a pistol that used the exact same ammunition. This eliminated the need for carrying two different types of cartridge.
Winchester became known as “the gun that won the west.” They are still one of the most popular firearm manufacturers today.
The first effective double action revolver was available in 1877. Double action, means you can pull the trigger to continuously fire the pistol. Single action pistols, as mentioned previously, had to have the hammer cocked back manually before the pistol would fire. Pulling the trigger on a double action would cock and release the hammer with one pull. Once again, fewer steps to fire, more shots on target. Along with the double action firing system, the cylinder on these pistols swung open, this allowed the user to dump the empty cartridges simultaneously. Single action pistols had to be loaded and unloaded one round at a time. This improvement cut reloading times dramatically.
John Lee patented the box magazine in 1879. Lee and his brother James perfected the rifle with a box magazine, that would later become the Lee-Enfield rifle. The bolt-action rifle, in the hands of a well-trained gunman, could fire 15-30 rounds a minute. The first detachable magazine allowed a rifleman to carry multiple loaded magazines. When one was empty, simply replace it with a loaded one. This invention paved the way for all of modern firearms. The detachable magazine led to the invention of the autoloading pistol.
The first automatic pistol was created by Joseph Laumann in 1892. In this case, automatic does not mean rapid fire – like a machine gun – it means the action of the pistol reloads a cartridge into the chamber of the gun on its own. Although his pistol didn’t have a detachable magazine, the world would see it a year later on the Borchardt pistol in 1893. The detachable magazine remains to be the defining feature of an autoloading pistol to this day.
Did someone say machine gun? The world’s first fully automatic rifle was the Italian Cei-Rigotti. Developed in 1900 This weapon attracted a lot of attention, but in the end, it had manly failings and was considered too unreliable for military use.
Enter the M1911. In my opinion, one of the most iconic pistols ever produced. Created by John Browning in 1911, this single action, autoloading magazine fed pistol used the .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) round and was manufactured by Colt. This pistol is basically what every modern autoloading handgun is based on. The 1911 entered into military service in 1911 and continues to be used to this day.
You remember that John Browning fellow? He is also responsible for designing the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) in 1917. This gas operated, the fully automatic rifle was designed to be a walking machine gun. Designed to fire the .30-06 Springfield cartridge, it held a 20-round detachable magazine, which actually became an issue when being fired fully automatic. You ran out of ammo very quickly. The significance of the BAR in firearm history, it is one of the first gas operated rifles.
Gas-operation is a system of operation used to provide energy to operate autoloading firearms. In gas operation, a portion of high-pressure gas from the cartridge being fired is used to power a mechanism to extract the spent case and insert a new cartridge into the chamber. Energy from the gas is harnessed through either a port in the barrel or a trap at the muzzle. This high-pressure gas impinges on a surface such as a piston head to provide motion for unlocking of the action, extraction of the spent case, ejection, cocking of the hammer or striker, chambering of a fresh cartridge, and locking of the action.
This is significant because it paves the way for future service rifles like the M1 Garand, M14, M16, and later the M4 (AR-15).
The submachine gun. The initial design for the Thompson submachine gun (Tommy Gun) was completed around 1918. Invented by John T. Thompson, the fully automatic submachine gun fires a .45 ACP cartridge and operates with a recoil blowback system. Basically, the energy created from the cartridge being fired is used to operate the loading system.
The Thompson was initially marketed as the “Annihilator,” a one-man hand-held machine gun used to clear trenches during battle. It is highly accurate and has massive stopping power at close range. In 1921 the Thompson came to market for the low price of $200 ($2700 in today’s equivalent). Although it was expensive, it became a favorite to soldiers and outlaws alike.
With the exception of design changes, different production methods, materials, etc. The basic workings of a firearm haven’t changed in nearly 100 years. We use plastic and polymer to build stocks instead of wood. The availability of accessories to guns has evolved with technological advances, scopes and sights are continuously being updated and improved.
Ammunition has also changed over the years. Powders and projectiles are more efficient than their predecessors. Different calibers have been developed to meet different needs. For example, the M1903 Enfield used a .30-06 Springfield round. The .30-06 can kill (and has killed) just about any game animal in North America. The army used it because of its massive stopping power. However, all that stopping power comes at a cost to the person carrying the weapon. The .30-06 cartridge is large and heavy. Weighing down soldiers on the battlefield. This round was continued to be used in the M1 Garand during WWII and the Korean War.
The .308 was developed for use in the M14, the new cartridge was smaller and lighter, allowing soldiers to carry more ammo. This cartridge still has a lot of knock down power. It is one of the most popular cartridge rounds in production today for hunting and target rifles. I personally use the .308 for hunting and target shooting. There was another issue with this round. A well-placed shot with the .308 is going to kill its intended target. When an enemy soldier was hit, they were done.
Enter the M16 and .223 (5.56 NATO). Contrary to today’s popular belief, the now M4 (AR-15), descendant of the M16 which fires the same .223 cartridge, was developed to allow soldiers to carry more ammunition with less weight. The other reason this round was developed was to not kill enemy soldiers. Yeah, you read that correctly. The .223 is a significantly smaller round than the .30-06 or .308. roughly 2/3 bullet diameter and about 1/3 the weight. This round was developed to wound enemies. Why you ask? Because when a soldier dies on the battlefield, the guys fighting beside him keep moving forward. When he is wounded, however, he will scream and cry out for help. A few of his fellow soldiers may even stay and tend to his wound.
So, the military decided, why kill a man and take 1 person out of the fight when you can wound a man and take 2 or 3.
These developments in firearms have made them lighter, and more efficient. Capable of carrying more ammunition and more accurate than previous models. What hasn’t changed is the gun itself.
The way a firearm functions hasn’t significantly changed in nearly 100 years. The same principle that makes the M1 Garand or BAR operate is the same as the AR-15. Bolt action rifles, auto-loading pistols, and shotguns are in the same boat. A gun is a tool. No different than a shovel, ax, or knife.
Guns are only as good or evil as the person carrying it. They do not have free will, they don’t have an agenda. Of the several guns I own, not one has ever tried to kill me or commit a crime. They don’t whisper psychotic notions into my ear at night while I’m sleeping or protest a lack of attention when not in use.
Take a trip back to 1990 with me.
I’ve been handling and shooting firearms responsibly since I was 4 years old. Properly supervised and instructed. Don’t go getting worked up or think about calling child services. In Oklahoma, this is a way of life.
The first time I shot a rifle I was 4. I carried a single-shot bolt action .22LR with my dad to a field behind my grandparent’s home. The gun was not loaded, it was pointed in a safe direction, my finger was not on the trigger. These rules were made clear to me before I was ever able to handle the gun. “You never ever point this at a person. And always treat it as if it’s loaded” I can still hear my dad’s instructions to this day and they continue to stay with me.
The first target I ever shot was a 1-gallon water bottle, full of water. We set up the target and walked about 5 yards away from it. I was then given the opportunity to load my rifle, take aim and fire. I hit it. As I unloaded the empty cartridge, we walked up to the bottle. The front side had a small hole where the bullet entered. The backside was a completely different story. Upon exiting the bullet had blown a hole about the size of my first (at the time) out of the back of the jug. My dad went on to explain to me, “This is what will happen to a person if you ever shoot them. So, don’t ever point this at anyone.”
My first experience with a firearm taught me it wasn’t a toy. It is a tool that can do damage to anything, living or inanimate.
Over the years I have become quite proficient with all types of firearms. I’ve harvested 100’s of animals and hit 1000’s of targets. I realize not everyone has the same upbringing, I have friends who have never shot a gun. There’s nothing wrong with that. Of those friends, none have ever told me I need less guns or shouldn’t own them. Different people have different ways of thinking. That’s part of what makes this country great. I can do what I like, and you can do what you like, as long as you're not bothering me or anyone else; more power to you.
Not to go political, but in light of recent events, we are being faced with issues that don’t have simple solutions. One side says we need to take the guns away. The other side says we need more. I don’t believe either is the solution. Going back to my previous statement, a gun is a tool. It will only do what the person holding it makes it do.
Going back to the book, On Killing. Grossman uses a vast psychological study on soldiers to prove a point. Generally speaking, normal people have an innate aversion to killing another person. I highly recommend the book for anyone interested. It travels to depths I can only skim in this essay. Military training has changed over the years. Instead of round, plain targets. Soldiers practice on human silhouettes and targets with human depictions. He states that repetitive training with these targets decreases the aversion to taking another life.
Basically, desensitizing the act.
Most people don’t get this training. Mass shootings have been occurring since the early 1930’s. Only a small percentage of the shooters had a military background.
What else has changed?
The family home is not the same as it was 30 years ago. Television, movies, video games, and mass media continue to push the envelope on what is safe to broadcast. In one Call of Duty video game, an entire level is dedicated to walking through a crowded airport terminal with a shotgun and body armor, the goal, kill everything that moves.
My Nintendo never had a game like that.
We don’t realize it because it has happened so slowly, but we are becoming more and more desensitized to death. It’s constantly on TV. In the movies. On our video games. I’m not immune to this whatsoever. As a hunter, and a farm kid, I’ve been exposed to the death of animals since a young age. There is something that still happens to me to this day every time I decide to take the life of a living creature. It slightly rattles me. I’m going to eat that animal, but the moment before I squeeze the trigger. I am making a choice. I will end that animal’s life, or I will let it go and it will keep doing its thing. Go on to be a deer another day.
People often see hunters as drunk hillbillies with guns going out to kill anything and everything that walks out in front of them. There are a few of those. But most hunters hold a reverence to the animals they harvest. I am this type of hunter. Not to go too far off topic, but the spirit of the animal I kill will live on through me. It is a part of me and I am a part of it. Nothing about the process is taken lightly.
Death is a natural process. We all die. Some people are more in tune with that fact than others. Most people have a respect for the value of a life. I think it all comes back to education, and mental health.
A sane person doesn’t look to hurt themselves or others. I believe the majority of people are good.
Times like these everyone is looking for something or someone to blame. I don’t believe there is any one thing that can be blamed for these things happening. It’s a multitude of factors that add up to someone making the decision to do something so heinous. Talking about it will bring awareness, but we are all collectively going to have to do our part to prevent things like this from happening.