Assault Weapons Myth

To argue against the use of a thing from the abuse of it, had long since been exploded by all sensible people.

–John Rutledge, Jan. 16, 1788.

[The Debates in the Several State Conventions, (South Carolina), on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution. Elliot’s Debates, Volume 4]

Firearms capable of firing multiple rounds in a very short period of time have been around for centuries. The earliest record of such a firearm being in 1339. So there can be no doubt that the framers of our constitution and Bill of Rights were well aware of the existence of rapid fire firearms. This is readily proven from the following:

The Ribauldequin Organ Gun

“…Organ Guns

 “Organ Guns (or War Carts) were primitive, yet effective, multi-chambered and multi-barreled monstrosities.  As early as 1339, a firearm called the Ribauld, or Ribauldequin, was mentioned as a having several iron tubes that were arranged to fire stone projectiles simultaneously.  This weapon was purportedly used to good advantage by Edward III in one of England’s wars with France by blasting an opening in the unyielding ranks of heavily armored pikemen who were to keep the cavalry from the bowmen.

“These muzzle-loading battery guns had their barrels arranged in a side-by-side arrangement in a massive wooden frame that led to them being called “Organ Guns.”  When the iron ball projectile came into use in 1381 replacing pebbles and stones, many new variations of the Organ Gun were developed, all in an effort to deliver a great quantity of projectiles in a concentrated area all at one time.

“In 1382, the army at Ghent had 200 battery guns.  A design constructed in 1387 had 144 barrels grouped in batteries of twelve allowing twelve salvos of twelve balls each to be fired.  In 1411, the Burgundian army had 2,000 battery guns at their disposal.  Louis XII (1498-1515) is reported to have used a gun having 50 barrels arranged to be fired in a single volley.

“Obviously, these weapons were clumsy and difficult to transport and could be termed only a moderate success.  Though all the barrels could be fired in a single volley or in rapid succession, long periods of inaction due to the manual muzzle reloading of each barrel negated the advantage of momentary volume of fire and were thus employed in an auxiliary or supporting role due to its inability to deliver sustained fire.  Nevertheless, their volume of fire was in great demand and used in many theaters of operation throughout Europe.

Though there were many variations as to arrangements of barrels and mounting, the only improvement on these weapons was the train of ignition from one barrel to another.It was shortened in order so that all the barrels could be fired simultaneously or as nearly as simultaneously as possible.

Puckle’s “Defense” Gun

Further development of rapid-firing weapons stagnated due to a lack of technological advancement, particularly in ignition.  In the beginning, the practical system of ignition was a manually applied slow-match or fuse.  From the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, the slow-match continued to be the primary means of ignition though improvements were made to the application of this method; though fire was still required for ignition.  From the sixteenth century to 1807, an era of mechanical means of producing fire evolved using friction of flint upon steel to produce a spark.  Wheel-lock and flintlock mechanical methods were prevalent at this time but they did not lend themselves to producing any new revolutionary advancement in rapid fire development.  There were many ideas presented by a variety of inventors, and, perhaps a single working model was built, but no guns were ever actually put into production – with one exception.

In 1717

James Puckle demonstrated his gun, called the Defense, to the English Board of Ordnance and a patent, number 418, was granted in London on May 15, 1718, on a single barreled gun with a revolver-like mechanism that allowed a semblance of rapid fire operation.  In a demonstration in 1722, Puckle’s gun fired 63 shots in seven minutes; a truly remarkable performance at this time period.  The English Board of Ordnance remained unimpressed and no further action was taken on their part.  Nevertheless, Puckle’s Defense gun actually went into production, an example is extant, and is historically important for a number of reasons.

The machine gun that we recognize today had to have a genesis in concept.  While Puckle’s gun is nowhere near what we now have today operationally, it did contain certain aspects that are worth noting particularly with its mount.  The gun operated using a flintlock ignition system on top of the cylinder.  A crank arrangement at the rear of the cylinder tightened the cylinder up against the barrel.  When tight, the flintlock was activated, igniting the charge in the chamber and expelling the bullet.  The crank was unscrewed loosening the cylinder, which was turned to present the next chamber to the barrel.  The screw handle was tightened and the gun was ready to fire again.  When all the chambers were empty, totally unscrewing the crank allowed it to be removed, the revolving chambers removed, and a fresh, loaded set replaced.  A particularly odd feature of the Puckle gun is that the inventor provided two sets of chambers for his gun.  One provided for shooting square bullets for use against Turks and the other shot round bullets for use against Christians….

[Rapid Fire Weapons Before Maxim & Browning, Small Arms Defense Journal, August, 16, 2012.]

Here’s one of the first assault weapons introduced to the U.S. Congress in 1777:

The Belton Flintlock was a repeating flintlock design using superposed loads, invented by Philadelphia, Pennsylvania resident Joseph Belton some time prior to 1777. The design was offered by Belton to the newly formed Continental Congress in 1777, and a number of examples were commissioned and tested.

There are no known surviving examples of Belton’s gun; in fact, the only evidence of its existence is the correspondence between Belton and Congress. Belton described the gun as capable of firing up to “sixteen or twenty [balls], in sixteen, ten, or five seconds of time”. It is theorized that it worked in a manner similar to a Roman candle, with a single lock igniting a fused chain of charges stacked in a single barrel, packaged as a single large paper cartridge. Despite commissioning Belton to build or modify 100 muskets for the military on May 3, 1777, the order was dismissed in May 15, 1777, when Congress received Belton’s bid and considered it an “extraordinary allowance”. After the war was over, Belton is reported to have attempted to sell the design to the British Army, also without success. Belton then began making superposed load flintlocks, which used a sliding lock mechanism, with the London gunsmith William Jover, and attempted to sell them to the East India Company. At least two examples survive, of pistols which utilize four touchholes, and these are housed in the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford. The Belton sliding lock design was later improved and used in slightly more successful designs, such as Isaiah Jenning’s repeating flintlock rifle.

And here’s another assault weapon from 1779:

Girandoni System Austrian Repeating Air Rifle, Circa 1795.

   The Girandoni Air Rifle was an airgun designed by inventor Bartholomäus Girandoni circa 1779. It saw service with the Austrian army from 1780 to around 1815. It is reported to have been used on the Lewis and Clark Expedition of North America in the early 1800s. Lewis and Clark demonstrated the rifle to nearly every Native American tribe they encountered on the expedition.

   The advantages of the rifle were a high rate of fire, no smoke from propellants, and low muzzle report. In addition to having a 19, (plus one in the chamber), round capacity of .46 caliber balls in an internal tubular gravity-fed magazine. The velocity was equivalent to that of the .45 ACP cartridge. It was fired by utilizing a detachable air reservoir, which was capable of around 30 shots. It took nearly 1500 strokes of a hand pump to fill the reservoirs. which of course helped lead to its demise. Even though a wagon-mounted pump had been made available later.

Recreation of an Austrian Girandoni system Accoutrements Bag, including spare air flasks, air pump, wrenches, bullet mold and ladle.

   Well now, the above historical facts certainly obliterate the errant claim that the founders ‘never could have foreseen the weapons of today‘ theory, doesn’t it? Next time an anti-rights person declares that the founders had no idea of the kind of arms that we would have today. Let them know with confidence that they [once again] have no idea of what they are talking about.

The above definitely throws some additional light on the subject of just what was actually intended by:

“The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms shall NOT be infringed.”

   It is interesting to note that the framers used the broad term of “arms” in the amendment. Which leaves wide open the various types of weapons that were intended to be secured in the hands of We The People. If they had meant pistols, muskets, rifles, or shotguns. Then those are the arms that they would have specified. But they were obviously aware of the advances in modern weaponry. And, employed a term that could not be twisted by a tyrannical government. In order to diminish the types of arms available in the hands of the people. We were intended to be armed as our military was armed. To Wit:

. . . Little more can reasonably be aimed at, with respect to the people at large, than to have them properly armed and equipped …. but if circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people, while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights, and those of their fellow citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army; and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.

Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist No. 29, Independent Journal, Wednesday, January 9, 1788.

Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes . . . . Let us not insult the free and gallant citizens of America with the suspicion, that they would be less able to defend the rights of which they would be in actual possession, than the debased subjects of arbitrary power would be to rescue theirs from the hands of their oppressors. Let us rather no longer insult them with the supposition that they can ever reduce themselves to the necessity of making the experiment, by a blind and tame submission to the long train of insidious measures which must precede and produce it.

James Madison, The Federalist Papers No. 46, Tuesday, January 29, 1788.

Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American … the unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.

[The Pennsylvania Gazette, on Feb. 20, 1788.]

–Tenche Coxe, In 1786 he was sent by Pennsylvania to the Annapolis Convention, and in 1788 to the Continental Congress. A proponent of industrialization during the early years of the United States, Coxe co-authored the famous Report on Manufactures (1791) with Alexander Hamilton, providing much of the statistical data. He had been appointed Assistant Secretary of the Treasury on September 11, 1789 under Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Coxe also headed a group called the Manufacturing Society of Philadelphia. He was appointed revenue commissioner by President George Washington on June 30, 1792. Then President Thomas Jefferson appointed him as purveyor of public supplies; serving from 1803 to 1812.

I will attempt to illustrate this, by putting one or two cases.–Every man has a right to possess military arms, of every sort and kind, and to furnish his rooms with them.

—Mr. Christopher Gore, Attorney for the Defense, TRIAL OF T.O. SELFRIDGE, ESQ. Aug., 1806.

[Trial Of Thomas O. Selfridge, Counsellor At Law, Before The Hon. Isaac Parker, Esquire. For Killing Charles Austin, On The Public Exchange, In Boston, August 4th, 1806. Taken In Short Hand By T. Lloyd, Esq. Reporter Of The Debates Of Congress, And Geo. Caines, Esq. Late Reporter To The State Of New-York. And Sanctioned By The Court, And Reporter To The State. Second Edition. Published By Russell And Cutler, Belcher And Armstrong, And Oliver And Munroe. Sold By Them, By W.M. Blagrove, No. 5, School-Street, And By The Principal Booksellers Throughout The Union. Pgs. 41-42]

(Christopher Gore, (September 21, 1758 – March 1, 1827), was a prominent Massachusetts lawyer, Federalist, and U.S. diplomat. He had a successful law practice in Boston, and entered politics in 1788. Serving briefly in the Massachusetts legislature before being appointed U.S. District Attorney for Massachusetts. He was then appointed by President George Washington to a diplomatic commission dealing with maritime claims in Great Britain. He returned to Massachusetts in 1804, and reentered state politics becoming Massachusetts Governor in 1809. He was then appointed to the U.S. Senate by Governor Caleb Strong in 1813.

Nor is the right involved in this discussion less comprehensive or valuable: “The right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed;” The right of the whole people, old and young, men, women and boys, and not militia only, to keep and hear arms of every description, not merely as are used by the militia, shall not be infringed, curtailed, or broken in upon, in the smallest degree; and all this for the important end to be attained: the rearing up and qualifying a well-regulated militia, so vitally necessary to the security of a free State. Our opinion is, that any law, State or Federal, is repugnant to the Constitution, and void, which contravenes this right, originally belonging to our forefathers, trampled under foot by Charles I. and his two wicked sons and successors, reestablished by the revolution of 1688, conveyed to this land of liberty by the colonists, and finally incorporated conspicuously in our own Magna Charta! And Lexington, Concord, Camden, River Raisin, Sandusky, and the laurel-crowned field of New Orleans, plead eloquently for this interpretation!

–Chief Justice Joseph Henry Lumpkin, Supreme Court of Georgia,

[AMERICUS, JULY TERM, 1846 243, Nunn v. The State of Georgia, No. 36.-Hawkins H. Nunn vs. The State of Georgia.]

And here we have a more recent view from our hired servants in the U.S. Congress:

Cheap Guns for the People.

   The army appropriation bill was being considered. The clerk of the House of Representatives read in his silver drone; “Sales of ordnance store are authorized to civilian employees under such regulations,” &c.

   What kind of stores asked Mr. DRIBCOLL of New York. Mr HULL, the Iowa martialist, explained that revolvers, rifles, any ordnance stores could be sold to “teamsters and to those who may have to defend themselves.” Civilians all to whom the Government doesn’t issue arms. Originally, Mr. HULL said, the provision included members of Congress but it was decided that they “had better buy from private individuals than the Government.” [Laughter] Doubtless there was much to laugh at, though the reader’s risibles be unwrung.

   Now our soon to be parted with friend Dr. JOHN WESLEY GAINES came forward as usual. He wanted to amend so that the Secretary of War shall furnish members of Congress thirty days before the sale with a list of the stuff to be sold. This so-called “junk,” he was informed, was often valuable for private use and ornament. He wanted to give the people a chance to buy guns pistols and so on. JOHN WESLEYS people are either very warlike or very fond of adornment or both:

   “I want a list of things to be sold sent to members, delegates and Senators so that they can give the list to the newspapers in their neighborhood. They will publish it, and the people in every part of the United States, in every district, can send and buy cannon or guns or pistols or the things to be soldand the gentleman knows that all of these implements of war are very much sought after, both for the use of private and for ornamenting the corners of our streets and as relics.

   “Mr. DRISCOLL–They get the cannon for nothing now, for ornamental purposes.

   “Mr. GAINES of Tennessee–I had a great deal of trouble in getting two, and the gentleman helped me to get both of them, but the law has been recently changed, and it is easier to get them now.”

   We trust Dr. GAINES implicitly. May he have as many cannon in front of his house, as many condemned horses in his stables and as many guns and pistols on his walls or his person as they can carry. But aren’t the people tolerably stocked with firearms at present? Isn’t the crop of winter killings ample enough? “Does the gentleman,” asked Mr. MANN of Illinois, “think it more important to make it easy for the people to buy firearms than it is to buy blankets, boots and shoes?” Of course not. Mr. MANN wasn’t going to give people a chance to buy condemned guns or anything of that kind to carry around for the purpose of raising Cain.”

   Dr. GAINES subsided But why does he want guns and pistols? Can they add anything to his noises? And why do his people want them? Is he not a ample blockhouse, palisade and set of patereros?

[The Sun, New York, Friday, February 5, 1909. Vol. LXXVI.–No. 158. Pg. 6]