by Jason J. Brown
Thursday, October 13, 2016
In the continued war on American gun rights by political opponents and anti-gun zealots, the rhetoric has taken on a faux-academic approach, as some politicians and pundits have fashioned themselves as Constitutional scholars. These self-made history experts claim to know precisely the intent of the founding fathers when drafting the document, particularly its embattled Second Amendment.
The central argument laid out by anti-gunners calls into question the intentions of America’s revered founding fathers, whose gallantry, vision and wisdom produced the inalienable law of our land. The language of the Second Amendment reads:
“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.”
Critics of the Second Amendment and revisionist historians claim James Madison and his contemporaries used the term “arms” in reference – solely – to muskets, the long muzzleloaders that conjure nostalgia of Minutemen in ranks, tediously loading and offering single-shot volleys in concert. While the majority of firearms used by soldiers and citizens alike were ripe with said muskets, they hardly represented the monopoly on guns in America – and our forefathers knew it.
Historical evidence suggests that “assault weapons” – firearms that can hold larger capacities of ammunition and operate at faster rates of fire (at least that’s one of the myriad definitions as to what constitutes an assault weapon, in and of itself a term purely of arbitrary political manufacture) – have existed in the United States and its preceding colonies well before the drafters of the Constitution even bore the thought to bring quill to parchment.
Moreso, even as some firearm designs were developed with a military purpose in mind, the gunsmiths and inventors created these innovative arms for the private citizen, improving on existing concepts to help owners shoot more easily.
Some early firearms boasted mechanics designed to provide multiple shots without reloading, primarily through the addition of multiple barrels or locks, according to Jim Supica, Director of NRA Museums. While primitive, the first of these repeating arms were seen in development as early as the 14th century, some 400 years before the creation of the Bill of Rights.
“In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, double-barreled, muzzle-loading firearms provided a second shot available before reloading,” Supica explained. This feature was prominent in shotguns and pistols, only less so in rifles due to the “cumbersome” extra weight it added to the firearm.
However, Supica explained that while most rifle barrels were usually fixed, some swivel barrels allowed multiple barrels to be sequentially fired with a single lock mechanism, a massive developmental and mechanical improvement over the simple muskets that armed Revolutionary War militiamen.
Supica points to a variety of examples of firearms that predate 1791’s Second Amendment as evidence to counter claims that our founding fathers immortalized our right to keep and bear arms mutually exclusive to muskets: