Walter Williams’ statement in his June 8 column that “guns haven’t changed” is demonstrably false, given the development of small arms technology that has been part of the ongoing Industrial Revolution.
When the Second Amendment was adopted in 1791, most guns allowed the user to fire only a single shot before reloading.
Things sped up with the invention of the Colt revolver in 1835, whose rotating barrel allowed for five shots in quick succession. The Spencer repeating rifle, which appeared on the eve of the Civil War, enabled its user to fire over 20 rounds a minute, compared to two to three rounds of previous muzzle loaders.
The first truly automatic weapon was the Maxim machine gun of 1884, which had a capacity of 600 rounds per minute. The British used it to inflict huge casualties in their colonial wars, such as the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 in the Sudan, where they killed 12,000 Muslim fighters and wounded 13,000 more, while only sustaining 47 deaths and 382 wounded. The 1890s also saw the development of several semi-automatic handguns with magazines storing 10-20 rounds of ammunition.
The submachine gun, wielded by a single individual, was at first known as the “gangster gun” in the 1920s, and came into widespread use in World War II. According to Major F.W.A. Hobart’s history of this type, “a soldier armed with this weapon, and four loaded magazines, can fire as many shots in a minute as an infantry section of eight riflemen could produce in that time in World War II.” That war also gave us the assault weapon, which combined accuracy at a distance with concentrated firepower up close, capable of storing 30-50 rounds of ammunition.
The analogy often made between guns and automobiles is apt, insofar as automobile technology has changed too, but in the direction of making cars safer. Could not the same principle be applied to guns? Perhaps a way of detoxifying the present poisonous debate over guns is to shift the emphasis from gun control to gun design.
retired history professor