David Kopel demonstrated on April 3 that arguments claiming the Second Amendment only protects muskets are based on historical “ignorance.”
Kopel is confronting those who suggest muskets were the only guns in circulation when the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791. And he wins the day by showing that repeating firearms–guns that held more than one round in a cylinder or magazine–were literally invented, and in some cases manufactured–centuries prior to the Second Amendment.
He points to M.L. Brown’s Firearms in Colonial America: The Impact on History and Technology, 1492-1792, 50 (1980), writing, “The earliest-known [repeating firearm] is a German breech-loading matchlock arquebus from around 1490-1530 with a 10-shot revolving cylinder.”
Writing in The Washington Post, Kopel launches his onslaught of facts:
Gun-control advocates often argue that gun-control laws must be more restrictive than the original meaning of the Second Amendment would allow, because modern firearms are so different from the firearms of the late 18th century. This argument is based on ignorance of the history of firearms. It is true that in 1791 the most common firearms were handguns or long guns that had to be reloaded after every shot. But it is not true that repeating arms, which can fire multiple times without reloading, were unimagined in 1791. To the contrary, repeating arms long predate the 1606 founding of the first English colony in America. As of 1791, repeating arms were available but expensive.
He then follows the development of repeating arms and James Madison’s push for broadened production of firearms “with interchangeable parts.” Taken together, the existence of repeating arms and the development and evolution of firearms “with interchangeable parts” portended the firearms of the 20th and 21st centuries.
He even shows that one of the guns on the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition was a the Girandoni air rifle, a repeating arm.
Kopel wrote: “The Girandoni could shoot 21 or 22 bullets in .46 or .49 caliber without reloading. Ballistically equal to a firearm, a single shot from the Girandoni could penetrate a one-inch wood plank, or take an elk.” He also points to Danish flintlock repeaters being manufactured in 1646. The guns held their rounds in “a pair of tubular magazines, and could fire 30 shots without reloading.”
He also points to a repeating handgun created in the 1600s. He described the handgun as “four-barreled wheel-lock pistol [that] could fire 15 shots in a few seconds.”
The bottom line–muskets existed when the Second Amendment was ratified, but so did repeating rifles and handguns. Moreover, James Madison pushed for a focus on firearms with “interchangeable parts,” and that move was foundational to the development of popular firearms like 20th and 21st century semi-automatic handguns and rifles, including the AR-15.
AWR Hawkins is the Second Amendment columnist for Breitbart News and host of Bullets with AWR Hawkins, a Breitbart News podcast. He is also the political analyst for Armed American Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @AWRHawkins. Reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.