A popular gun control mantra is that the founding fathers could not have envisioned semiautomatic rifles when they wrote the Second Amendment. It turns out that idea is bunk.
Research carried out by The Daily Caller News Foundation reveals that “repeater” multi-shot rifles were available even before the Revolutionary period. Furthermore, the founders and leaders from that time period were starkly aware of innovations in small arms manufacturing and technology.
Shortly after the Orlando terrorist attack, the Washington Post sounded a familiar clarion call: Founders meant muskets, not semiautomatic rifles:
Of course, semiautomatic firearms technology didn’t exist in any meaningful sense in the era of the founding fathers. They had something much different in mind when they drafted the Second Amendment. The typical firearms of the day were muskets and flintlock pistols. They could hold a single round at a time, and a skilled shooter could hope to get off three or possibly four rounds in a minute of firing.
An expert in the evolution of small arms flatly disagrees with this blanket statement. William Atwater, curator of the United States Army Ordnance Museum in Aberdeen, Md., told TheDCNF:
[The Founders] lived during the Age of Reason. They celebrated the achievements of the human mind. They had witnessed huge advances in firearms technology — i.e. matchlock giving way to the wheel lock, which, in turn gave way to the flint lock. Each and every one of these developments were [sic] huge in their day. They would have expected small arms to continue to develop.
The idea that firearms technology was static during the 18th/19th Century is bunk. Everyone that used firearms was on the lookout for the next best thing….
One example of the type of weapon the WaPo claims never existed was the Girandoni air rifle used by Lewis and Clark on their westward explorations. No less a forward thinker and innovator than Thomas Jefferson presented the explorers with a Girandoni, which is a repeating rifle capable of firing 22 shots in under a minute without a reload.
Another innovative and powerful gun from centuries ago is the Kalthoff repeater. Originally made by an unknown inventor in the 17th century, the gun took its name from the family who later produced it, the Kalthoffs. The Kalthoff repeater is a musket with two magazines: one that holds the bullet balls, the other holds gunpowder. The user pulls on the trigger guard, which puts a charge of powder and a bullet ball into the breech of the gun as well as cock it. To fire the next shot, simply pull the lever guard and let the gun do the rest.
The early version of the gun could hold seven bullet balls, while later models could hold 12, according to an article at the blog Firearms History, Technology & Development. There was even a claim that one Kalthoff could hold 30 bullet balls. Whatever the capacity, it was certainly capable of firing more than “three or possibly four rounds in a minute” as the Washington Post article states.
Then there is the Belton flintlock, which works in a manner similar to a Roman candle. Once the fuse is lit, the gun can fire multiple shots in quick succession without need for reload. In a letter to the Continental Congress in April 1777, inventor Joseph Belton describes the gun:
May it Please your Honours, I would just informe this Honourable Assembly, that I have discover’d an improvement, in the use of Small Armes, wherein a common small arm, may be maid to discharge eight balls one after another, in eight, five or three seconds of time.
Belton tried to sell his gun to Congress but was ultimately turned down for what Congress viewed as “excessive fees.”
This report, by Craig Boudreau, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.