The gun as we know it today is a projectile based weapon, capable of sending a missile or bullet anywhere between 1800 meters to 3400 meters for traditional firearms, travelling at speed between 1100 feet per second and 4500 feet per second. More futuristic railguns, powered by magnetic propulsion, can travel for a hundred miles at around 2.4 km/s.
The gun replaced the longbow as the deadliest weapon in the world, and has been a staple of armies and law enforcement organisations for hundreds of years. However, the weapon took a long time to perfect, and went through many different iterations and designs.
The first weapon that could reasonably be identified as a gun appeared in China in the 13th century. Using gunpowder to propel projectiles, these hand cannons required one person to hold and aim it, and another to light it.
The cannon found its way to Europe in the 1300s, but the first true personal firearm as we would recognise it was the flintlock pistol, believed to be invented in France in the 17th Century.
The first machine gun was invented by Dr Richard Gatling in 1862. Capable of firing over 700 rounds per minute, it was operated by a hand crank that allowed for the rotation of its six barrels.
Samuel Colt not only invented the revolver, he also managed to create the first assembly-line system to produce them. Colt’s company was the first to mass produce revolvers designed for the US Cavalry. This shift from gunsmiths creating each gun by hand to a faster mode of production allowing for hundreds more to be made in the same space of time was directly responsible for the proliferation of guns through the country over the next few decades.
Until the 1930s, most rifles still worked through a bolt or level action mechanism. John Garand invented a new type of semi-automatic rifle which utilised the energy generated during firing to eject the spent cartridge and chamber a new round. This massively increased the rate of fire that infantry was capable of, and roughly four million of these rifles were produced in WWII.
In the 1940s the Red Army needed a new design of automatic rifle that was reliable and cheap. Mikhail Kalashnikov focused on firepower, and designed the now infamous AK-47. It has since gone on to be used by virtually every terrorist and guerrilla group in the world. There are believed to be over 100 million in the world, and an estimated quarter of a million people are shot by Kalashnikovs every year.
With the advent of 3D printing becoming a reality, it was inevitable the technology would be used to create weapons of some kind. However now there are fully and untraceable working guns being produced in homes using blueprints found online. This is dangerous as the people creating these guns wouldn’t need a license, and the gun wouldn’t have a serial number if it were ever used in a crime.
The history of guns is inexorably linked to the history of violence, giving people and governments ever more power and efficiency in killing.
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