18th and 19th Century Firearms Technology and the Second Amendment

Dave Kopel has an excellent article over at the WaPo detailing the fact that the Founding Fathers could have indeed envisioned repeating firearms, because there were several examples of them that were contemporaneous with the founding, or predated it. Even Henry VIII had a long gun that used a revolving cylinder to fire multiple shots without reloading. The issue was not that repeating firearms were unknown, it’s that they had to be hand made and were therefore the province of the very wealthy.

I’ve never believed that any of the founders would be supporters of modern gun control, mostly because they were gun enthusiasts themselves. There’s always the temptation on the other side to try to channel the founding to their own ends, but the fact is at the time, civilian ownership of firearms was wholly uncontroversial.

6 thoughts on “18th and 19th Century Firearms Technology and the Second Amendment”

  1. Even more to the point (IMO) the Founders did or said nothing that would restrict what might be called “destructive weapons,” these days. At a time when militias needed to be no more official than “Hey guys, let’s form a militia!” very affluent militias did have light artillery.

    It also may be considered that people could and did outfit private warships that were almost equivalent to anything the Navy had. An interesting (to me) historical tidbit is that Admiral William Brown, an Irish-born American, founded the Argentine Navy by buying four whaling ships and outfitting them as warships.

    When you consider that it was still possible for piracy to be a viable venture at the time (think of the Barbary Pirates) it would seem the lack of any attempt to outlaw the outfitting of private ships with “offensive weapons” speaks volumes about the attitudes of the times.

  2. I do find if funny the constantly try to say the Founders never would have understood our modern gun technology, when they could have easily seen the development of firearms from where they came to where they would go. And note they didn’t even restrict “arms” to just personal arms.

  3. Letters of marquee? AKA Have ship with guns, need letter. Since outlawed I do believe.

    1. A letter of marquee isn’t so much a letter giving permission to have guns, so much as it’s a letter giving official sanction to attack and capture ships that the government considered enemies.

      You can arm your ship as much as you want, but it’s frowned upon as “piracy” if you then use those arms to attack other ships unprovoked.

      If you were to attack a ship that attacked you, particularly if the vessel attacking you is clearly non-governmental, the only people I can imagine complaining are the diplomats at the UN, and only because the UN is filled with ninnies who don’t recognize the right to self defense.

  4. Our modern guns really aren’t much different. They have a barrel, sights, a trigger… when you pull that trigger it goes “bang” and if you shoot a person, they might very well die (even more likely for the founders, because a bullet wound was a death sentence without modern medicine).

    It’s the internet, that they wouldn’t be able to phathom.

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