Through the 19th century, firearms enhanced far more than in any other century. As of 1800, most firearms had been single-shot muzzleloading blackpowder flintlocks. By finish of the century, semiautomatic pistols working with detachable magazines with modern day gunpowder and metallic cartridges had been out there. Would the Founders be shocked by the improvements in capability to exercising Second Amendment rights? Probably not, provided the tremendous advances in firearms that had taken spot ahead of 1791. And definitely not, provided that James Madison, author of the Second Amendment, initiated a federal government industrial with the certain aim of vastly enhancing the high quality and quantity of firearms manufacture.
Component I of this post briefly describes Some of the firearms advances ahead of 1791. Component II describes the federal industrial policy for advancing firearms technologies.
This post is primarily based on my write-up The History of Bans on Sorts of Arms Just before 1900. It is forthcoming in Notre Dame’s Journal of Legislation, vol. 50, no. two, in 2024. The Post also draws on chapter 23 of my coauthored textbook Firearms Law and the Second Amendment: Regulations, Rights, and Policy (Aspen Pub., 3d ed. 2022).
I. Firearms improvements ahead of 1791
Whilst the Founders could not foresee all the certain advances that would take spot in the nineteenth century, the Founders had been properly conscious that firearms had been acquiring improved and improved.
Tremendous improvements in firearms had often been portion of the American knowledge. The initially European settlers in America had mostly owned matchlocks. When the trigger is pressed, a smoldering hemp cord is lowered to the firing pan the powder in the pan then ignites the most important gunpowder charge in the barrel.
The initially firearm far more dependable than the matchlock was the wheel lock, invented by Leonardo da Vinci. In a wheel lock, the powder in the firing pan is ignited when a serrated wheel strikes a piece of iron pyrite. The wheel lock was the initially firearm that could be kept loaded and prepared for use in a sudden emergency. Even though matchlock pistols had existed, the wheel lock produced pistols far far more sensible and prevalent. Paul Lockhart, Firepower: How Weapons Shaped Warfare 80 (2021).
The wheel lock was the “preferred firearm for cavalry” in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Id. The proliferation of wheel locks in Europe in the sixteenth century coincided with the homicide price falling by half. See Carlisle E. Moody, Firearms and the Decline of Violence in Europe: 1200-2010, 9 Rev. Eur. Stud. 53 (2017)
Even so, wheel locks expense about 4 instances as significantly as matchlock. Additionally, their moving components had been far far more complex than the matchlocks’. Beneath situations of really hard use in North America, wheel locks had been also delicate and also challenging to repair. The path of technological advancement generally requires costly inventions at some point top to goods that are cost-effective to typical buyers and are even improved than the original invention. That has been the story of firearms in America.
Flintlocks quintuple the price of fire
The gun that was even improved than the wheel lock, but easier and much less costly, was the flintlock. The earliest versions of flintlocks had appeared in the mid-sixteenth century. But not till the finish of the seventeenth century did most European armies replace their matchlocks with flintlocks. Americans, individually, produced the transition significantly sooner. Lockhart at 106.
Indian warfare in the thick woods of the Atlantic seaboard was primarily based on ambush, swift raids, and quickly person choice-producing in combat—the opposite of the far more orderly battles and sieges of European warfare. In America, the flintlock became a necessity.
In contrast to matchlocks, flintlocks can be kept often prepared. For the reason that blackpowder is hygroscopic, and could be ruined by significantly water, it was prevalent to shop a firearm on the mantel above the fireplace. One more benefit, which mattered drastically in America but was mainly irrelevant for European warfare, is that a flintlock, as opposed to a matchlock, has s no smoldering hemp cord to give away the place of the user. Flintlocks are far more dependable than matchlocks—all the far more so in adverse climate, even though nevertheless far from impervious to rain and moisture. Drastically, Flintlocks are significantly easier and more quickly to reload than matchlocks. See, e.g., W.W. Greener, The Gun and Its Improvement 66-67 (9th ed. 1910) Charles C. Carlton, This Seat of Mars: War and the British Isles 1585-1746, at 171-73 (2011).
Initially, the flintlock could not shoot additional or far more accurately than a matchlock. Lockhart at 105. But it could shoot significantly far more quickly. A matchlock requires far more than a minute to reload when. Id. at 107. In knowledgeable hands, a flintlock could be fired and reloaded 5 instances in a minute, even though below the strain of combat, 3 instances a minute was a far more common price. Id. at 107-08. Compared to a matchlock, a flintlock was far more most likely to ignite the gunpowder charge instantaneously, rather than with a delay of some seconds. Id. at 104. “The flintlock gave infantry the capability to create an overwhelmingly larger level of firepower.” Id. at 107.
The Theoretical Lethality Index (TLI) is a measure of a weapon’s effectiveness in military combat. The TLI of a seventeenth century musket is 19 and the TLI of an eighteenth century flintlock is 43. Trevor Dupuy, The Evolution of Weapons and Warfare 92 (1984). So the transition of firearm form in the American colonies far more than doubled the TLI. There is no explanation to think that the American Founders had been ignorant of how significantly improved their personal firearms had been compared to these of the early colonists.
Joseph Belton’s 16-shot model
In 1777 in Philadelphia, inventor Joseph Belton demonstrated a firearm that could fire 16 shots all at when. The committee watching the demonstration integrated Basic Horatio Gates, Basic Benedict Arnold, and scientist David Rittenhouse. They wrote to the Continental Congress and urged the adoption of Belton guns for the Continental Army. Congress voted to order a hundred–while requesting that they be created as eight-shot models, due to the fact gunpowder was scarce. Even so, the deal fell by way of simply because Congress could not afford the higher value that Belton demanded. Repeating arms had been costly, simply because their compact internal elements need specially complicated and precise fitting.
Therefore, the Founders who served in the Second Continental Congress had been properly conscious that a 16-shot gun had been created, and was feasible to generate in quantity, for a higher value. Delegates to the 1777 Continental Congress included future Supreme Court Chief Justice Samuel Chase, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Francis Dana, Elbridge Gerry, John Hancock, the two Charles Carrolls from Maryland, John Witherspoon (President of Princeton, the good American college for totally free believed), Benjamin Harrison (father and grandfather of two Presidents), Francis Lightfoot Lee, and Richard Henry Lee .
The Girardoni rifle
Likewise, the 22-shot Girardoni rifle famously carried by the Lewis & Clark expedition beginning in 1803 was no secret, as it had been invented in 1779. It was utilized by the Austrian army as a sniper rifle. Powered by compressed air, its bullet his as really hard as the modern day Colt .45ACP cartridge. John Paul Jarvis, The Girandoni Air Rifle: Deadly Beneath Stress, Guns.com, Mar. 15, 2011.
The Girardoni had a 21 or 22 round caliber tubular magazine, and could be swiftly reloaded with 20 far more rounds, working with speedloading tubes that came with the gun. Right after about 40 shots, the air reservoir could be exhausted, and would require to be pumped up once again.
Repeaters in ordinary commerce
As of 1785, South Carolina gunsmith James Ransier of Charleston, South Carolina, was marketing 4-shot repeaters for sale. Columbian Herald (Charleston), Oct. 26, 1785.
The American Rifle
The founding generation was specially conscious of a single of the most prevalent firearms of their time, the Pennsylvania-Kentucky rifle, which is also named “The American Rifle.” The rifle was invented by German and Swiss gunsmith immigrants in the early eighteenth century. When they came to Pennsylvania for religious freedom, they had been familiar with the heavy Jaeger rifles of Central Europe.
The American Rifle was developed initially for the desires of frontiersmen who may possibly commit months on a hunting expedition in the dense American woods. “What Americans demanded of their gunsmiths seemed not possible”: a rifle that weighed ten pounds or much less, for which a month of ammunition would weigh a single to 3 pounds, “with proportionately compact quantities of powder, be straightforward to load,” and “with such velocity and flat trajectories that a single fixed rear sight would serve as properly at fifty yards as at 3 hundred, the essential but slight distinction in elevation becoming supplied by the user’s knowledge.” Robert Held, The Age of Firearms: A Pictorial History 142 (1956). “By about 1735 the not possible had taken shape” with the creation of the iconic American Rifle. Id.
As for the most prevalent American firearm, the smoothbore (nonrifled) flintlock musket, there had also been good advances. To a casual observer, a simple flintlock musket of 1790 appears extremely related to flintlock musket of 1690. Even so, improvements in compact components, some of them internal, had produced the very best flintlocks far superior to their ancestors. For instance, thanks to English gunsmith Henry Nock’s 1787 patented flintlock breech, “the gun shot so really hard and so quickly that the extremely possibility of such functionality had hitherto not even been imaginable.” Id. at 137.
The Founders had been properly conscious that what had been not possible or unimaginable to a single generation could turn out to be commonplace in the subsequent. With the federal armories sophisticated investigation and improvement plan that started in the Madison administration, the U.S. government did its very best to make the not possible feasible.
II. James Madison and James Monroe, the founding fathers of modern day firearms
U.S. Representative James Madison is properly-identified as the author of the Second Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights. What is not properly-identified is how his presidency place the United States on the path to mass production of higher-high quality cost-effective firearms.
For the reason that of weapons procurement complications in the course of the War of 1812, President Madison’s Secretary of War James Monroe, who would succeed Madison as President, proposed a plan for sophisticated weapons investigation and production at the federal armories, which had been situated in Springfield, Massachusetts, and Harpers Ferry, Virginia. The Madison-Monroe plan was to subsidize technological innovation. Ross Thomson, Structures of Alter in the Mechanical Age: Technological Innovation in the United States 1790-1865, at 54-59 (2009). It was enthusiastically adopted with the help of each the key parties in Congress: the Madison-Monroe Democratic-Republicans, and the opposition Federalists. eight Stat. 204 (1815) Johnson, Kopel, Mocsary, Wallace & Kilmer, Firearms Law and the Second Amendment: Regulation, Rights, and Policy 2209 (3d ed. 2022) (on the internet chapter 23).
Whilst serving as ambassador to France, Thomas Jefferson had observed the progress that the French had been producing in creating firearms with interchangeable components. He enthusiastically encouraged that the United States do the very same. See Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Jay (Secretary of Foreign Affairs below the Confederation government), Aug. 30, 1785, in 1 Memoirs, Correspondence, and Private Papers, of Thomas Jefferson 299 (Thomas Jefferson Randolph ed., 1829). In 1801, President Jefferson recounted his French observations to Virginia Governor James Monroe and expressed hope for Eli Whitney’s strategy for interchangeable gun components. Letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, Nov. 14, 1801, in 35 The Papers Of Thomas Jefferson 662 (Barbara B. Oberg ed., 2008).
Beneath the bipartisan Madison-Monroe plan, generous federal arms procurement contracts had lengthy lead instances and produced significantly of the payment up-front, so that makers could commit quite a few years setting up and perfecting their factories. The plan succeeded beyond expectations, and helped to build the American industrial revolution.
The initial objective was interchangeability, so that firearms components broken in combat could be replaced by functional spare components. Right after that would come larger prices of factory production. And just after that, it was hoped, production at decrease expense than artisanal production. Reaching these objectives for the far more intricate and closer-fitting components of repeating firearms would be even far more challenging.
To carry out the federal plan, the inventors connected with the federal armories initially had to invent machine tools. Contemplate for instance, the wooden stock of a lengthy gun. The back of the stock is held against the user’s shoulder. The middle of the stock is exactly where the action is attached. (The action is the portion of the gun containing the moving components that fire the ammunition the Founding generation named it “the lock.”) For lots of guns, the forward portion of the stock would include a groove to hold the barrel.
Generating a stock demands lots of diverse cuts of wood, couple of of them straight. The
artisanal gunmaker would reduce with hand tools such as saws and chisels. Necessarily, a single artisanal stock would not be precisely the very same size as a different.
To make stocks more quickly and far more uniformly, Thomas Blanchard invented fourteen diverse machine tools. Each and every machine would be set up for a single certain reduce. As the stock was reduce, it would be moved from machine to machine. By mounting the stock to the machine tools with jigs and fixtures, a manufacturer could make certain that each and every stock would be placed in precisely the very same position in the machine as the earlier stock. The mounting was in relation to a bearing — a certain spot on the stock that was utilized as a reference point. To verify that the numerous components of the firearm, and the machine tools themselves, had been constant, lots of new gauges had been invented. Felicia Johnson Deyrup, Arms Makers of the Connecticut Valley: A Regional Study of the Financial Improvement of the Tiny Arms Market, 1798-1870, at 97-98 (1948) Thomson at 56–57.
What Blanchard did for stocks, John H. Hall, of the Harpers Ferry Armory, did for
other firearms components. Hall shipped some of his machine tools to Simeon North, in Connecticut. In 1834, Hall and North produced interchangeable firearms. This was the initially time that geographically separate factories had produced interchangeable components. Id. at 58 Merritt Roe Smith, Harpers Ferry Armory and the New Technologies: The Challenge of Alter 212 (1977).
For the reason that Hall “established the efficacy” of machine tools, he “bolstered the self-assurance amongst arms makers that a single day they would reach in a bigger, far more effective manner, what he had carried out on a restricted scale. In this sense, Hall’s function represented an critical extension of the industrial revolution in America, a mechanical synthesis so diverse in degree as to constitute a distinction in sort.” Id. at 249.
The technological advances from the federal armories had been broadly shared amongst American makers. The Springfield Armory constructed up a huge network of cooperating private entrepreneurs and insisted that advances in manufacturing methods be broadly shared. By mid-century, what had begun as the mass production of firearms from interchangeable components had turn out to be globally identified as “the American technique of manufacture”—a technique that encompassed sewing machines, and, at some point typewriters, bicycles, and automobiles. See, e.g., David R. Meyer, Networked Machinists: Higher-Technologies Industries In Antebellum America 81-84, 252-62, 279-80 (2006).
Springfield, in western Massachusetts on the Connecticut River, had been selected for the federal armory in portion simply because of its abundance of waterpower and for the nearby iron ore mines. Numerous private entrepreneurs, like Colt and Smith & Wesson, produced the very same selection. The Connecticut River Valley became identified as the Gun Valley. It was the Silicon Valley of its instances, the center of industrial revolution. Id. at 73–103, 229–80.
In quick, the Founding generation was familiar with tremendous advances in firearms technologies. In the American colonial knowledge, the price of fire for an ordinary firearm had quintupled. As of 1791, repeating firearms capable of firing 16 or 22 shots had been demonstrated, but they had been significantly also costly for ordinary citizens. The Madison-Monroe administration’s smart industrial policy, continued below future administrations, led the way towards the mass production of higher high quality firearms at low costs. No a single in 1791 or 1815 could have foreseen all the firearms innovations in the 19th century. We do know that the American federal government did all it could to make these innovations feasible.