I gave up Twitter for Lent, but one of the last conver-arguments I had before signing off was with a gentleman from Chicago who was adamant in his belief that the Founding Fathers couldn’t have imagined weapon like an AR-15.
“They only had muskets.”
In his small, public-school educated mind, they couldn’t fathom more. He could not conceive of a way for the Founders to fathom the logical and inevitable progression of faster-firing small arms, despite the continual advances of science and technology they witnessed in their lifetimes.
This gentleman had assured himself that this group of intellectual giants—recognized as one of the most enlightened groups of men ever to unite at any one time and place in human history, and which included doctors, scientists, inventors, engineers, and students of history versed in multiple languages—couldn’t grasp a concept of armament technology evolution that they themselves eye-witnessed.
In the American Revolution itself, muskets like the Brown Bess and the Charleville were the “assault weapons” of the day, firing 2-3 times per minute in well-drilled hands. These weapons was far faster than the slow-loading but longer-ranged patched-ball firing flintlock rifles which were capable of hits from hundreds of yards away, but which could take up to two minutes to load.
But even the musket and rifle were far outclassed by another weapon, the Ferguson Rifle.
The Ferguson Rifle was developed by a British officer, Major Patrick Ferguson, as a breach-loading flintlock that fired two to three times as fast as the muskets then in use. Here’s an example of the Ferguson being used by a Colonial-era reenactor, firing 7 times in just over a minute.
Note that the reenactor was using loose powder from a powder horn, which slowed him down. Had he been using paper cartridges commonly in use, pulled from a properly structure cartridge box commonly in use at the time, he would have fired even faster, perhaps ten rounds per minute.
The Ferguson Rifle went to war in 1777, at saw action in skirmishes in the northeast and at the Battle of Brandywine. Rumors that Major Ferguson continued to carry one of his rifles up until his death at the battle of King’s Mountain in 1780 have never been substantiated.
Yes, during the course of our founding war, the men who fought and eventually won it saw the creation and battlefield use of a firearm that more than doubled the rate of fire, almost a decade before they wrote the Second Amendment. Let us make it crystal clear; they were aware that technology existed that could double the rate of fire of a rifle. They’d already seen it happen, right in front of their eyes.
When that rate of fire doubled again, you know what resulted? The modern semi-automatic rifle, fired at a rifleman’s cadence of 20 well-aimed shots per minute.
And of course, the Ferguson Rifle wasn’t the first or only development they’d seen in rapid fire weaponry.
More than a half-century (57 years) before the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” was fired at Lexington, James Puckle patented in 1718 the gun that bore his name, a 63-shot single-barreled fore-runner of the modern machine gun that could be exhausted in seven minutes (that’s 9 shots a minute), designed for repelling boarders in seaborne combat.
Pepperbox pistols, while never widely used until the widespread adoption of the percussion cap, were in use in the pre-war as this 1763 Russian Tula-manufactured pistol clearly shows.
The civilians of the Founder’s generation owned daggers, swords, tomahawks, “pepperbox” revolvers, pistols, rifles, muskets, fowling pieces, blunderbusses, hand grenades, swivel guns, cannon, howitzers, mortars and “every other terrible implement of war” that could be owned by a soldier. The middle class of the day often bore arms (when they so desired them) superior in every way to the “lowest bidder” guns issued to conscript and recruits of the professional armies of the day.
The Founders couldn’t have imagined today’s firearms in civilian hands?
Gentlemen and gentlewomen, you would be a fool to believe they’d imagine anything less, if not a great deal more.