>> Saturday, December 26, 2009
RavenLeeDraconis asked: What do you think the most influential firearm of all time is and why? What do you think are the most important qualities in a firearm? The reason I ask this is that I know you don't really care about firearms, but I know you take your questions very seriously. If I ask this here, you'll give it the research and credence to really give my question serious thought. I know you're excellent at research and I think, if you answered this, I'd learn something I hadn't thought of before.
Leave it to my husband to leave me a humdinger. He's not wrong about guns, or, in this case firearms, which is sort of a subset of guns, those that can be carried about by a single person.. They're noisy and destructive. They serve no purpose but to kill other living things. That isn't to say that such things aren't necessary, but it's hard for me to love a unitasker in spite of (or because of) it's success at performing its task: killing.
I struggled with the answer to your question quite a bit. My first thought was that the most important and influential item regarding firearms was really a change in ammunition, but that didn't fit your question. Turns out, after more research, that my second choice, the Colt revolver, had a profound influence on ammunition as well.
Why a revolver? There were pistols before that and, of course, rifles and muskets before that. Even more primitive eastern and western weapons before that, but, in my opinion, the revolver did something very important that changed firearms forever - it enabled shooting several shots without reloading. That may sound minor, but, even during that same time frame, most guns were still muzzle loaders though breech loaders with paper cartridges taking over for the old powder and ball method, reloading and the vulnerability while doing so, were huge issues. There were other multi-shot weapons previously, but most involved multiple barrels and were cumbersome and largely impractical. There was already a flintlock revolver patented, but the interchangeable parts and machining processes Colt would introduce would make guns easier to obtain and more reliable than before.
Colts revolvers (and the many repeating handguns that followed) would allow "anyone" to have a gun, a reliable gun, without requiring a great deal of know-how, would allow a single person to carry about, in a convenient package, enough firepower to kill several people without ever being made vulnerable by reloading (a real issue with most muzzle loaders and even breech loaders at the time). The Colt's popularity did much to solidify the metal cartridge as the standard for ammunition.
Since then, of course, we've had many many weapons that shoot more and shoot them faster, with bigger and nastier bullets. But, in my opinion, Colt set the new bar where we weren't going to ever be satisfied with single shot weapons again, not when we could have many. It set the tone and standard (along with standard practices) that have carried forward into today. Revolvers are far less commonly used than they used to be, but they're still out there. And in use. That says a great deal about their staying power.
I can't give you a single attribute for a firearm. In general, key factors are (a) accuracy, (b) range, (c) firing speed, (d) magazine size/reloadability and, not least, (e) stopping power. That last, stopping power has to do with muzzle velocity (firearm and cartridge related), bullet size as well as bullet design. The ammunition can be as important as the gun in stopping power (if not more so), but there can be many other considerations for a firearm. For soldiers, weight, maintainability, reliability, and the ability to withstand different and harsh environments may be as important as the rest. Cops want guns that are accurate and won't leave them stranded while they reload, while a criminal might prefer a gun that shoots. A lot. Accuracy not withstanding.
Firearms can be very specialized and have been from the beginning. Ammunition has become so, too. Does this answer your question?