“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Several years ago my husband began a tradition of giving me a new firearm each Independence Day. Fitting, really, since one of the things that sets America apart from the rest of the world is our freedom to keep and bear arms. Other nations may allow their citizens to possess arms, but none grant those citizens the freedom to buy, sell, and carry firearms like we Americans have. What better expression of freedom on Independence Day can there be, then, than shooting a brand new gun?
It would be easy for this article to stray into political rhetoric. Tensions run high on both sides of the gun issue. Since the tagline from my café was “Guns and Grub” you can guess which side of the issue I fall on, but I want to keep this article reasonably balanced. At least I’ll try!
At the start of the Revolutionary War, Americans were armed with firearms from Europe, primarily smoothbore muskets. Before war’s end, our sharpshooters were armed with American built longrifles. . .and the world has been chasing American firearm innovation ever since.
With the invention of the percussion cap, rifles were less tedious to load, more impervious to water, and much more reliable. The percussion cap also, of course, paved the way for repeating firearms, most notably the Colt’s revolving handgun. Suddenly Americans could carry a single firearm that was capable of firing multiple shots rapidly.
It’s around this time that firearms manufactures began assembly line manufacturing, which was yet another revolution in the (very young) firearms industry. Formerly, firearms were all custom built. They might look similar, but if a piece broke on your particular firearm, a new piece had to be built *specifically* for your gun. With the implementation of assembly line manufacturing, you could be reasonably certain that two guns of the same type would have interchangeable parts. That fact is quite comforting when you are days from civilization, as many were in those years.
Those early percussion revolvers were, of course, painfully slow to reload. If you notice, you very seldom see John Wayne or Clint Eastwood reload their revolvers. . .it simply takes too much screen time! The perfection of the self-contained cartridge solved that issue. With this cartridge, the ignition system, powder, and projectile are all contained in a brass (normally) case. Reloading was now something that could be done in seconds rather than minutes.
Assembly line manufacturing, interchangeable parts, and the self-contained cartridge. With those three elements in place, the availability of firearms in America shot through the roof. Prices started dropping, reliability went up, and the self-contained cartridge made it trivial to carry spare ammunition.
By now, it is the mid 1800s and the “Wild Wild West” is in full swing. In reality it wasn’t terribly wild. Still, it wasn’t an area in which a person wanted to be caught without a firearm. Open carry was expected. The upper classes viewed themselves as too refined for open carry. . .and they invariably carried their firearms concealed under a jacket or vest. It wasn’t so much a fear of crime that drove people to carry firearms, but the realization that they were responsible for their own safety, wherever that danger came from.
As the 20th century rolled around, repeating firearms took center stage. The Colt 1911 (my favorite handgun of all time) began replacing revolvers. Semi-automatic rifles began replacing lever actions. Firearms were now capable of shooting more accurately than most people could shoot them. In just over 100 years, America had gone from expensive, custom built firearms of dubious reliability and appalling accuracy to inexpensive, high quality, reliable firearms built to a standard specification and capable of incredible accuracy.
Since then, innovations in firearms haven’t been in the actual firearms themselves, but in the application of those firearms. The steadily rising popularity of shooting competition has forced the evolution of shooting technique. Grip, stance, draw, and trigger pull are continually being refined in order to shoot the firearm quicker, more accurately, more comfortably, and more consistently. Gone are the days, thankfully, of shooting a .44 magnum Dirty Harry style with one hand on the gun and one hand supporting the wrist.
Changes in firearm accessories have likewise come at a rapid pace. Optics now allow accurate shooting at 1,000 yards or near-instantaneous target acquisition at 10 yards. Firearms can be fit to a specific user simply by replacing a few easily-changeable pieces. There are holsters available to fit every body type and every situation under the sun. Suppressors, which are perfectly legal in Oklahoma, reduce the BANG! to much more comfortable levels. Firearms like the AR-15 are called the “Barbie Doll for men” because there are so many configuration options. Never before has a shooter had the ability to configure and customize a firearm to his or her specific build, need, and purpose.
I grew up with firearms. I was given my first rifle at a very young age, and guns have always been a part of my life. My husband, on the other hand, did *not* grow up around firearms. Because of that, he has a much different view firearms than I do. . .a different view that I appreciate more each year. For me, historically, firearms have been for hunting: a way for me to spend quality time with my Dad each year. For my husband, firearms are a real piece of freedom he can hold in his hand, and his appreciation of firearms has nothing at all to do with hunting. This view is readily apparent in the way he teaches the Oklahoma Concealed Carry class.
Here in the Great State of Oklahoma, it is almost trivial to get a permit to carry a concealed (or open) firearm. Take a class, shoot 50 rounds of ammo at a target, get some fingerprints taken, get a pair of passport photos, and fill out a short form. In less than 90 days, your permit will show up in the mailbox and you can join the hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans who can carry a firearm.
The makeup of our classes has changed markedly over the years. When we started teaching, classes were easily 90% men. The last few years that percentage has shrunk to 60%, and it’s not at all unusual for us to have more women in a class than men. I’ve been doing women-only classes for a few years, and those are always quite rewarding for me, personally. Often women will come to those classes who know *nothing* about firearms, and in many cases are actually *scared* of firearms. It is wonderful for me to be able to work with them to overcome that fear. . .and see the huge grin on their faces before they are done shooting and to hear them talking about going shooting with friends and family.
With every mass shooting, politicians are quick to blame the gun. As I mentioned earlier, my appreciation of firearms was for their use in hunting. I am, however, realizing that the view my husband has is closer to the view the founders of this country had. Yes, firearms are handy tools for hunting, but the real purpose of the 2nd Amendment is to protect us from those who would subjugate us, even if that comes from our own government. That’s, frankly, uncomfortable to think about. Yet the founders has just fought a war against such a government and new intimately the dangers inherent in a disarmed populace.
So, go out and celebrate Independence Day. Enjoy a burger off the grill. Take a dip in the pool. Fire off a few rounds (safely) and enjoy the sound of freedom.
Oh, and buy your wife a firearm.
*** This was a co-effort between Mr. Husted and Myself, I'm sure some of you will be able to tell, because some of the words are pretty big ;-) Yes, I'm making fun of myself :D