The First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech, religion, assembly and association, is arguably the most important constitutional amendment; the Second, which guarantees the right to keep and bear arms, is often said protects the First.
Whether accurate or not, firearms have played a significant role throughout our history, from fighting against British rule to modern-day hunting, sporting, and self-protection.
And along the way, innovative American gunsmiths like Samuel Colt, Benjamin Tyler Henry, and John M. Browning soon made names for themselves and their inventions were admired throughout the world as being among the best.
Here are Newsmax’s list of the top 10, in chronological order:
American Long Rifle: This was also known as the Kentucky long rifle and the Pennsylvania long rifle, and, as its name suggests, it was characterized by its long, rifled barrel. Its length and the rifling of lands and grooves in the bore made accurate shots possible at distances greater than 200 yards. That, in turn, kept venison on the table and kicked the Red Coats out of the newborn nation.
Martin Meylin, a gunsmith who immigrated to the American colonies from Zurich, Switzerland, is credited with having invented the American long rifle at his Pennsylvania shop, located in what’s now known as Lancaster County.
The long rifle was first used in combat during the French and Indian War of 1754–1763, and through the American Civil Wat more than 100 years later.
Spencer Repeating Rifle: This was a huge improvement on the muzzle-loaded, flintlock muskets and increased the rate of fire of maybe two rounds per minute to up to 20. It was designed by Christopher Spencer in 1860 and first saw service in the American Civil War.
Military brass was hesitant to adopt Spencer’s invention out of fear that troops would waste ammunition and supply lines wouldn’t be able to keep up.
It wasn’t until after the Battle of Gettysburg that Spencer was able to score an audience with President Abraham Lincoln in August 1863.
The president was impressed as a result of Spencer’s shooting demonstration on the White House lawn, and Lincoln ordered Gen. James Wolfe Ripley to make use of the weapon. Although Ripley initially ignored the order, it eventually saw service, and General Ulysses S. Grant called the weapons “the best breech-loading arms available.”
1860 Henry Lever-Action Rifle: Like Spencer’s invention, Benjamin Tyler Henry’s was a lever-action cartridge-feeding repeating rifle that was also designed in 1860. And like the Spencer, military brass initially rejected the Henry out of fear that troops would waste ammunition.
It saw limited use by Union soldiers during the Civil War. However, some soldiers, recognizing the Henry’s value, shelled out $40 of their own funds (about $1,200 today) to purchase one.
Afterwards, many Henrys made their way West, some ending up in the hands of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. The braves used them to take out Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Cavalry in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Model 1873 Colt Single Action Army “Peacemaker” Revolver: This was often referred to as “the gun that won the West,” and was the preferred weapon of many luminaries of the time, including Wyatt Earp, John “Doc” Holliday, and Bartholomew “Bat” Masterson. It was preferred for its accuracy, its dependability, and its stopping power — the “Peacemaker” was initially chambered in .45 cal.
Colt stopped production of the “Peacemaker” at least twice but reintroduced it each time afterwards due to popular demand.
As an indication of its value as one of the most famous firearms ever produced, on Jan. 18, 2009, Greg Martin Auctions sold a Colt single-action Army “Peacemaker” revolver, bearing Serial No. 1, for a new world-record price of $862,500.
Springfield 1903: Officially called the United States Rifle, Caliber .30-06, Model 1903, this bolt-action rifle saw action by U.S. forces as late as the Vietnam War, and is still used by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Army: By the Coast Guard as a line-throwing gun variant, and by the U.S. Army Drill Team.
It was developed after the Spanish-American War when returning U.S. forces reported being outgunned by the Spanish Army’s German-made M1893 Mauser.
The Springfield 1903 was officially adopted by the United States as the standard infantry rifle and remained so throughout most of the first half of the 20th century. Although it was replaced in World War II by the M1 Garand, it nonetheless continued to see service as a sniper rifle.
The Browning/Colt 1911: This was designed by John M. Browning for the Colt’s Manufacturing Company and is considered the true red-blooded granddaddy of all American semi-automatic handguns.
The 1911 was the standard sidearm for U.S. forces during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the First Indochina War, and the Vietnam War.
Although the design is 110 years old, its rugged reliability makes it so popular that nearly every single gun manufacturer — both U.S. and foreign — offers a model 1911 to this day.
It was originally chambered in .45 cal. ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol), but many armorers offer it in other calibers.
1918 .50 cal. M2 BMG: Popularly referred to as the “Ma Deuce” due to its M2 nomenclature, the Browning heavy machine gun is a beast. Although the design is more than a century old, it’s been used in every major conflict the United States has been engaged in from World War II to this day.
The BMG was designed to deliver unbridled destruction — and it does. Imagine each massive .50 cal. round cutting through three vehicles. Sabot rounds can even penetrate all but the heaviest of armored vehicles. Now imagine 1,200 of those same rounds firing off every minute — that’s 20 rounds a second.
That’s why the BMG has survived to this day. Until someone designs a handheld Buck Rogers-Star Wars death ray, it’s likely to continue in service.
1936 M1 Garand: The gas-operated, rotating bolt M1 replaced the bolt-action Springfield 1903 as the standard infantry weapon for U.S. forces in 1936, and first saw action in World War II. Designed by John C. Garand and manufactured by Springfield Armory, Gen. George S. Patton called it “the greatest battle implement ever devised.”
Although it was officially replaced by the M-14 selective fire rifle in 1958, the M1 continued to see limited service in Vietnam. Today it’s used by drill teams and military honor guards, and is highly sought after by collectors
Smith and Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum Revolver: There are two words that describe the reason for including the S&W Model 29 in Newsmax’s list of the top 1o: “Dirty Harry.” It was the service weapon favored by the fictional San Francisco detective played by Clint Eastwood.
Eastwood’s Harry Callahan described the weapon as “the most powerful handgun in the world.”
Since the film series came out, its power was eclipsed by weapons like the Desert Eagle .50 AE. But the S&W offers something its heftier brethren lack — control.
So, if you’re looking for something with a lot of firepower with the simplicity of a revolver that won’t sprain your wrist, this may be for you. “Go ahead, punk. Make my day.”
AR-15/M-16: The AR-15 is the most popular sporting rifle in the United States because it’s compact, lightweight, easy to operate, and it has almost no recoil due to its standard 5.56 mm / .223 cal. ammunition. It’s fun to shoot at the range and can be quickly and accurately engaged to meet any home invasion threat.
It was the brainchild of an amateur gunsmith named Eugene Stoner. He was spotted at a Southern California gun range testing out an early prototype by ArmaLite executives, a small arms engineering firm.
As legend has it, one thing led to another and before long Stoner became ArmaLite’s chief arms engineer, and the AR platform of carbines was born. Today, nearly every armorer in the world offers its own AR version.
ARs are also available in a heftier 7.62mm / .308 cal. version, known as the AR-10. They’re also chambered in .22 cal. LR, and even shotguns — in .410 bore, 20 gauge, and 12 gauge.
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