The 7 Most American Guns


From RIAC Blog

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and M16s. Firearms are an undeniable part of the American identity thanks to the Second Amendment and the nation’s spirit of independence and self-sufficiency. The United States was forged in steel and gunpowder, and from the Colonial Era onward the history of America has been tied to the history of the gunRed, white, and polished blue steel. The United States was born through the barrel of a gun.

Which guns are most American? Sure, that’s a big question to tackle, but Independence Day is all about celebrating the grand sweep of the American story, so let’s take a look at seven firearms that decisively shaped America and shaped the perception of the United States around the world.

The Kentucky Rifle

The first uniquely American firearm was born in the backcountry of 18th Century Pennsylvania. Popularly known as the Kentucky Rifle, or Pennsylvania Rifle, the American Long Rifle became a symbol of frontier self-reliance and rugged American individualism, and the gun went on to be a decisive force-multiplier in the Revolutionary War. Wielded by famed frontiersmen like Daniel Boone and Davy Crocket, the Kentucky Rifle was the original defender of Old Glory.

A Revolutionary War Era Jacob Dickert Flintlock American Long Rifle offered at RIAC’s September Premier Auction.

Pioneered by German and Swiss gunsmiths who immigrated to the Colonies, the American Long Rifle combined numerous features from the Germanic Jäger rifle and English hunting designs that dramatically increased accuracy, including full rifling, greater barrel length, and a snug-fitting, smaller caliber ball. The first firearm to be regularly fitted with an open rear sight, these elegant flintlocks were favored by American frontiersmen who required the ability to shoot accurately up to 200 yards when hunting in the Virginia wilderness. It turned out that range also worked well for picking off British officers, and General George Washington was quick to take advantage. Kentucky Rifle was the first distinctly American firearm.

Most Yankee soldiers during the War of Independence carried smoothbore long arms like their British counterparts, but small groups of riflemen were deployed to harass the British from outside effective musket range. Washington recruited as many long rifle hunters as he could, and the 1,400 or so patriots who answered his call were a deciding factor in winning the Revolution and ensuring the spirit of ’76 lived on. The Kentucky Rifle went on to repel the Red Coats again in 1812, in grand American fashion.

Kentucky Rifle Association award winning Golden Age American Long Rifle.

“But Jackson he was wide awake, and wasn’t scared at trifles, for well he knew what aim we take with our Kentucky rifles.”   – from “The Hunters of Kentucky”, a song celebrating Jackson’s 1815 victory at New Orleans.

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  1. Unlike most of these lists, I have very few quibbles with this list. My biggest quibble is the Thompson – while Hollywood gave this gun a lot of screen time, its actual impact (outside the criminal element for a few high-profile events) was relatively small, both in terms of inspiring future designs and technology spin-offs.

    I would have liked to seen the M1 Carbine on the list, as it was a triumph of manufacturing prowess as well as firearms design.


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