Along the glistening Tigris River in ancient Persia sits an accused criminal awaiting certain death. He has been stripped of his clothing and positioned in such a way that the vast majority of his body is wedged between two boats. Only his head and limbs are exposed. The river rushes along peacefully. His death, in stark contrast to his surroundings, will be slow and brutal.
It is 401 B.C., a time of confusion when many an innocent is prosecuted. The man on the water, innocent or guilty, could never be deserving of such an ill fate. While wedged between the boats, he is force-fed a bittersweet concoction of milk and honey that will most certainly give him a wicked case of diarrhea. Once he relieves himself amidst the rippling waters, insects will inevitably arrive to devour his feces along with pieces of his flesh. The ordeal goes on for days. The diarrhea doesn’t kill him. Most times, the insects don’t either. He will, much later, die of septic shock, a horror that is tough to bear in and of itself. This was just one of the many horrific ways we used to die.
Say what you will of bearing arms, death by speeding bullet certainly beats the many more torturous ancient practices that preceded the creation of the handgun. Among them were stoning, flaying, boiling, and burying alive. The invention of the gun put many brutal ancient practices to rest. On the other hand, it made murder easier to carry out and therefore did its share to increase the overall amount of violence in regions where guns became easy to access. The global arms race would certainly look different without this common weapon that is now in use all over the world. Of course its journey into existence didn’t always have the safety on. There was plenty of blood spilled along the way. Cocked, loaded, pumped, and gauged, here are 15 guns that changed the way we die.
15. The Chinese Handgonne
Historians believe this to be the first ever “handgun” introduced to the world on a global scale. Handcrafted in China, evidence suggests that the original products were almost entirely comprised of wood. This simplistic weapon was way heavier than most handguns of today. It weighed in at a little over seven pounds and it usually needed two people to fire. For all intents and purposes, it was basically a hand held cannon that ignited ammunition in the back and shot it out the front. While one soldier held the cannon, the other would load the ammo and set it ablaze.
The Way We Died
We quite literally came under fire. Because the Handgonne was miniature cannon, death by explosion was the most common means to an end but here’s the twist – its ammo, which usually consisted of smoldering stones, was not nearly strong enough to pierce through the material used to make armor at the time. Some say that’s why the suit of armor was the predecessor to the bullet proof vest. Additionally, the handgonne was faulty by nature. It was notorious for taking out the shooter in lieu of the intended target. We died on both sides of the barrel.
14. The Arquebus
In terms of general warfare and talk about heavy artillery, the arquebus is rarely interjected into the conversation. That’s a real shame too because this is the gun that changed everything. It single-handedly ushered in a new era of combat and bullet by bullet shifted the powers of the globe.
It was the English who, once they feasted their eyes upon the somewhat defunct Handgonne, realized its potential on and off the battlefield. For them, the power wasn’t in its effectiveness or lack thereof. For the English, this was a weapon of control. The Handgonne that was reshaped, fitted with a hook and renamed the arquebus could not only pierce through plated armor; it was also cheap to make and easy to regulate. Mass producing this fatal matchlock firearm gave the British the upper hand, allowing them to dominate entire regions worldwide.
The Way We Died
Exposition to volley fire (also referred to as a “rotating firing squad”) was common in the heyday of the arquebus. Lines of soldiers were struck by bullet after bullet of a compound powder known to laymen as the “serpentine, ” a term that was really in reference to Satan. Volley fire to a rival army hit like hell on Earth. It’s notable to mention that this scorching handgun had every army rethinking their armor. Several plates of protection were added as a direct result. Meanwhile the arquebus pelted its ammo at what would today be considered a low speed while clouds of black powder surrounded the weapon, temporarily impairing the vision of pretty much everyone in and behind the line of fire. We died blind.
13. The Culverin
13″ of terror on the long end of the barrel, the Culverin came just before the musket. It was fully equipped with all the effective features seen on the Arquebus and it even carried with it a cynical nickname. Culverin is rooted in the word we know today as snake. The length and overall size of this shotgun made it possible, for the first time in the history of war, to kill with a handgun from a distance. The drawback was that it was generally too massive to lug around and thus, it was often seen fastened to the back of ships. Not at all coincidentally, this gun saw its heyday during the Golden Age of Piracy.
The Way We Died
At the hands of pirates, mostly. The culverin was an 88-pound swivel style, cannon-like device that delivered lead bullets to its targets via a slow burning mechanism that closely resembled a dynamite stick. Clunky and cumbersome, even a poor shot was likely to send its victims plummeting into the deep blue sea where they’d have to wrestle with maritime mammals in pools of their own blood. We died chasing buried treasures.
12. The Musket
This is the gun you might have learned about on field trips during elementary school. You’ve likely peered at it through the glass casing of a local museum. Most notably known for its role in the United States Civil War, the musket is said to have claimed about 90% of the lives during that era . In order to escape the flying bullets as they spewed one by one out of this ramrod weapon, soldiers began, for the first time ever, building trenches along the lines of battle. Thus, without the musket, a gun that could shoot single shots off from a thousand yards away, the Civil War may have ended quite differently, trenches might never have been invented and handguns might not have played such a pivotal role in global warfare.
The Way We Died
Muskets were going to claim so many lives that whole wars would be named after them. Unlike the guns of today, they carried heavy bullets that traveled at ridiculously low-speeds, entering the body with one devastating blow. In the event that a musket bullet would travel from one end of the body to the other, it would leave behind it a hole about the size of a grapefruit. At the time of the U.S. Civil War, the corpses of over 23,000 soldiers lined one single battle. Meanwhile, the corpses of 80 million captive humans sunk down to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Soldiers struck by musket bullets writhed with pain as they were amputated in failed attempts to stop the spread of infection. We died from complications.
11. The Weebly MK VI Revolver
The multi-barrel pistol, a weapon that could fire off multiple bullets without needing to be reloaded, was a thing of dreams for most gun enthusiasts prior to the induction of the revolver. This particular revolver, founded by the British Empire, featured a six round cylinder and an effective firing range of up to 50 yards. Capable of firing 20 to 30 rounds in under a minute, this handheld weapon of destruction played a major role in World War I. Its unique pocket-size construction consisted of a shaved cylinder, a single action ball end and a rotating cylinder that later earned it the nickname six – shooter.
The Way We Died
The power struggle that was World War I claimed the lives of more than 70 million soldiers. In its aftermath 100,000 people starved. The Weebly MK VI revolver fired .455 ball bullets at its victims often leaving them maimed and bloody on the battlefield. We died in grave numbers.
10. The Prop Gun
Made famous by motion pictures, the prop gun, also referred to as the replica gun, was a fake firearm originally designed to enhance theatrical productions. In order to satisfy the audience’s undying thirst for blood, entertainers in pre-replica productions were often murdered before the crowd. The most famous example of this is probably ancient gladiators. When the big arena transitioned into the silver screen, that thirst for violence was still there. Fortunately for modern-day actors, the prop gun was invented, allowing them to live through multiple movie actions scenes with little, if any, initial repercussions.
The Way We Died
At first glance, the prop gun presents itself as an item that saves lives rather than taking them. As time went on however, the movies grew gorier and the body counts pictured on the movie screens multiplied. In some instances, prop guns were switched out with real guns and action actors died on screen anyway. Meanwhile, at-home viewers were getting ideas of their own. Many a youth would go down in the blaze of glory, mimicking their favorite cowboy, criminal, or superhero. We died imitating.
9. The Borschardt Semi Automatic Pistol
The self contained cartridge preceded the semi automatic handgun but gave way to the possibility of what was then known as a “repeating handgun” (a.k.a a gun that could fire more than one shot without needing to be reloaded). The Borschardt Semi Automatic Pistol was the first genuinely mechanical, self-loading pistol with magazine technology to touch down in the world. This three pound wonder was patented and manufactured in Germany. It was capable of carrying 7 cartridges in its uniquely crafted handle. Its recoiling mechanisms enabled each bullet to propel the next bullet into the chamber, making it the first functioning automatic weapon known to man. Today, this particular make and model is only in rotation at trade shows but it experienced commercial success just 100 years ago.
The Way We Died
The Borschardt semi automatic pistol was a lanky, discommodious piece of artillery but its masterful inner chambers were fail proof. It fired 7 rounds of bullets into its victims at high velocity, almost guaranteeing instantaneous demise. We died on the brink of self destruction.
8. The Double Barrel Flintlock Shotgun
The Double Barrel Flintlock Shotgun was the gun the Pilgrims brought to harvest game in North America. Colonial Americans were poor and often only had one, but this weapon was useful for its versatility. It could be loaded with a wide range of ammunition and used to take down fowl, deer and trespassers. It was introduced to the Native Americans as a weapon for hunting game but later, pilgrims turned its barrel on their native neighbors, gunning them down and staking claims on their territory. As such, the double barrel flintlock shotgun became a weapon of mass genocide. Over time, it’s seen its fair share of tweaking but its overall design is still widely recognized.
The Way We Died
We died in fields of black powder as burning embers showered everything in sight. We died tearing paper cartridges open with the sharp edges of our teeth while tearing through the trees of forests we’d later destroy. The double barrel flintlock shotgun was a firearm that let off two bullets, sometimes simultaneously. We died exterminators.
7. The Gatling
In May of 1865, R.J. Gatling patented war’s most impactful killing machine prior to the atomic bomb. Think of the Gatling as a semi automatic cannon with the power of a machine gun. The Gatling utilized the rotating mechanism found on weapons like the revolver and the multi barrel element often seen on shotguns in collaboration with a recoiling function that allowed for rapid, repeated fire. The Gatling let off 400 rounds of ammo per minute.
The Way We Died
Picking up in the trenches of previously claimed lands, the Gatling was often hauled into the battle grounds of less industrialized civilizations and used to wield power over the locals. The British army utilized this cannon-like machine gun to terrorize civilians in Asia, Africa, and Russia. It played a huge role in the Spanish-American War and the Northwest Rebellion. It was even turned on anti-war protesters in Pennsylvania, U.S.A. The 26.5 inch rotating barrel of the monstrous Gatling fired .45 caliber weapons at rapid speeds, puncturing its victims hundreds of times. We died in protest of a war torn future.
6. The Maxim
The first fully automatic weapon, the Maxim gun, invented in 1886 by a British man named Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, was the earliest variation of modern machine guns. Don’t let its somewhat tiny stature fool you. Unlike the Gatling, the Maxim didn’t necessarily need four crew members lugging it around from battlefield to battlefield. Weighing in at 60 pounds, which is still rather large by today’s standards, it was possible for a single soldier to transport and fire this weapon. It worked better with the aid of multiple ammunition loaders and heavy lifters but either way, it got the job done. For this reason, it played a pivotal role in World War I.
The Way We Died
The Maxim was a weapon of deception often used on soldiers who could be lured into open pitches. The European colonization of Africa is often attributed solely to the existence of this gun. It fired off 550 rounds per minute at a muzzle velocity of 744 m/s. We died and then were ripped apart.
5. The Sub Machine gun A.K.A “The Tommy Gun”
The sub machine Uzis, along with other handheld machine gun quality weapons, were the first to spark speculation in regard to the second amendment. Critics of private gun ownership claimed that while guns had changed drastically, gun laws remained at a standstill and they pointed to the Uzi as a prime example. Supporters of keeping the second amendment intact, however, countered that there still exists an ever-present need for self defense, even in a world working its way to a new digital standard.
So what was all the fuss about here? Well, for starters, the sub machine Uzi uses a feed system containing over 50 9 mm magazines at a time. The end result is seriously overkill. Furthermore, these guns were originally crafted to be utilized by special ops but they somehow leaked into the market of private gun ownership. They were a tried and true mafia favorite as seen in multiple mob films like Scarface. They were iconic in the prohibition era but they also went well into the ’90s and beyond. Uzis in the wrong hands brought devastation to the masses. Many innocent bystanders were gunned down senselessly and often by shooters who suffered mental illnesses and murdered without cause or abandon.
The Way We Died
The sub machine Uzis feature a lightweight, handheld design that makes it possible to let off over 700 rounds of lethal ammunition per minute. We died in movie theaters, concert halls and public schools. We died in the parking lots we built from the forests we tore down in the times when the double barrel shotgun ruled. We died in the shadows of our ancestor’s crimes knowing that a ceasefire was less than likely.
4. Smith And Wesson Model 64
As a new era of Hollywood was ushered in, the names Smith and Wesson began to gain momentum. Hailed as the criminal weapon of the time, these handheld pistols served to prove that many a local criminal was taking cues from the silver screen. How can we be so sure? Mainly, because of the way ’90s pistols were often fired. Now traditionally, shotguns were held upright and aimed directly at their target. For the sake of dramatizing film scenes, multiple ’90s mobster flicks depicted weapons tilted at an angle, for no real reason other than style. That being said, novice gunmen were seen in the streets doing the same exact thing. Here we see life imitating art and gain a better understanding of the true damage the prop gun brought about.
The Way We Died
This K Frame revolver was a .38 special carrying 6 rounds of bullets in its stainless steel cylinder. Its size and reputation made it appealing to the under 25 crowd. Its bullets rarely missed their marks, regardless of which way its handle was tilted. We died before our mothers. We died before the eyes of a watchful world. We died young.
3. The Ak 47
No gun in history has left a mark on pop culture the way that the AK-47 has. With more than 100 million models of the Kalashnikov model scattered across the globe, it’s bound to go down in history as one of the most impactful pieces of artillery ever to be created. It served as an icon in the Cold War. It’s been synonymous with drug cartels and the third world revolution. It’s been featured in various musical lyrics and made appearances in several action film franchises. At this point, it could be said that the AK 47 is really the Kim Kardashian of handguns. Sure it’s pretty, fast, and features a masterfully crafted body, but mostly it’s famous for being famous.
The Way We Died
One of the most coveted features of the AK-47 is its iron sight which allows the shooter to connect with the torso of a moving target even if their aim is slightly off. For this reason and many more, the AK-47 accounts for 1/5 of the firearms worldwide. This gun lets out a cyclical rate of fire that’s 600 rds/min and it boasts a firing range of 380 yards. In terms of dollar vs. accuracy, the AK-47 gets the most bang for the buck. We died at a fraction of the price.
2. The Ruger P89 Pistol
This handgun often goes overlooked in the face of more famous or more controversial weaponry however, it deserves a great deal of attention. The Ruger P98 was the central element of concentration in a riveting lawsuit that followed the devastating 1993 Long Island Railroad Shootings. The controversy wasn’t about the gun, but rather, it surrounded the bullets inside the gun which were none other than Winchester’s now illegal black talon hollow points.
For some time, hollow point bullets have been a sore subject for gun advocates and protesters alike. In theory these bullets, which were specifically designed to maximize the disruption of tissue while travelling through the body of their recipients, henceforth leading to a speedier demise, are more merciful, if a merciful bullet isn’t an oxymoron in your book, that is. Gun enthusiasts claim they’re safer while those who oppose gun laws claim these types of bullets are grotesque and cruel.
The Way We Died
As power shifted back and forth between the betterment of weapons and the betterment of ammunition, little attention was directed at uncovering peaceful resolutions to everyday problems. From war torn soldiers to unsung heroes, disgruntled individuals were hitting the streets, wielding powerful artillery. The harder the struggle, the tougher the bullets became. The Ruger P89 Pistol, when loaded with black talon hollow points, penetrated the skin at high velocity, mushrooming itself into razor-like ammo, ripping swiftly through tissue and major organs. We died better.
1. The Flying Handgun
What was once the stuff of sci-fi fantasy battles is now officially a reality. When an 18- year-old student in Connecticut managed to craft the first homemade flying handgun, a weapon he achieved through the innovation of the drone, the public questioned its legality. Around the same time, a weaponized drone was used to kill a suspect prior to his trial. These isolated incidents say way too much about the future of gunplay. Whether flying high in the sky or showering crowds with hundreds of rounds, it’s pretty safe to say that the handgun is leaving a mark on our history and blasting out a path for its own future, whatever that may hold.
The Way We Die
As modern day soldiers we die in lines. We die waiting. We’re waiting for a trial that isn’t coming or a paycheck that wasn’t directly deposited. We’re waiting for our benefits package to kick in or for football season to kick off. We’re lined up to try on fresh pairs of pictures of Michael Jordan jumping over the moon. We die consumers. We die consumed. We kill each other for sneakers while tripping over the laces of our own souls. We die taking selfies in the bathroom at our second job. We die famous. We wage wars in oceans we never even bother to explore only to be buried beneath a blanket of undiscovered planets. There’s so much more to life than what we see here at the bottom of the barrel. The way we die changes with the mold of each new bullet, with each additional plate of armor we add which is actually pretty ironic because it’s the way we live that kills us in the end.