On Tuesday, November 17, the 144th birthday of the National Rifle Association, I was afforded the luxury of a private tour of the National Firearms Museum with Senior Curator Phil Schreier.
We spent two hours discussing the various firearms on display, but stopped and spent the longest amount of time in front of a case displaying a number of long guns from the late 1700s and early 1800s, looking at what I regard as the single most important firearm in world history.
The 20-shot Girandoni rifle was designed circa 1779, and went to war in 1790 with the Austrians against Napoleonic forces.
Through a path lost to history, this particular rifle is thought to have come into the possession of President Thomas Jefferson, and was provided to Lewis & Clark’s Corps of Discovery.
It is believed that the more than 70 firepower displays provided by the 20-shot rifle to awe the large and sometimes hostile Plains Indians tribes allowed the small expedition of only 33 men to reach the Pacific Ocean and return while only losing one man to illness, and none to combat against belligerent tribes.
This expedition established U.S. sovereignty across newly acquired lands, established relationships with more than seventy Native American tribes, and discovered more than 200 plant and animal species. It also provided some of the first accurate maps of the area, paving the way for Westward Expansion and the growth and rise of the United States, first as a superpower during World War Two and then the world’s only hyperpower in the 1990s.
What we are today as a nation is directly attributable to this single, unique 20-shot repeater that was manufactured a year before the Second Amendment was ratified, and which provided Lewis & Clark an immense perceived firepower advantage that made their safe passage through often hostile lands possible.
That’s a pretty impressive place in history reserved for an “assault rifle” designed during the middle of the American Revolution.