Scott Brinton

Puckle gun, AR-15, what’s the difference?


You knew CNN’s town hall to debate gun control — on Feb. 21, only a week after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. — would devolve into absurdity when National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch took the stage.

Loesch isn’t known for arguing reasonably — though, in her defense, she tried at times.

Despite her best attempts at logical debate, however, she couldn’t help herself. She just had to offer a ludicrous (and factually incorrect) argument to tick off the audience, which was full of Stoneman Douglas students and teachers seeking stricter gun controls. The one-hour, 46-minute forum was titled “Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action.”

At one point, Linda Biegel Schulman, the mother of Scott Biegel, the teacher (originally from Deer Park) who died in a hail of bullets while shielding students, asked a poignant question of Loesch:

“Dana,” she began, “the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791. The Declaration of Independence was written in 1776, which gave my son the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So I ask you, why are my son’s unalienable rights not protected as fiercely as the right to bear arms?”

“No innocent lives should be lost,” Loesch replied in part. Good, Dana. You were right about that.

“When the Second Amendment was ratified, they were talking about muskets,” Biegel Schulman shot back. “We’re not talking about muskets. We’re talking about assault rifles. We’re talking about weapons of mass destruction that kill people.”

Cue the silliness.

“On that issue, at the time, there were fully automatic weapons that were available — the Belton gun and Puckle gun,” Loesch said. “In fact, the Continental Congress reviewed a purchase of one of those firearms.”

And there you had it. Typical NRA obfuscation. Neither the Belton nor the Puckle gun was fully automatic. The automatic weapon wasn’t invented until 1892. And, by the way, the Belton gun was never actually a thing. It was an idea proposed in 1777 to the Continental Congress by gun designer John Belton. Gen. George Washington ordered 100 of the guns, but the weapon never reached the manufacturing stage because Belton’s prices were too high for the borderline-bankrupt Congress. So we’ll never know whether it would have worked or not.

The Belton gun, at best, could have fired 16 rounds over, perhaps, a few minutes. Here’s how Belton described the loading and firing of his conceptual gun in a letter to the Continental Congress. You will note that he never guaranteed it would shoot more than five rounds at a time:

“Sir, Please to inform the Honourable Congress, that as I have heretofore asserted to them, that I can discharge sixteen, or twenty balls from one piece, one charging, by once puling tricker, or at two or three diffrent times, by little more than cocking & priming the same lock two or three different times. And as I mean ever to fulfill all & every one of my Assertions, I propose . . . to make the following exhibition to make five different discharges from one pulling tricker.”

The Puckle gun, which required a crew of two to three to operate, was real. But the weapon, invented by English attorney and writer James Puckle in 1718, fired just nine rounds per minute. That was three times the number of rounds that a musketeer could get off in the same time frame, but the Puckle gun was hardly an AR-15 — the semi-automatic assault rifle used in Parkland.

The AR-15 fires 90 to 180 rounds per minute, depending on the gunman’s ability to reload magazines. With a bump stock, the weapon dispenses nine rounds per second.

Biegel Schulman was right: Our founders would never have envisioned the mind-numbing killing power of an AR-15 — which is an assault weapon. It was designed in the late 1950s as a weapon of war, not for civilian use.

Nor would the founders have imagined a time when one of our own citizens would randomly take up arms against a school full of children and teachers. Would they have written the Second Amendment as they did — seemingly loosely, even nebulously — if they had known that each year, insane gunmen would commit ungodly massacres with legally purchased firearms?

Or maybe the NRA is misinterpreting the Second Amendment and has convinced Republican lawmakers, with its millions of dollars in bribes (I’m sorry, campaign donations), that the amendment was intended to give citizens unfettered access to firearms, when, in fact, it never was.

The amendment reads, “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.” The founders were concerned with the maintenance of a well-regulated military force. That is, they were worried about public safety.

The absence of clear-minded gun regulation is, to my mind, a clear and present danger to public safety.

Scott Brinton is the Herald Community Newspapers’ executive editor and an adjunct professor at the Hofstra University Herbert School of Communication. Comments about this column?