How long people have had guns is in doubt. When I was a sprout, the sotry went that a monk, using a Chinese fireworks formula, invented the first gun around 1,000 AD. Lately, the most common estimate has been the late 13th Century, probably about 1360. The who and what is irrelevant, except to point out that the first “gonnes” were little more than metal vases. In fact, the first name for a gun was “vase.”
At first, even these extremely primitive weapons were expensive, and attached to a stick that went under the arm, more feared for the noise than the danger of being shot. Of course, human ingenuity being what it is, that situation did not last long. The price of a gun began to come down almost immediately, wooden stocks against the shoulder instead of sticks under the arm, much better sights, and suddenly the gun became an effective meat getter as well as somewhat effective battlefield weapon.
By 1500 even a wealthy peasant could afford guns, and hunting became popular with those in the middle classes of Renaissance society. But two very interesting things happened. Hunters quickly found over-hunting depleted game – so laws encouraging “cropping” wild game numbers to maintain those populations at the maximum safe carrying capacity of the range became common.
The second was the sharp decline in the murder and violent crime rates as guns became more accessible to the common folk. The chart below shows the maximum and minimum European murder rates as guns became generally affordable:
England’s murder rate, which generally ran close to 50 murders per 100,000 population when John Plantagenet became King John “Lackland,” in 1166, before guns, ascended the throne, sank to just 0.7, 7/10ths of a murder per 100,000 population, when Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837.
When Victoria’s reign began, on Englishman if two was armed. By the end of her reign, one Englishman in four carried – and the police sometimes borrowed guns from passersby.
On the continent, the situation was much the same. Before guns, knife and club wielding criminals, often members of the army, had their own way with the people.
Yet those States with relaxed gun laws, France for one, had murder and violent crime rates hardly higher than England. Yet States like the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with relatively restrictive gun laws, had very much higher murder and violent crime rates.
In a very real sense, the gun, which “renders the weakest woman the equal of the strongest man” is civilization. where guns are common, a citizen can sleep soundly, confident that he or she will not be molested. Where guns are banned, even the strongest locks are insufficient to insure personal safety.
Since a civilized society is in fact a safe society, a heavily armed society is a civilized society.