The Top 5 Guns that Defined America

It was brought to my attention that my last article “5 Guns That Define America” completely disregarded the guns that built this country. Except for the venerable 1911, the AR-15, the Mossberg 500, the GLOCK 19, and the Remington 700, I completely disregarded the guns that won our wars and kept our streets safe throughout our history. I guess I was thinking more in the present-tense sense of the word define. Even the GLOCK 19 has a rich history, but I get it. The article was bereft of nostalgia. So in an attempt to right the wrong let’s get to those guns I missed. Here’s my take on the top 5 guns that defined the old red-white-and-blue.

The American Longrifle

The American Longrifle is a gun we all have to admit belongs on this list. It was a Revolutionary War firearm that changed the course of U.S. history. Departing from its smooth bore brothers, the American Longrifle differentiated itself by being one of the first weapons in history to use rifling. This new technology made the firearm much more accurate than any of its competition. While the Red Coats struggled to hit the broad side of a barn, a Colonial Militiaman equipped with a Longrifle could take out a target at 200 yards with relative ease.

There's no more apt name than Longrifle.

There’s no more apt name than Longrifle.

I’m sure you’ve heard of it called by one it’s many states of origin: the Kentucky Longrifle, or Pennsylvania rifle. All in all it takes the cake as number one. Even before we were Americans, this gun was setting us apart.

The best part is that you can buy these flintlocks (or percussion cap versions) without form 4473.

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The 1873 is a working gun and can be a work of art, too.

The 1873 is a working gun and can be a work of art, too.

The Colt Single Action Army

The gun that helped win The West. The 1873 was the gun that robbed the banks, tended the cattle, and eventually cleaned up the unpaved streets. The Colt Single Action Army is and forever will be America’s Peacemaker.

The Single Action Army was first seen in 1872. After its initial testing, the design was widely adopted by the U.S. Army as the “New Model Army Metallic Cartridge Revolving Pistol.” Beyond its military carrier, the Colt was the go-to sidearm of the time. These revolvers were often paired with a rifle of the same caliber, and the 1873 helped cement the popularity of the .45 Colt. The guns are still being produced by Colt, and variations are being made by numerous companies here in the U.S. and in Italy.

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The Winchester Repeating Rifle model 1873

The Winchester Model 1873 was the gun that won the west. Between 1873 and 1919, nearly one million rifles were built. First chambered in .44-40, the Winchester quickly became the first commercially available, completely reliable repeating rifle.

The 1873 Winchester is a classic that continues to evolve.

The 1873 Winchester is a classic that continues to evolve.

This 1873 and its innovations shaped a lot of the firearms that followed it. The lever action rifle eventually lost some ground to the bolt guns of the 20th century, but the basic design is still popular with whitetail hunters, guides, and ranchers. The cowboy action shooters trick them out until they run as fast as many semi-autos.

The 1873 is still alive and kicking. You can find working originals that are by no means safe queens, or look for pedestrian imports from Japan and Italy. If you really want to drool, spend some quality time perusing the work of Turnbull.

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The .45 ACP really smokes from the longer barrel of the Thompson.

The .45 ACP really smokes from the longer barrel of the Thompson.

The Thompson Submachine Gun

The Thompson Submachine Gun was designed for sweeping up trenches, and changing the minds of enemy combatants during World War One. Sadly it missed the dance and never made it to The Great War. But why waste a good thing? The Thompson set forth into the civilian market, and made a lasting impression. The Tommy Gun. The Chicago Typewriter. The Organ Grinder–the gun was destined for great and horrible things. The Thompsons during prohibition were one of the main reasons why the National Firearms Act was created. I don’t want to say that the Thompson ruined a good thing, but it sure didn’t help.

The Thompson later saw use in many conflicts and lived up to its expectations. It served as a building block in gun design and redefined what we as Americans call guns.


Check out this clip. Yes there’s a damn annoying ad before the clip, but mute it and wait for the good stuff. If you haven’t seen Miller’s Crossing, you should. No one has ever accused the Coen brothers of shying away from gun play, but I’m still trying to put a rough estimate on the round count in this drum mag. I lose count at 250 or so. This is how legends are born. If you want a solid reproduction, check out Auto Ordnance.

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The Garand continues to be popular thanks to groups like the CMP and Call of Duty games.

The Garand continues to be popular thanks to groups like the CMP and Call of Duty games.

The M1 Garand

The M1 Garand was a love child of war and innovation. First seen in 1936, the Garand unseated the reining World War champ, the 1903 Springfield. The Garand used the same 30-06 cartridge and had a similar overall size, which made the M1 Garand a natural evolution of the service rifle. The M1 Garand was America’s first semi automatic standard issue rifle. The Garand unquestionably changed how Americans fought wars, and insured our victory wherever our sights pointed. General George S. Patton named this rifle “the greatest battle implement ever devised,” and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who knows much about guns or World War II who would argue otherwise.

The irony is that the Garand’s service life was relatively short. Like the planes that helped win us the war, the Garand was quickly eclipsed by other designs. The Garand is still insanely popular. It is a gun that ages well.

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Like it or not these five guns defined America, and still influence firearms today. And I know I left out the 1911–but since that was in my last list, I thought it fair. Let us know down in the comments what 5 guns you think defined America.

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Elie Fabros April 21, 2015, 11:58 pm

    Thanks for the info, it’s easy to understand. BTW, if anyone needs to fill out a form 4473, I found a blank form here: http://pdf.ac/6LGE4

  • Robert Powers January 9, 2015, 12:47 am

    Pretty much nailed it, but if you could go 6 guns instead of 5 the S&W model 10 would have a place. Aside from the colt more law men and a few military have used it to protect and defend. And then there is its direct descendent the .357 which had to come close to your other list. Aside from the 1911, the wheel gun ruled almost 100 years from the civil war until the 1980s. Just an old farts perspective.

  • Robert January 6, 2015, 12:02 am

    On both lists one thing is glaringly apparent, Love em or hate em, you guys are certainly passionate. I read all of the comments, which I almost NEVER do as the entertainment value wore off long, long ago. Here is my take on the lists
    In the first list, I had to read to the bottom of the intro part that said “So the question presents itself; what five guns define the American gun owner” Mr Epstein waltzed here a bit as if he were trying to find his point. Clearly, the title of the article is right there at the top and from the email link which I followed “The Top 5 Guns that Define America”
    Now you, being the passionate sort you are, said to yourselves, “Self”, you said, “Just what America is defined by a Glock That aint My America” And so spot on you and your “selves” are. One could almost feel the lynch mob forming. But, take a deep breath or maybe a couple. And you there, Yes YOU in the back with the trapper hat. Put down that rope. Did you notice just how quickly Mr Epstein changed his footwork with a following article including this gem of a disclaimer. “I guess I was thinking more in the present-tense sense of the word define” ( that would be define Sir, the only other tense is past and that is clearly defined ) Watch now, there is a tempo change coming as he switches to the good old American Charleston and says “I completely disregarded the guns that won our wars and kept our streets safe throughout our history” Be honest now, Thats the hook that held the worm for you, wasn’t it? Thats where self said “Hey now, thats a bit better, thats what we are talking about here” Then, did you feel him bringing you in a bit with this? “The 1873 was the gun that robbed the banks, tended the cattle, and eventually cleaned up the unpaved streets”? I closed my eyes and for a minute there was Maureen O’Hara, her skirts dragging along an unpaved street, as she waited for the Duke to come charging to her rescue. Oh Mr. Epstein You’re good. You got us all impassioned and feeling right. Then you set the hook and reeled us in with this famous quote. “General George S. Patton named this rifle “the greatest battle implement ever devised,” Turn out the lights boys, the party is over.. Or, is it? Did you read Mr. Epsteins ” the five guns that defied America.” Go getcha some while you’re still all fuzzy with Patriotic fervor

  • Manetti January 5, 2015, 1:10 pm

    Our little group decided the shoot the Glock match in Ft. Lauderdale some 20-odd years ago.

    We bought a well used 19 from a pawn shop and practiced the Glock course for about six weeks. We put over 30,000 (!) rounds of any crap 9mm we could find. Never missed a beat. Bought another one from the same shop, sighted it in and won the team match!!

    They are NOT precision target guns by any stretch of the imagination; they are dead reliable, however.

    I think their popularity was due to the order of arms being so similar to that of the revolver used in law enforcement… the 8 pound trigger pull on the New York model was close to the double action pull on the revolver. Made the transition and qualification on the Glock as a duty weapon much easier.

    I still refer to the Glock as “Combat Tupperware”.

    Manetti

  • Bill Richardson January 5, 2015, 12:52 pm

    Better, but Mr. Epstein is still missing the target.

  • Mountain Man January 5, 2015, 11:49 am

    So it was brought to the author’s attention that his last article disregarded the real guns that built America; and done so by gun owners who read that pulp fiction. (Glock? Seriously?) So in essence, the readers wrote the next article, and it is being consolidated here.

    If Guns America needs writers, I’ll be happy to submit a few articles. I’ve never performed brain surgery, drilled for oil, or trekked to the North Pole, but I’ll take a shot at telling readers the top five ways to get ‘er done.

  • JIMSPD9 January 5, 2015, 11:26 am

    Finally a list that spans most of our history.
    If I had one of each I wouldn’t need to buy another gun ever.
    Glock?? You can have’ em.

  • Capt. Wiley January 5, 2015, 9:34 am

    You drank the Hollywood cool-aid. That clip was interesting although inaccurate but did not further the discussion.

  • Rafael Polo January 5, 2015, 9:23 am

    jjjjjj this writer was forced into submission. If only we went after those trying to take our rights in this fashion and with that much indignation, we would be much better off.

  • dave January 5, 2015, 8:24 am

    As I said in my comment to your first article,I think I get where you were coming from and I think you were right as far as gun buying pattern of Amerca today! I think alot of people skipped over the first couple lines especially about guns changing over the years,this second list is closer to my feeling about defining America but as I said before everyone is entitled to own opinion after all this is America!

  • Rangemaster January 5, 2015, 7:55 am

    This seems familiar. Oh, I know, “American Guns” by Chris Kyle.

  • adam January 5, 2015, 5:31 am

    Better.

    • Russ January 5, 2015, 10:47 am

      Much better.
      Deliberately messing with us?
      Might need a 10 list to be more accurate

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