Smith & Wesson Bodyguard
The S&W Bodyguard is a .38 caliber, 5 shot snub-nosed revolver that was introduced in the late 1950’s. It became famous for its use in a famous and highly controversial photograph taken during the Vietnam war, depicting General Nguyễn Ngọc executing a Viet Cong soldier. The photographer won a Pulitzer Prize and his photo was influential in turning the public against the Vietnam war. The S&W Bodyguard remains a popular personal defense weapon to this day, in part due to its high power and small size. Though which model weapon is depicted is by far the least significant aspect of this photograph, the Bodyguard undeniably played a role in the growing American sentiment against this country’s most unpopular war.
The Philadelphia Deringer
On April 14th, 1865, a play was underway at Ford’s Theater. It was a comedy, and laughter was to be expected. According to 1865 standards, one of the funniest lines in the play would be “Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal.” It was no gem, but then again Arrested Development was more than a century away. When the character on stage said the line, laughter erupted, enough to cover even the sound of a gunshot. John Wilkes Booth rushed behind Lincoln, pointed his Deringer at the back of his head, and history was made. The gun is a .44 caliber bore pistol, single shot, and used the percussion cap system. Booth was later shot in the neck in a barn engulfed in flames, and his pistol remains to this day in the Ford’s Theater, which is now a museum.
Carcano Model 91/38 Rifle
Purchased by mail using an alias, Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle became famous as the instrument used to assassinate John F. Kennedy. He paid $19.95 for the rifle, including postage and handling. He smuggled it into the Texas School Book Depository wrapped in brown paper and claimed to be delivering curtain rods. Equipped with a telescopic sight and firing 6.5×52 mm rounds, he fired 3 shots, one of which would kill the president. The rifle was found hidden behind boxes behind the window he sniped from, and Oswald himself was found hiding in the Texas Theater, having snuck into the film War is Hell. He was later killed by Jack Ruby, using a Colt Cobra .38.
FN Model 1910
Leading up to World War 1, a complex series of alliances had been developed amonst the European states. This system of treaties and alliances was extraordinarily fragile and as 1914 approached, those countries were teetering on the brink of war. If one country was attacked, their allies were obligated to join in, setting off a domino-like effect that would drag country after country into the deadliest conflict the world had ever seen. Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb, thus decided to say to hell with it and assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. His original plans had failed, but by complete accident, he found himself on the same street as the Archduke, just as the Archduke’s car had stalled. Seizing upon this opportunity, Princip pistol whipped a pedestrian (just to be a dick) and then fired upon the Austrian’s vehicle, killing him and his wife. This act is often referred to the shot heard round the world, a phrase also used to describe the opening shots of Lexington and Concord in the American Revolutionary War. Austria invaded Serbia after the assassination, the situation devolving into a war that accomplished nothing but killed millions, and laid the ground work for the second World War. Princip used the FN Model 1910 which used a .380 ACP, the same round used in Mac-11s, and the same round used in the Walther PPK. Princip was of course executed, but the fact remains that one single pull of the trigger could escalate into two World Wars. It is an odd reality, one that hopefully remains solely a reality of the past.
The Walther PPK is of course the ubiquitous weapon of British secret agent James Bond, but its role in history reaches far beyond the bonds of cinema. As certain defeat loomed on the horizon for the Germans in World War II, Hitler and his new bride, Eva Braun, holed up in their bunker, the Soviets not far from capturing Berlin. They said their farewells to those around them, and then closed themselves off in Hitler’s personal study. Moments later, a single gunshot was heard, and Hitler’s valet entered to see what is probably the most famous suicide scene in history. The air smelt of burnt almonds, a dead giveaway that cyanide had been used. Eva Braun showed no signs of phsyical trauma on her lifeless body, curled into the fetal position upon a couch. Beside her lay dead and slumped over, Adolf Hitler. He had a single gunshot wound to the right temple and blood had poured out, covering the arm of the couch and the floor. A coward, he committed suicide on the brink of defeat, a man who ordered the deaths of millions dead by his own hand, a .380 ACP round lodged in his brain. He was drug from the bunker, thrown in a bomb crater, doused in gasoline and set alight. His body has never been definitively found.
Heckler & Koch HK416
And thus we arrive at the most recent weapon on the list, and thus most relevant to today. On May 2, 2011, Operation Neptune Star was executed by DEVGRU (informally known as SEAL Team Six) at a compound in the suburbs of Abbottabad, Pakistan. Seventy-nine commandos stormed the building that held Osama bin Laden after entering the country under the cover of night. Upon entry, they were faced with a number of men, women and children. Three men and a woman were initially killed and a small firefight erupted between the SEALs and bin Laden’s courier. The courier was killed, and the commandos proceeded through the building. Bin Laden rushed upstairs, where he fled to a room containing two of his wives. As the commandos rushed in, one of the women charged the SEALs, was promptly shot in the leg, and both women were pushed aside. An AK-47 and a Makarov pistol were near bin Laden, but he was shot before he could reach the weapons. Though it has not be conclusively confirmed which exact weapon was used to kill him, nor which specific soldier pulled the trigger, it is known that this unit is typically equipped with the HK416. Furthermore, this weapon is optimal for the double tap firing technique, in which two shots are fired in quick succession without taking time to reacquire sights in between shots, and it is known that this is the method in which OBL was killed. The first shot hit him in the chest, the second in the face. The bullets were 5.56x45mm NATO rounds, known for their tendency to fragment upon impact. This had the unique effect of making Osama bin Laden’s brain, in pedestrian terms, explode. And well, good riddance.