Weapons have always played a crucial role in society. They have destroyed civilizations and created new ones. The history of personal weapons began in prehistoric times with simple clubs, stone tools, wooden spears and simple slings. Weapons that developed later include bows and arrows and sophisticated sword blade technology. With the introduction in the 9th Century of gunpowder from China, rifles, hand guns and machine-guns were invented. Hand-held firearms had their beginnings in early medieval times, but they were not perfected until the 16th century. The knight's shining armor was overcome by the hand gun during this period of history. The matchlock, although cumbersome, was the first real useable hand-held gun. A section of match cord burned very slowly and was used to ignite powder in a flash pan, which ignited powder in the barrel sending a lead ball in the general direction of the target. This system had several flaws however. The smoldering match cord was a dead giveaway of the firer’s position to an enemy at night. Also, keeping an open spark in very close proximity to open gun powder was very dangerous and resulted in many accidents.
The modern gun has been referred to as “the great equalizer,” as it is the only personal weapon that puts a 100-pound woman on equal footing with a 220-pound mugger, a 75-year old retiree on equal footing with a 19-year old “gang banger” and a mild mannered gentleman on equal footing with a carload of disorderly thugs with baseball bats. The gun removes the disparity in physical strength, size or numbers between a potential attacker and a defender. American innovation and productivity advanced the availability and effectiveness of peacekeeping guns and weapons of war. The lever-action rifles manufactured by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company were among the earliest repeating rifles. One of the most successful and famous Winchester rifles was the Winchester Carbine Model 1873, commonly known as "The Gun that Won the West" for its predominant role in the hands of Western settlers. This famous rifle inspired the 1950 Western film, Winchester '73, starring Jimmy Stewart and directed by Anthony Mann. Originally chambered for the .44-40 cartridge, the Winchester Carbine ‘73 was later produced in .38-40 and .32-20, all of which were also popular handgun cartridges of the day. Winchester produced over 720,000 carbines, making them hugely popular and readily available on the frontier.