The Gatling gun and other tools to limit bloodshed

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PH1 Shane T. McCoy / Creative Commons image

One member of the Special Forces lays down cover fire with a Gatling gun.

I went online today to see if I could buy a Gatling gun. It turns out there are at least five websites where the weapon can be purchased. One outlet has a kit so you can assemble the gun yourself.

A Gatling gun can fire 800 rounds a minute. Other models can shoot 3,000 rounds. That’s 50 bullets every second. The Gatling gun is not defined as a weapon of mass destruction (WMD), but ask the victims about that, most of whom throughout history were black or brown.

Dr. Richard Gatling lived in a Hartford mansion overlooking the Colt Firearms factory in Dutch Point.  His 1861 invention– the first WMD — was built by the Colt company while it was being run by Samuel Colt’s widow Elizabeth.

The good doctor said he wanted to limit bloodshed in war, so he created a machine of death powerful enough to scare away the enemy. Also, the gun could limit battlefield deaths, Gatling argued, because we wouldn’t need so many soldiers.

There are always good reasons for producing — and using– bigger and more deadly weapons.  Gatling’s excuse for creating his gun is exactly the same criminal reasoning used for dropping atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945.

A quarter million people were killed in Hiroshima on Aug. 6.  Another 80,000 perished in Nagasaki on Aug. 9.  The historical justification for these bombings, used by nuclear weapon boosters, was to end World War II.

Ground zero for the Nagasaki plutonium bomb was St. Mary’s Cathedral.  It hit just two minutes after the start of the 11 a.m. mass.  The parishioners were vaporized or turned into charcoal.

Thus began the arms race. Only ten years later more than a dozen Connecticut towns hosted Nike missile bases, built in response to the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Some of these missiles were fitted with nuclear warheads. From 1956 to 1971, Windsor, Manchester, and New Britain residents were among those who shared their back yards with the Nike nukes.

There are currently 2,100 active U.S. nuclear warheads in the world today. Some of them are on the 14 Trident submarines built at the Groton shipyard by General Dynamics.

The sheer number of these weapons, not to mention the populations they can kill, are staggering and almost impossible to comprehend. On a visceral level they mean little. It takes a smaller number, closer to home, to have an impact.

One example: Adam Lanza’s 26 victims at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. Lanza carried a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle, called the civilian version of the M-16.

The Bushmaster is not a nuke, just an efficient way to quickly kill many human beings. It’s available at a local gun store too.

Steve Thornton is a retired union organizer who writes for the Shoeleather History project.

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