Out of the five shootings which have occurred in American history, only one President survived; that was Ronald Reagan. The other four; Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F Kennedy; died. Now raise your hand if you’ve thought about the guns which shot US Presidents? We know that we really haven’t other than the sensationalism which surrounded some of them; The Kennedy assassination hype and Brady Bill after Reagan was shot. So what about the guns which were used?
.44 caliber Derringer
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Abraham Lincoln was shot in 1865 shortly after the Civil War ended by John Wilkes Booth. Most people know that however, the gun which was used was a single-shot .44-caliber Derringer. This gun was 6 inches long with a 2 ½ in barrel and only weighed about eight ounces.
Derringers were used as personal protection guns since the small size made them easy to hide. The Derringer used to kill Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre is, interestingly enough, housed in the museum basement of the Ford’s Theatre.
British Bull Dog
When James Garfield was President, there was no Secret Service like there is today. Presidents walked around with people all the time and police were used to keep them back sometimes or as crowd control. This is what made it easy for Charles J Guiteau to assassinate Garfield in 1881. Guiteau used a British Bull Dog revolver to shoot the President point blank in the back in a railroad station, before shooting a second time.
One bullet only grazed Garfield’s shoulder but the other one, the fatal one, hit him in the back missing his spinal cord although it passed the first lumbar vertebra and lodged behind his pancreas. The British Bull Dog was a popular pocket revolver which came in several calibers; the one used on Garfield was a .44-caliber bullet. They were designed to be carried in a coat pocket, and thus concealable.
.32 caliber Iver Johnson
It took two shots from a .32-caliber Iver-Johnson revolver to assassinate William McKinley. He was shot on September 6, 1901 in the late afternoon by Leon Czolgosz during a public hand shaking at the Temple of Music building. Iver-Johnson was a US Company that not only manufactured firearms, but also bicycles and motorcycles. It is said one bullet ricocheted off a button and landed in the President’s clothing. The other bullet, however, tore through his stomach, pancreas, and kidney.
Without Drs. who knew how to perform a complicated surgery nearby, McKinley died several days later of gangrene, a very painful death we are sure. Interestingly enough, Iver-Johnson also made American copies of British Bull Dog guns similar to the one used to kill James Garfield.
6.5 mm Carcano Model 91/38
1963 brought the shocking death of beloved President John F Kennedy. It is widely accepted that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin but there are still conspiracy theories that he could not have preformed the deed, and those will likely continue until the vault is opened to the public on those records. Oswald purchased two weapons for the assassination, a rifle and revolver, but only one was used on the President.
The rifle, a 6.5 mm Carcano Model 91/38, is definitely worth looking at because it was an uncommon gun. Italy was losing the war and began manufacturing a new 6.5 mm M91/41 the year after the M91/38 went into production. The Carcano was remodeled in 1940 to use the 6.5×52 mm ammunition which was in strong supply. This bolt action weapon did utilize a clip for the ammunition similar to the Austrian Mannlicher clips. The rifle was considered a short style weapon.
.22 caliber Rohm RG-14
Just 69 days into his Presidency, Ronald Reagan was shot at by John Hinckley, Jr. six times. None of the bullets were fatal to the President in 1981 despite the punctured lung and heavy internal bleeding he suffered. Hinckley didn’t actually manage to get a shot into Reagan, it was dumb luck that the final bullet ricocheted off the armored side of the limousine and went through the armpit of the President.
Hinckley had picked up the gun and bullets at a store which had the two in stock, the single gun and six bullets. Three of the other five bullets fired from the Rohm RG-14 .22-caliber revolver hit other men. Although none of them died, White House Press Secretary James Brady was shot in the head and paralyzed, which lead to the much controversial Brady Bill. The Rohm revolver has been deemed a gun which can only be used for crime due to its size.
It is interesting to note that all the guns, with the exception of Kennedy’s killing, were handguns. Then again, maybe since a handgun is easier to get close to someone with than a rifle.