'Machine Gun' refers to a broad classification of firearms of differing shapes, sizes and calibres. The key common feature amongst these weapons is the ability to make a lot of problems go away in a very short period of time.
Typical classifications of machine gun are the automatic rifle, the sub-machine gun, the heavy, medium and light machine guns and the auto-cannon. They are utilised across the world by military, police, criminals, and those with self-esteem issues. And Republicans.
Pre-Machine Gun Era
Humans, since they first evolved, have killed other humans for food, shelter, territory, politics, race, gender, sexuality, sport, shits and giggles. As societies developed, leaders, rather than killing each other personally in one-on-one combat, increasingly took to settling their differences by proxy, using armies to fight on their behalf. The principle was usually simple: one side would run at another, then they would hack each other, then — with the invention of gunpowder — shoot each other to pieces. Whoever had the most men left at the end won.
This was all fine when battles involved only nice, civilised European armies, who knew the rules and stuck to them. The Colonial Powers, however, found that the native populations of the countries they were
exploiting developing paid absolutely no attention to the rules and attacked chaotically, but often in much greater number. In turn, the bloody savages were starting to get the better of their colonial masters, armed only with pointy sticks and a deep hatred of the white man. A solution was needed that would greatly increase the fire-power of the armies without disrupting their nice, civilised ways of warfare.
Early Machine Guns
In 1861, the 'Gatling Gun' was invented, greatly increasing the maximum killpower of an army. The gun was a multi-barrelled design, like one of those dealies Arnold Schwarzenegger has when he shoots all of those police cars from the office block in Terminator 2. It was not, strictly speaking, automatic, since it had to be operated by a hand-crank, but the results were amazing in the hands of the courageous European armies facing the ungrateful native populations. The almost constant wall of lead proved too much for the natives, and as the dark devils tried to inhumanely butcher the brave Europeans with sharpened bamboo, they were cut down to size both literally and metaphorically.
The next leap came with the 'Maxim Gun' in the late 19th Century, invented by Hiram Maxim. This used the recoil of the fired bullet to drive the mechanism, making it the first mass produced true automatic weapon. Its consistent rate of fire incalculably improved the efficiency of slaughtering native populations, landing it a place in the first edition Guinness Book of Records.
World War 1
As war loomed over Europe, culminating in the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914, arms manufacturers were busy selling their wares to the major powers. No arms dealer profited off war more than Hiram Maxim, who sold his machine gun to all sides and laughed all the way to the Swiss bank. It was quite a shock to the system for the Generals of each side, who were used to using machine guns against people who didn't have them. Nevertheless, the tactics employed were the same as historic battles against other European enemies. The soldiers would try to gain ground by charging at the enemy lines, only to be met by an impenetrable line of fire and would be invariably mowed down. The enemy soldiers would then counter attack the same exact way, only to meet the same exact fate.
The courageous generals, from their vantage points miles from the front, valiantly refused to accept the reality of this industrialised killing, sending wave after wave of
pawns brave soldiers to bloody and pointless massacres glorious sacrifice. Four years later and nearly 40 Million killed, wounded and missing in action all sides counted, the Allies still had reserves of fresh meat to throw at the enemy. The depleted Central Powers, whose sole remaining soldier was a guy named Gerhard who preferred writing flowery novels to charging pointlessly into battle, inevitably capitulated.
The machine guns leading up to World War 1 were large affairs requiring at least 2 soldiers to man them but in the latter part of the war, advances were made in automatic personal weaponry, most notably, the machine pistol or sub-machine gun. Why wait for the enemy to come at you before scything them down when you can take the carnage to the enemy? Alas, war ended, but the sub-machine gun was embraced enthusiastically by the criminality of the USA and the Thompson Sub-Machine Gun (aka the Tommy Gun) became the must have accessory that any gangster could not afford to be seen without.
World War 2
In 1939, Europe was once again at war, this time imaginatively titled World War 2 (or World War 1, Part 2, The Revenge, in US Theatres). Lessons had been learnt after the last war, most importantly that most men will not survive walking into a hail of machine gun fire. Battles became less entrenched and more fluid, complemented in the rise of sub-machine guns and automatic rifles that could be operated by a single soldier. The ever resourceful Nazis found automatic weapons particularly useful in assisting with genocide and crimes against humanity, and before the idea of the gas chamber was hit upon, the machine gun was favoured for its efficiency in eliminating races of undesirables.
By the end of the Second World War, machine guns, like sexually transmitted diseases amongst the troops, were everywhere, bristling from aeroplanes, tanks, trucks, jeeps, donkeys, children and other beasts of burden.
The Cold War and Beyond
Development of automatic weapons continued and the ordinary infantryman became routinely armed with an automatic weapon in the form of the assault rifle. This meant that most people on the battlefield had the capacity to rain down fire and vengeance at a biblical rate and everyone had a fair chance at killing someone. If that's not democratic, I don't know what is.
Firearms didn't really develop greatly after that; it was all variations on the assault rifle theme. Military planners were too preoccupied with nuclear weapons to think about conventional warfare. Military leaders constantly look for ways of killing masses of people in the most efficient way possible, and as one bomb was capable of destroying a city, the nuclear weapon was king and the common gun became somewhat of a relic. However, due to the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction, or "MAD," no side would use their weapons in anger. To do so would precipitate full scale nuclear war, which would destroy the planet; the fact that all the superpowers had nuclear arsenals meant that they would never be used. It was proposed that if everybody got rid of their nuclear weapons, that also meant they wouldn't be used. This idea was originally dismissed as "liberal mamby pamby pussy" talk, though nuclear weapons were indeed never used, forcing countries to settle their differences the old fashioned way, as was seen in Korea, Vietnam and later the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. At last, the machine gun reclaimed its crown.
Militarily, automatic rifles are still the most deployed weapons, but they have also found favour with police forces world wide. These violent gangs of peacekeepers are routinely armed to the teeth with sub-machine guns and assault rifles, which have proved useful in keeping
peaceful gangs of prostestors violent gangs of thugs in check.
Private ownership of automatic weapons is not high in most countries for obvious reasons. They have the capacity to kill and maim a lot of people very easily and should only be handled by trained professionals, i.e. police and military forces who will only kill and maim lots of people when deemed appropriate by a state. The USA, however, being very enthusiastic about gun ownership despite legislative restrictions and common sense, has a love affair with automatic weapons. They are seen as an extension of citizens' Second Amendment Rights. This protects ownership of firearms as part of well regulated militia necessary for the security of the state, though the last bit about part of regulated militia and state security was deemed terribly inconvenient and effectively ditched by recent Supreme Court rulings.
The Republican Party, in particular the extreme elements that make up the Tea Party, are the biggest advocates of machine gun ownership.
Right-Wing Nut Serious politician Jesse Kelly ran for the Senate in Arizona in 2010 on a Republican ticket with such campaign slogans as "Shoot a Fully Automatic AR-15 With Jesse Kelly." As the National Rifle Association slogan goes, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people, but people with machine guns can kill a lot more people".
Examples of Popular Machine Guns
The AK-47, the ever-popular Russian assault rifle, can be found all over the world in the hands of militaries, police forces, drug dealers, Al-Qaeda, revolutionaries and excitable Middle Eastern wedding parties.
The M16 was the iconic assault rifle of the US forces from Vietnam onwards. It continues in various forms today with forces worldwide and is the Official Firearm of the Republican Party.
Thompson Sub-machine Gun
Developed at the end of World War 1 to clear trenches, the "Tommy Gun" saw major service in World War 2, though it is most associated with the criminal gangsters of the interwar years. It is most effectively used when the firer shoots whilst speaking in a bad James Cagney accent.
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