Americans have a lasting fascination with guns. The perennially debated Second Amendment has guaranteed citizens of the United States "the right to bear arms" since 1791. And while what, exactly, that means is up for interpretation, the Amendment has never been abolished. There are federal and state laws that control guns in the U.S., however -- even ones the size of an iPod nano.
It wasn't until the 1920s that states began regulating firearms. As states passed gun laws, the federal government did, too. The National Firearms Act of 1934, the Federal Firearms Act of 1938 and the Gun Control Act of 1968 created and codified the restrictions on gun ownership in the United States [source: U.S. Department of Justice].
The relationship between gun laws and the Supreme Court has continued into the 21st century. The nation's capital, Washington, D.C., maintains a law that bans handguns. The law is meant to prevent people from carrying easily concealed weapons. This regulation was challenged by a case before the Supreme Court in March 2008 [source: Washington Post]. But even if the court upholds the local law, it will still be a difficult task to rid the district -- or any city -- fully of handguns.
According to a 2006 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms report, a total of 3,614,452 handguns, rifles and shotguns were manufactured in the United States that year. Of those, 333,499 were exported outside of the country [source: ATF]. The United States certainly provides a major market for gun manufacturers. In 2005, the U.S. imported 1.84 million guns from overseas for sale -- in addition to those made in America [source: U.S. Census]. As a result, there are more than 200 million guns in the U.S., and the nation has 44 million registered gun owners [source: The Globalist]
But there's one gun that won't likely show up in America. It's been recorded as the smallest gun in the world. While its bullets only travel just over the length of a football field, because of its small size, the gun is illegal to import into the United States [source: Daily Mail].
Find out about the world's smallest gun on the next page.
According to Guinness World Records, the title of the smallest working revolver in the world goes to the Miniature Revolver C1ST, manufactured by SwissMiniGun [source: Daily Mail]. The tiny firearm measures just more than 2 inches and weighs less than 1 ounce. It fires bullets made by SwissMiniGun that are 2.34 mm caliber, rim fire cartridges and come as either blank rounds (which don't produce a bullet) or live rounds (bulleted) [source: SwissMiniGun].
Only a very small number of the guns have been produced since they were first manufactured in 2005. They're largely collectors' items. About 300 have been made -- this tiny gun carries a big price tag. The standard steel C1ST model goes for around $6,200, and the company has been creating only 100 of them per year [source: SwissMiniGun].
There's also a customized version of the revolver -- the Nr. A1YG -- made of 18k gold. The higher-end model can be outfitted with all manner of grips, from ebony to diamonds. This version comes complete with a tiny rocket launcher attachment, which fires luminescent rockets that explode in green, white or red. The company has fetched up to almost $60,000 for a custom Nr. A1YGs [source: Daily Mail].
The novelty SwissMiniGun will likely never be mass produced. The detail that goes into each one and the high cost prohibit widespread manufacturing. But that hasn't kept concern among some law enforcement quarters from growing. The company says it can't ship its firearms to the United Kingdom, and the guns are banned in the United States. The U.S. federal gun laws outlaw any working firearm with a barrel less than 3 inches long [source: Daily Mail]. This is greater than the entire length of the SwissMiniGun.
One reason the guns are outlawed in the U.S. is due to the small size of their bullets. Firing a cartridge essentially smashes the bullet, making it impossible to trace using ballistics investigation [source: WTVJ]. The SwissMiniGun is also small enough that it fits completely in the palm of the average adult's hand, rendering it highly concealable -- its holster even has a key chain ring on the end. This makes some federal agencies nervous: U.S. laws prohibit any firearm that can't be detected at airports [source: ATF].
While Paul Erad, the owner of SwissMiniGun is complying with laws that prohibit him from selling the guns to these countries' citizens, you could say he's incredulous. In one interview he cited post-Sept. 11 "paranoia" as the reason for America's unwillingness to import the guns [source: Daily Mail]. The official SwissMiniGun site points out that some pellet guns pack as much as 10 times the wallop of the tiny revolver.
The SwissMiniGun's 2.34mm-caliber ammunition travels just under 400 feet per second. Its bullets pack a punch of about 0.71 foot pound of energy [source: SwissMiniGun]. By contrast, the Remington 300 Ultra Mag round carries 4,220 foot pounds of energy with it [source: Remington].
On the other hand, according to the United Kingdom's House of Commons, it takes at least one foot pound of force to inflict a penetrating wound, like a gunshot injury. Anything less (like the force delivered by SwissMiniGun cartridges) "is incapable of penetrating even vulnerable parts of the body, such as the eye" [source: House of Commons]. But ballistic experts claim that even when fired at close range, a projectile with less than a foot pound of force can still penetrate the skin -- especially the eye.
These statistics aren't convincing U.S. authorities to lift the ban on the SwissMiniGun, though. One airport security official told Miami's NBC 6 station, "I think anything that shoots a projectile is dangerous" [source: WTVJ].
For more information on firearms and related topics, visit the next page.
More Great Links
- Beary, Brian. "Europe's lucrative gun trade with America." The Globalist. February 19, 2008. http://www.theglobalist.com/DBWeb/printStoryId.aspx?StoryId=6193
- Dolan, Andy. "Introducing the world's smallest gun that fires deadly 300mph bullets - but is just two inches long." Daily Mail. March 5, 2008. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=526655&in_page_id=1770
- White, Charlie. "SwissMiniGun not intimidating, but could still kill you." Gizmodo. August 15, 2006. http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/gadgets/swissminigun-not-intimidating-but-could-still-kill-you-194267.php
- "A layman's history of gun control in America." Free Republic. September 4, 2001. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/516676/posts
- "Airsoft safety." Airsoft Gun Help. 2006. http://www.airsoftgunhelp.com/airsoft-gun-safety.htm
- "Annual firearms manufacturing and export report: Year 2006." U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. January 29, 2008. http://www.atf.gov/firearms/stats/afmer/afmer2006.pdf
- "Ballistics information." Remington. http://www.remington.com/products/ammunition/ballistics/
- "Firearms: Legal < prohibited persons." U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. http://www.atf.gov/firearms/legal/prohibitions.htm
- "Gun sales rise as accident and crime rates fall." National Shooting Sports Foundation. June 5, 2006. http://www.nssf.org/news/PR_idx.cfm?PRloc=share/PR/&PR=060506.cfm
- "Gun smaller than palm concerns airport officials." WTJV. April 2, 2007. http://www.nbc6.net/news/11456594/detail.html
- "History of Federal Firearms Laws in the United States." U.S. Department of Justice, Appendix C. http://www.justice.gov/archive/opd/AppendixC.htm
- "Principles of firearms control." U.K. Parliament. April 13, 2000. http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.com/pa/cm199900/cmselect/cmhaff/95/9504.htm
- "The D.C. gun case." Washington Post. March 17, 2008. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/16/AR2008031602152.html