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The rifle: Its history and its place in the future

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Gene Blevins/Reuters

(Read caption) Aristotle Rogel of Aegis Trading Enterprises gun shop handles a Umarex Colt M4 semi automatic rifle.

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Rifles aren't new. Far from it, in fact. The firearm that sits in millions of American homes – and became a weapon of mass destruction in this year's horrific killings – has a history that goes back for centuries. Alexander Rose, a New York historian, tracked the history of the ubiquitous weapon in the well-received 2008 book "American Rifle: A Biography."

This week, I asked Rose to look back at the rifle's history, explore its evolution from civilian to military use, and consider its future. Since he focuses on history and technology instead of modern political debates, we left the issue of contemporary gun control for others to discuss.
Q: When did the rifle first appear?

A: The rifle made its first appearance in Europe in the early-modern era, around the 16th century, but there were exceedingly few of them. German immigrants to Pennsylvania in the early 18th century brought their gunsmithing skills and blended English-style muskets with German rifle technology to create a specifically American hybrid, popularly known as a "Kentucky rifle."


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