The 19th century lunatic musician had a tough choice to make: play an instrument, or shoot folks in the face. Now, it used to be that you had to play the people a nice harmonica solo first and then riddle them with bullets while they were clapping, but no longer! These are "harmonica guns."
Horst Held Antique Firearms
So named for their popularity with hobos.
Well, OK, technically they weren't functional harmonicas -- it's just that their loading mechanisms somewhat resembled the instruments, as opposed to the rotating cylinders or clips we all know and love and do murders with today. That lump of metal hanging over the side may have had some benefits, in that it caused fans of soulful wind instruments a moment's confusion before you shot them in the mouth, but it had some drawbacks, too: For one, the off-side weight made the gun difficult to aim. For two, reloading after a single firing meant that the operator had to manually slide the harmonica magazine across to the next round precisely so as not to overshoot the chamber.
Oh, and aside from appearance, there's another similarity between harmonica guns and musical instruments: If you move or place your fingers wrong, you'll produce an extremely unpleasant noise. In music, that means an off-key note; in gunplay, that means the magazine was left between chambers and might chain-fire, thus exploding all of your fingers off.
The Price of Freedom: American's At War
Yeah, it's cool. But it takes, like, three feats to use.
One noise is a bit more unpleasant than the other.
Hand mortars, used from the 1500s through the early 1800s, were designed to solve that age-old problem: If there's somebody standing very far away from you, how do you pull all of his parts off of him without having to walk all the way over there?
The answer, as we all know now, was propelled explosions. We have slick high tech rockets and missiles for that purpose in modern times, but back in the day, the only way to hurl an uncontrolled explosion was with another uncontrolled explosion. Hence, the hand mortar.
Above: Proof that Michael Bay is not a lone historical oddity.
It works a little like our current mortars do, in that it uses explosive force to hurl an explosive device a long distance before it explodes. So wait, why is this considered lunacy? It's a freakin' handheld mortar; that's just plain badass. Give two of them to an irate Chilean and let him loose in Detroit, and you've got the next Grand Theft Auto. There was only one problem: Back in the day, a grenade had a fuse that you lit before hurling it at your adversary. So after lighting the grenade, you stuffed it down the barrel of the hand mortar and then fired that, hoping against hope that the timing worked as intended. Because if that grenade fuse gets bent double on itself, or clipped, or an errant spark detonates it early, you've got a bundle of potential shrapnel in your hand.
Or both hands, depending on how irate and Chilean you are.
Gun Powder Ma
Judging by our reader demographics, the answer to both questions is "very."
Much like any modern pistol, pepperbox guns hold multiple bullets for repeat firing. However, unlike those damned communist revolvers, a pepperbox doesn't believe in "sharing for the common good." Each bullet gets its own private barrel, and probably a two-car garage and a nice lawn to tend, too. That's the American Dream, after all: A gun barrel for every citizen.
If that isn't in the constitution, it damn well should be.
So wait, what's the problem here? You can duel-wield mini guns, right?! Give two of those to a disgruntled Belgian and set him loose in Tokyo, and you've got the nex -- well, you get the idea. But there's a good reason that, outside of Metal Gear Solid, you don't see many soldiers walking around wielding mini guns themselves: They're usually mounted to vehicles or on stands.
Or on badasses.
That's because the weight of the barrels is simply too much to aim precisely, and keeping a steady supply of ammunition -- which, in the pepperbox's case, was loaded manually by hand-rotating the barrel between shots -- is too complex for feasible use on the battlefield. But maybe we're just being wussies here: That six-shot pepperbox up there doesn't look too heavy. But then, what's the point of that? If it's only six shots, that's just a standard revolver.
Which is why most pepperbox guns came with more barrels -- some with 18 or even 24.
This thing really ought to have a "No Smoking" sign stamped on it.
Even if you could haul that bastard into an upright position long enough to empty all of your chambers, it's been estimated that it would take one man anywhere between 40 and 60 minutes to reload it after a single volley. That's somewhere around 40 to 60 minutes longer than you want to spend weaponless while getting shot at by other men with equally ludicrously oversized hand pistols.
Besides, if you're going to go with "intensely impractical but looks fucking bitching to use," well, lunatics of the previous centuries had your back in better ways: Here's the swordcanevolver.
We dearly hope that's supposed to be a horse.
And if simultaneously stabbing and shooting a man isn't enough to get your crazy-socks in a ball, you could always get yourself an Apache revolver, aka your one stop murder shop; the bloodiest knuckles; a veritable Swiss Army Knife of death:
If our Boy Scouts carried these, we wouldn't even need cops.
The Apache revolver, oddly enough, was named for the French Les Apaches and not the Native Americans. While it was noted that, due to the lack of barrel and small caliber, the Apache was not a very effective firearm, shootpunchstabbing enthusiasts did clarify that it still "proved deadly at extremely close range." So no, we're not just being our usual hyperbolic man-child selves when we insist that one operated this gun by "punching bullets into the stab wounds on your enemies' damn heads." That shit was in the manual.
It was a very short manual.
Of course, if brutish brass knuckle guns were a little too low rent for you, history did have a few classier ways to punch a stab into a gunshot wound.
For more from Adam, you can check out the rest of his Cracked articles here or visit Alert Level Tumblr! His friend Kevin Axt also runs the brilliantly funny Web comic Donuts for Sharks, and you should go there right now. Check out other stuff from Ben at This Blog Rules.
For more insane weapons, check out 7 WTF Military Weapons You Won't Believe They Actually Built and The 7 Most Stupidly Overpowered Hunting Weapons.