Brief History of Handguns

Brief History of Handguns

The history of the handgun extends all the way back to the 14th century in China. Today we use handguns for not only warfare but also personal protection, keeping them locked in our homes. The history of the handgun is a fascinating one that mirrors advancements in technology, warfare, and society itself. 

Here at Colorado Handgun Safety, we are here to educate Colorado gun owners on all things related to their firearms, including becoming NRA certified, how to master your pistol, and yes – even the history of how the modern handgun came to be. Let’s dig in!

Early Hand Cannons (14th Century): 

The earliest recognizable handheld firearms known as “hand cannons” emerged in China during the late 13th century and spread to the Middle East and Europe in the 14th century. These were essentially small cannons that could be held and aimed by hand.

Key Advancements

  • Introduction of handheld firearms.
  • Use of gunpowder for projectile propulsion.

Matchlock and Wheellock Pistols (15th-16th Centuries): 

The matchlock and wheellock mechanisms were introduced in the 15th century, allowing for a more controlled ignition of the gunpowder. Wheellock pistols were used by European cavalry and became a symbol of status.

Key Advancements:

  • Development of matchlock mechanism for more reliable ignition.
  • Introduction of wheellock, allowing for better safety and control.

Flintlock Pistols (17th Century): 

In the 17th century, the flintlock mechanism was developed. This became the standard mechanism for handguns and other firearms for the next two centuries. Flintlock pistols were widely used in various conflicts and became a common sidearm for military officers.

Key Advancements:

  • Flintlock mechanism made loading and firing more practical.
  • Widespread adoption in military, leading to standardized designs.


Percussion Cap Revolvers (19th Century): 

The percussion cap system, invented in the early 19th century, led to the creation of revolvers, which allowed multiple shots to be fired without reloading. Samuel Colt’s 1836 patent on a revolving gun was a significant advancement in this area.

Key Advancements: 

  • Invention of percussion cap, enhancing reliability.
  • Introduction of revolvers, allowing for multiple shots without reloading.

Metallic Cartridges and Semi-Automatic Pistols (Late 19th Century): 

With the development of self-contained metallic cartridges, firearms technology advanced rapidly. In 1885, Hiram Maxim invented the first self-loading pistol, leading to the development of semi-automatic handguns.

Key Advancements:

  • Creation of self-contained metallic cartridges.
  • Introduction of semi-automatic pistols, enabling faster reloading.

20th Century: Advancements and Widespread Adoption: 

Throughout the 20th century, handguns saw numerous advancements in design, caliber, and function. World Wars and other conflicts spurred development, leading to iconic designs like the Colt M1911 and the Walther P38. In many countries, handguns became standard police weapons.

Key Advancements:

  • Development of iconic designs like the Colt M1911.
  • Introduction of double-action mechanisms, improving safety.
  • Widespread standardization in military and police forces.

Modern Era (21st Century): 

In the modern era, handguns have continued to evolve with new materials, manufacturing techniques, and ergonomic designs. They remain an essential tool for law enforcement, military, personal defense, and competitive shooting. The debate over handgun regulation and control continues to be a contentious issue in many countries.

Key Advancements:

  • Advancements in materials, such as polymer frames, reducing weight.
  • Enhanced ergonomics and accessory customization (e.g., Picatinny rails).
  • Continued focus on safety features, like loaded chamber indicators and integrated trigger safeties.

Colorado Handgun Safety: Experts in Handgun Training

As you can see there have been a myriad advancements with the revolution of handguns since the 14th century. With each era, the handgun has gotten lighter, safer, and reliable with each iteration. Our modern handguns even have scopes for more accurate shooting and advanced safety features. If you are a gun owner who’d like to become NRA certified or want to master your pistol with greater levels of safety and precision, work with Colorado Handgun Safety. We are Colorado’s leading firearm safety instructors available throughout all of Colorado. Contact us to learn more today!

Get the Best Firearm Training from Colorado Handgun Safety

Colorado Handgun Safety offers a wide variety of classes to meet the needs of all types of gun owners. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced shooter, our classes provide the knowledge and skills necessary for safe and responsible firearm ownership. Plus, our classes are taught by certified instructors with years of firearm experience.

We offer basic handgun safety classes as well as more advanced courses, such as concealed carry, self-defense, and private shooting sessions. Our goal is to ensure that all gun owners are educated and responsible in the handling of their firearms. Visit our schedule to learn more about our classes or give us a call today!

Reserve Your Class Today