Famous weapons used in assassinations and attempted assassinations often become lodged in pop culture lore. Firearms like the Carcano rifle used to kill John F. Kennedy or the pocket Derringer that shot and killed Abraham Lincoln are well-known, infamous, and can be identified by almost anyone. But many other assassination weapons aren’t especially familiar. For example, the pistol that started World War I might be the most famous individual firearm in history, yet almost nobody knows what it is. Likewise, the rifle that felled Martin Luther King Jr. is a common hunting rifle with millions of copies sold – but do you know what it actually is? What about the guns that have killed other presidents, prime ministers, and historical figures? Here are 10 of the most famous weapons used in assassinations and attempted killings in the past 100+ years. Before that, assassins mostly made due with knives, swords, and poison. The invention of small handguns changed the world and created the most common means of assassination.
Single-Shot .44 Caliber Philadelphia Derringer Despite being less than six inches long, the Derringer used by John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Abraham Lincoln was a hugely powerful weapon, known as a “pocket cannon.” Booth was able to hide it in his pocket until the fateful moment where he shot Lincoln in the head. It’s currently on display in the basement of Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC.
Webley British Bulldog .442 Revolver Deranged lawyer and office-seeker Charles Guiteau shot and killed President James Garfield on July 2, 1881 with a Webley British Bulldog .442 revolver. Guiteau spent $10 on the pistol and bullets, and originally wanted a Webley with ivory grips, as he felt it would be more attractive in a museum. Following Guiteau’s trial, the Webley was placed in the Smithsonian, but disappeared soon after.
FN Model 1910 Designed by John Browning and made in Belgium, the 9 millimeter FN Model 1910 was the pistol used by Serbian national Gavrilo Princip to shoot and kill Archduke Franz Ferdinand, kicking off the complex chain of events that lead to World War I. After the shooting, the pistol found its way to a Jesuit priest and is now in the Vienna Museum of Military History. An FN Model 1910 was also used to assassinate Louisana governor Huey Long in 1935.
6.5 mm Carcano Model 91/38 Carbine Likely history’s most famous individual weapon, the Carcano rifle used by Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate President John F. Kennedy was made in Italy in 1940. Oswald ordered it from a catalog on March 12, 1963, and paid extra to have it fitted with a Japanese scope. It was found on the floor of the Texas Book Depository in the aftermath of the JFK assassination, and despite a Denver oilman’s attempt to buy it, the gun is currently stashed in the National Archives. The rifle is often improperly referred to as a Mannlicher-Carcano, after the manufacturer of the bullets used to kill Kennedy.
.22 Caliber Iver-Johnson Cadet Revolver On June 5, 1968, Palestinian Arab Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Senator Robert F. Kennedy with a small .22 Caliber Iver-Johnson Cadet revolver. He fired three shots at almost point-blank range, and while it was initially hoped that the weak stopping power of the weapon would benefit Kennedy, he died 26 hours after the shooting. The pistol became property of the LAPD and is now in the California State Archive.
.38 Caliber Revolver First designed in 1898, variants of the .38 caliber revolver are among the most popular pistols in American history. They’ve also been used in a number of high profile assassinations. Among the killings carried out with .38 caliber revolvers are the murder of John Lennon, the shootings of San Francisco Mayor Willie Moscone and Council Member Harvey Milk, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, and the second of the two killings by Lee Harvey Oswald, the shooting of Dallas PD officer J.D. Tippit. Oswald himself would be killed by a .38 caliber revolver, a Colt Cobra fired by Jack Ruby. In 1975, a deranged Patty Hearst follower fired a shot at President Ford with a .38, but missed and was arrested.
Remington Gamemaster 760 .30-06 Rifle Martin Luther King, Jr. assassin James Earl Ray bought the Remington rifle he used on March 30, 1968, from Aeromarine Supply Company in Birmingham, Alabama. Five days later, he fired a single bullet at Dr. King, killing him. The rifle was found a short distance away, wrapped in a blanket, and is now in the Civil Rights Museum on the grounds of the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was shot.
Beretta 1934 .38 Caliber Pistol A semi-automatic Beretta 1934 pistol was used to shoot and kill Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. The pistol, fired by Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse, was first carried by an Italian officer during that county’s invasion of Abyssinia in 1938, then taken by a British officer as a war trophy. How it ended up in India is unknown, but a co-conspirator gave it to Godse. The pistol’s current whereabouts are unknown.
.22 Caliber Rohm RG-14 A cheap and easily-concealed Rohm revolver was used in the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan on March 21, 1981. The gun was found at the scene, and is now in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
.32 Caliber Iver-Johnson Revolver Polish-American anarchist Leon Czolgosz lost his job in the Panic of 1893, and blamed President William McKinley. He bought a .32 caliber Iver-Johnson revolver, and three days later, on September 6, 1901, he shot McKinley while shaking hands with him in a receiving line in Buffalo. McKinley died on September 14, and Czolgosz was executed in December. The gun is now on display in the Buffalo History Museum. In 1932, a .32 caliber revolver of a different make was used in the attempted assassination of Franklin Roosevelt, an attempt which actually killed the Mayor of Chicago.