So to my knowledge, one of the reasons that gunpowder changed everything was that the firearm was the first weapon that could reliably penetrate plate armor, which made feudal armored cavalry (knights, samurai, Mamluks, etc.) more or less obsolete in the old world. But the slow rate of fire of early guns made them inferior to bows in every other way.

So why would the introduction of firearms by Europeans change anything in Africa and the Americas, where there wasn't any tradition of heavy cavalry warfare? Why would Native American and African tribes be so keen on acquiring guns that they would trade slaves and furs for them? Why were the tribes that gained access to firearms able to defeat and enslave those that didn't?

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    Did firearms affect conflict on these two continents? Please cite nontrivial assertions. – Mark C. Wallace Feb 7 '18 at 18:46
  • To begin with, the Atlantic Slave Trade ended well before Gatling guns did ever exist... – SJuan76 Feb 7 '18 at 19:18
  • @KorvinStarmast, good point, deleting and will come back with something more substantial – Francis Wilson Feb 7 '18 at 19:39
  • AFAIK, it wasn't that the American & African tribes were interested in guns particularly, especially at first when they were still primitive. (The African slave trade long predated even primitive guns.) They were just one of many trade goods. As for why, consider why many modern Americans (and people from other countries, of course) will pay several hundreds of dollars, plus an ongoing monthly fee, to have the latest status-symbol smartphone. – jamesqf Feb 8 '18 at 3:33
  • Your premise is not true: traditional heavy cavalry was ended in Europe because of the new heavy infantry formations that effectively could stop charges with long pole arms – Greg Feb 8 '18 at 15:21

Fire arms have a certain shock and awe to them that bows lack, which give them a psychological edge in a battle. The first 'Gatling' style guns were nearly unusable due to the rate they would fail, however they were still deployed as they were scary regardless of functionality.

Guns also fair a bit better in poor (windy) weather and cut through obstacles more readily (especially in a jungle). Archers tend to be best in favorable weather conditions, which couldn't always be counted on in a defence scenario.

But the slow rate of fire of early guns made them inferior to bows in every other way.

This is only correct with an assumption...a gun is inferior to a bow in the hands of a trained bowman. Given to an untrained person, a gun is superior in pretty much every manner. Archery tended to be a lifestyle, especially in England, where a person would learn to use a bow in their youth and hone the skill over many years of practice. Raising archers for your army from a populace that had this background was a relatively quick process. However it took a significant amount of time to raise archers from a population that didn't have this cultural background. Reversely a standing garrison can be given guns with a little training and be ready within a month or two.

Should put a side note in that the Native Americans did in fact face 'armored' beasts. A gun was capable of dropping a Bison far simpler than arrows ever would and was a superior tool when used for hunting big game. Not all weapon acquisition was for war.

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Answered my own question!


"In Europe, the strategic advantage of the gunpowder technology was its ability to pierce armor, something that was seldom worn in and around the rainforests of Africa. There the advantage was the projectile’s ability to cut through the thicket and overgrowth that often served as cover for troops and escapees. Kea describes how the flintlock revolutionized military formations and strategies along the Lower Guinea Coast. Thornton describes how the flintlock allowed marksmen to cover wider gaps in infantry formations to slow the advance of cavalry"

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