The NPR News podcast and video Beto O'Rourke Wants To Ban, Confiscate Some Guns. Texas Voters Want Details (about 6.5 minutes long) contains the following assertion by Congressman O'Rourke:

In under three minutes, in a Walmart in El Paso Texas, 22 people were killed.

When the second amendment was adopted and ratified, it took three minutes to reload your musket.

Full discussion

Question: Did it in fact take something like three minutes to reload muskets when the Second Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified? Is a "three minute musket" representative of the best military individual firearm of the day for warfare?

  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 18:44
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    – MCW
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 20:36
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    Once comments have been moved to chat, any comments that do not explicitly ask for more information about, or suggest improvements to, the question will generally be deleted. All other conversation should be in chat. Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 19:34

5 Answers 5


No. The rate of fire of competent musketeers was considerably greater than one round every three minutes when the Second Amendment was adopted at the end of the eighteenth century.

In his book The Dawn of Modern Warfare, Hans Delbruck included a section titled 'Rapidity of fire in the eighteenth century'. He states that:

"... a competent musketeer could load without command four or five times in a minute, and the platoon could fire five salvos on command in two minutes, and this was increased to almost three per minute."

  • p285

By 1779 in Europe, a regulation required recruits to practice loading and firing with powder:

“... daily and be continued until the new men could fire four times in a minute."

  • ibid

Although Delbruck went on to observe that Berenhorst wrote:

“at least 15 seconds were needed to load and fire with ball cartridges”

so it would have been impossible to get off a full four shots in a minute.

Nevertheless, a firing rate in excess of three shots per minute was certainly perfectly possible with contemporary muskets in the late eighteenth century.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 18:52
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    And the Girandoni air rifle, used by the Austrian army and the Lewis and Clark expedition, and comparable in power to a contemporary musket, could fire up to 20 times per minute. Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 16:42
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    Considering the attack happened with a mobile shooter, in order to keep the comparison accurate, how long would it have taken to reload a musket while remaining mobile?
    – corsiKa
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 19:40
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    To fire 4 shots in a minute, you need to be able to load in 20 second, provided that you start with a loaded weapon. Commented Oct 12, 2019 at 19:39
  • Repeating arms were a thing in the 1770s.
    – acpilot
    Commented Mar 17, 2021 at 3:58

Did it in fact take something like three minutes to reload muskets when the Second Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified? Is a "three minute musket" representative of the best military individual firearm of the day for warfare?

Seeing is believing: These reenactors at Fort Niagara reload in about 20 seconds (from firing to shouldering the reloaded musket). The instructor, meanwhile, states that "a good British soldier was expected [to do] four rounds a minute".

I'd guess the Congressman confused "three rounds a minute" and "a round every three minutes". For the purpose of comparison with the killing potential of modern magazine-fed firearms, one is as bad as the other.

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    It sounds likely then that the statement of "1 shot every three minutes" was a mis-remembered 3 shots a minute.
    – Bill K
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 20:47
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 15:16
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    +1 For "For the purpose of comparison with... modern magazine-fed firearms, one is as bad as the other." Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 21:11
  • "For the purpose of comparison with the killing potential of modern magazine-fed firearms, one is as bad as the other." Well, no. The difference is between 1 killed and 9 killed. If you're one of the eight, you might disagree. Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 1:17
  • @WhatRoughBeast You lot still don't get it, do you? If, after one shot fired, it takes you 20 seconds or longer to reload, there will be no second shot fired. Somebody, knowing you are effectively unarmed (except for a long stick) for an appreciatable time, will have calmy walked up to you, taken that stick out of your hands, and smacked you across the face with it. Alternatively, there will be no targets left after your lengthy reload. Get a reality check.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 8:23

At the time, most military muskets were smoothbores. Hunters and a few specialist military units used rifled muskets, or rifles.

  • Musketeers did not fire aimed shots. Hitting a man-sized target at 100 or 150 metres was problematic. The musketeers would fire at close range, against a formation of enemy troops. Still, commanders liked to reserve their first volley as long as possible because those loaded in the heat of battle would be more sloppy. The order "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes" is sometimes attributed to preserving ammunition, but it also refers to the problem of double-loading, or failing to prime, and so on.
  • When loading a rifled musket, the bullet would be carefully hammered down the barrel so that it would fit tightly to the rifling. Rifles had a lower rate of fire, which explains why they were not universally adopted even if it was possible to hit a man with them.
  • Loading required powder, bullets, and wadding to hold them all in place.
    • For a military musket, there were paper cartridges to hold the powder and bullet. The musketeer would bite the cartridge open, pour the powder, and then use the paper as wadding.
    • A hunter preparing a long-range rifle shot would pour a carefully measured amount of powder, use greased, shaped patches for wadding, and apply it all carefully.

So sempaiscuba is right that a formation of smoothbore musketeers should be able to fire several volleys per soldier per minute.

But a hunter with a rifle who has to pay for powder and lead out of his own pocket, and who knows that the first shot will spook the game, should take mone or more minutes to load.

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    About the hunter with a rifled musket: yes, it was slower than a smoothbore, and it occasionally jammed, but it was still less than 3 shots per minute. A smoothbore could be reloaded in 15-20 seconds, a rifled one maybe in 40-50 seconds, but still far from 3 minutes. But that's not even the point. Someone trying to commit a mass shooting at a market with a musket would use a smoothbore instead of a rifle anyway. Or more likely, he would use a large number of pistols and blunderbusses (then use a saber or hatchet after they are all empty) to kill as many people as possible.
    – vsz
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 7:03

Most answers focus on the reload time of muskets -- for completeness I'll repeat that they are considerably faster to reload than the 3-minutes-per-round figure mentioned by Beto, but it's reasonable to say he misspoke the more accurate 3-rounds-per-minute figure.

More germane to me is the second part of your question: did muskets represent the highest known rate of fire at the time? The answer to that question is unequivocally no. As detailed in this quora answer, there were numerous guns known to Congress at the time of ratification that had rates of fire in the dozens of rounds per minute.

-The Puckle gun was the first known revolving cannon. It fired a 32mm round, had a 11-round revolving cylinder, and was invented in 1718. It never saw mass production but demonstrations were performed and it was covered by the newspapers. What killed it was the fact that the parts for it could not be easily produced at that time.

-The Girandoni Air Rifle fired a .46 caliber projectile and had a 20-round magazine. It was invented in 1779 and was used by the Lewis and Clark expedition.

-The Belton flintlock was offered to Congress in 1777. It was capable of firing up to either sixteen or twenty rounds within either sixteen, ten, or five seconds. There are no known surviving examples but it was believed to function similar to a roman candle. Congress wanted a slower rate of fire but balked when they learned how much it would cost.

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    I would remove the Puckle gun. This is not a gun but rather a cannon and can hardly be used for a mass shooting.
    – Mayou36
    Commented Oct 12, 2019 at 18:17

Question: Did it take 3 minutes to reload a musket when the second amendment to the US constitution was ratified?

Short Answer:
Truthfully, unlike in European wars, there wasn't a lot of reloading going on in the Revolutionary war. Typically it was fire one volley and bayonet charge. Especially by the British, colonials often lacked bayonets.

Yes. in ideal conditions a smoothbore musket could be loaded in 15-20 seconds by a professional soldiers. 15 steps to reload a riffle from "prime and load" through returning to "prime and load" and it was the mark of a well practiced and disciplined soldier to be able to execute each step in 1 second.

However smoothbore muskets like the British Brown Bess were rare in the colonial army. After the French entered the war they provided George Washington's regulars with French smoothbore muskets which eventually became the mainstay of the colonial professional army. But the overwhelming majority of soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War on the Colonial side (10-1) were not professionals but amateurs. For amateurs the more widely available weapon were Rifles, like the Kentucky Long Rifle. For reloading a Riffle 3 minutes is not out of the question.

If you are a gun enthusiast you know that modern pistols and riffles the rounds are larger than the barrel. That modern weapons gain power and accuracy by forcing the larger bullet down the tight barrel to pick up the riffling or grooves of the barrel. It’s why bullets are made from soft metals like lead and copper. For revolutionary war riffles balls were necessary very snug, for the same reason. To pick up the rifling of the barrels as the rounds reshape themselves traveling down the barrels. After a few discharges the black powder residue used made the balls even tighter. Getting the ball down a riffled barrel was a challenge.

Detailed Answer:
In ideal conditions 3-4 rounds per minute for a professional American revolutionary musket man. But battle fields are far from ideal and the American Revolutionary war was primarily fought by amateur soldiers on the colonial side with American and French regulars amounting to a small fraction of overall troops strength.

Rate of fire:
The “3 to 4 rounds per minute” comes from live fire studies conducted during the late 18th century, but I don’t have the details on hand. The firing was sustained for (I think) three minutes, and from that the per-minute rate is derived. The studies were done in idealized conditions. Note also that the 1764 manual of arms has 15 “counts” from the order “prime and load” to returning to the priming position after pulling the trigger (beginning from the priming position, not from the shoulder). If the motions can be performed at the recommended one-second intervals, then the maximum rate of fire is four rounds per minute; but executing the motions at that pace, particularly handling the rammer, is challenging if it’s possible at all.

However; Orourke numbers are not entirely fanciful. Another famous weapon widely used by colonial troops was the Kentucky long riffle. It could take longer than two minutes to load that weapon because the round had to be forced down the snug barrel. Sometimes soldiers had to use a mallet to hammer the ball down the barrel.

In general in the Revolutionary war soldiers didn't reload their weapons. The Professional British Army had contempt for Revolutionary Minute Men and their typical move was to march into firing range, unload a single volley into the ranks of the colonials, and charge with bayonets.

Riffles which outranged muskets by 2-3 to 1 were not favored by soldiers due to

  1. Their slower rate of fire given the difficulty in loading the ball.
  2. Bayonets could not be fitted on the barrels of Rifles.

However in the American Revolutionary War militia soldiers (amateurs) were required to supply their own weapons and Kentucky long riffles were just more readily available than the favored smooth bore muskets.

Colonial armies, unlike the British did utilized sharpshooters. Specialized troops such as the famous Morgan's Riffles named for their commander General Daniel Morgan. Another famous sharpshooter of the revolutionary war was Timothy Murphy who killed Sir Francis Clerke and General Simon Fraser in a single afternoon at the second battle of Saratoga. Kentucky Riffles had more than twice the range of smoothbore muskets and greater accuracy. Colonial sharpshooters used these advantages to target British officers prior to the main forces engaging.


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