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According to a (since-deleted) widely shared LinkedIn post (emphasis added):

A hundred and twelve years ago, in 1907...our great grandparents were first able to buy the rifle pictured. The semi-auto Winchester Model 1907. This is a gun they could buy from a Sears catalogue and have delivered via US Post. It was/ is a semi-automatic, high powered centerfire rifle, with detachable, high capacity magazine. About 400,000 semi-automatic rifles were produced before WW2. Civilians had hundreds of thousands of these for 40 years, while US soldiers were still being issued old fashioned bolt action rifles.

The 1907 fired just as fast as an AR15 or AK47 and the bullet (.351 Winchester) was actually larger than those fired by the more modern looking weapons.. The ONLY functional difference between the 1907 and a controversial and much feared AR15 is the modern black plastic stock. [...]

The post has no references, but a commenter identified this 2019 blog post as the likely source. The blog post does not have references either. The image below was included in the LinkedIn post, and is available on the blog post:

Purported image of a semi-auto Winchester Model 1907

Has a weapon with the same rate of fire and magazine capacity as the modern AR-15 been widely available for civilian purchase in the U.S. since 1907?

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    The linked in post may have been lifted from this 2019 blog post: fatherlyadviceandrants.com/2019/12/14/the-winchester-model-1907
    – Dave
    Jun 8 at 20:29
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    Comments are for improving the question, not for sharing your political views; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 10 at 14:12
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    Functional equivalence of two weapons necessarily must include all factors affecting the lethality of the device. Capacity and rate of fire being similar does not account for effects caused by a tumbling hypersonic ballistic round, or the maximum effective range of the weapons. Debating this claim on its own chosen points without accounting for the full scope of what 'functional equivalency' must necessarily contain presupposes those points are adequate. As such, your title and your actual question are formally different, and at odds with each other.
    – Nohbdy
    Jun 11 at 14:54
  • How long are the two weapons? I would imagine that a shorter weapon is easier to manage in a confined space. Jun 12 at 7:02
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    One would also have to consider reliability. One reason why semi-auto firearms didn't enter general military use until much later had to do with this issue. The 1907 was issued to a few (UK) aircraft observers in WWI. Also the Remington Model 8 predated it by a few years. That one was also used by French aircraft observers in WWI.
    – Fizz
    Jun 14 at 5:58

3 Answers 3

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Has a weapon with the same rate of fire and magazine capacity as the modern AR-15 been widely available for civilian purchase in the U.S. since 1907?

The Winchester 1907 were sold in the US with optional 10 round magazines prior to 1920 (at least 1916, possibly as early as when the gun was released). 30+ round magazines are available for AR-15s, even up to 100 round drums. When shooting a large number of rounds, e.g. more than 10 bullets, the difference in the rate of fire will be dominated by the time taken to exchange magazines; so the AR-15 will have a higher rate of fire overall. When shooting fewer bullets, the rate of fire will be comparable since both are semi-automatic weapons.

I believe that it is also worth pointing out that through most of the 20th century, it was legal to produce and distribute fully automatic weapons for the civilian market in the US.

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    It was possible to buy fully-automatic weapons until 1986. Even now it technically is still possible but most people are priced out of the market.
    – Ryan_L
    Jun 9 at 1:15
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    @Ryan_L Which is why I believe the answer should be changed to "It is still possible for private citizens to buy fully automatic weapons in the US"
    – MechMK1
    Jun 9 at 12:45
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 10 at 14:14
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    This answer could be improved by summarizing with Yes or No above the "The Winchester 1907..." paragraph.
    – shoover
    Jun 12 at 0:09
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    @shoover i view it as a compound question that doesn’t have a straightforward yes or no answer. 30+ capacity magazines were/are not available for the 1907, but their rate of fire is not really all that different from an AR. So kind of yes and no.
    – Dave
    Jun 12 at 12:48
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The Winchester Model 1907 differs from an assault rifle in using a much heavier and more powerful round: the .351 Winchester Self-Loading bullet alone weighs 12 g, about the same as the weight of an entire 5.56×45mm NATO cartridge (11-13 g for the full cartridge, 4 g or less for the bullet). So within whatever your weight limit is for carrying around ammunition, you can carry about three times as many rounds for an AR15 as you can for the 1907 (which is the whole point of an assault rifle). Further, the AR15 will have a faster accurate fire rate due to much lower recoil and noise.

Even leaving fully automatic fire aside, the much lower ammo load you can carry and the slower accurate fire rate makes the 1907 in no way functionally equivalent to a modern assault rifle for military purposes.

But if your purpose is shooting up a school or shopping mall the case isn't so clear cut. A slightly slower fire rate isn't such a big problem when you have little need to suppress combatants firing back at you and lower accuracy at a given fire rate is also a lesser problem when the range at which you're firing is much lower than in typical military encounters. The much heavier .351 round will transfer significantly more kinetic energy to the target, but there is extensive argument over how much difference this really makes terms of stopping power and lethality, particularly with regard to the 5.56 round and it's associated AR15 rifle.

The exact goals of those shooting a large number of civilians are unclear to me (to put it mildly), so it's very hard to judge whether those wanting to do a mass shooting would consider the Winchester Model 1907 to be functionally equivalent to an AR15 for their purposes. There are quite a number of factors involved, and these may even include how people feel about the look of the weapon itself and how the shooter feels they will be perceived when using one weapon versus the other. It is indisputable that using an assault rifle will allow you to carry a lot more ammunition and, generally, give you a slightly higher fire rate; certainly it's conceivable that this will allow a shooter to more effectively achieve his goals.

Even assuming that the 1907 is functionally equivalent to an AR15 for a mass shooter's goals, the availability of the 1907 a century ago is not evidence that "[t]he semi-auto can be safely owned by civilians" now, as Leah Rosson claims, just that it was apparently safely owned then. And even that might be disputed (at least by the victims) if it were used in, for example, lynchings, which were considerably more common in the U.S. back then than they are now.

The safety of civilians owning firearms seems to be heavily dependent on the particular country and society one is talking about. Plenty of folks in favour of minimal firearm ownership regulation are fond of pointing to other countries with high rates of firearm ownership which see hugely lower rates of mass shootings, though that sounds to me like an argument that Americans are thus more in need of regulation of firearm ownership than other countries. I note also that the reasons Rosson claims for the increase in mass shootings (mainly, less liberalism and more religion and conservatism) are more widespread in other countries that experience far fewer mass shootings.

(In case people are wondering about my views, I consider collecting and/or shooting firearms to be a perfectly valid hobby that, like any other hobby, shouldn't be restricted unless that's necessary to achieve other important societal aims. (I don't find gun-related hobbies interesting to me personally, however, unless you consider first-person-shooter games to be "gun-related.") I also think that there may well be forms of restriction that could be significantly effective at reducing mass shootings yet not be any more restrictive than regulations we already have for things like automobiles. But I live far from the U.S. in a country nearly without mass shootings so the whole problem is more an intellectual curiosity to me than something that will affect me personally in any way.)

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    I'm aware that there's a distinction between assault rifle, which I understand is a well-defined term, and assault weapon, which is the subject of debate. From my understanding the AR-15 does not fit the definition of assault rifle, but your answer indicates that it does -- can you clarify?
    – LShaver
    Jun 9 at 12:43
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    @LShaver Good question. By theU.S. Army definition of "assault rifle" the AR15 is not one because it is not capable of selective-fire (it's semi-auto only). I here am using a somewhat looser definition: "rifles using an intermediate cartridge so that you can carry a much larger ammunition load than with a 'standard' rifle." I do so since the intermediate cartridge is the primary difference between the currently-popular AR15 and the Winchester Model 1907 mentioned in the quotation.
    – cjs
    Jun 9 at 12:58
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    Some deleted comments quibbled about definitions - the OP has explained the definitions used in this answer.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 10 at 14:18
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    This answer could be improved by summarizing with Yes or No at the top.
    – shoover
    Jun 12 at 0:10
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    @shoover Unfortunately, it can't be summarised with either "yes" or "no"; as I say directly in my answer, "the case isn't so clear cut." Without knowing what particular characteristics are desired and/or needed by mass shooters, we can't say whether the 1907 was "functionally equivalent." I give several examples of fairly substantial differences between the two weapons, such as how much ammo can be carried and how the weapon looks and is perceived.
    – cjs
    Jun 14 at 6:58
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The Winchester Model 1907 did not have a "high capacity" magazine in the form available to consumers in 1907. The capacity was six.

The following is an ad in the January 1907 Hardware Dealers Magazine:

enter image description here

Then in 1910 a ten-round magazine was introduced, according to the September 1910 Amateur Sportsman at page 26:

enter image description here

The Winchester model 1907 had a muzzle velocity of 1861 feet per second according to the 1907 Abercrombie & Fitch catalog at pages 165 and 184, while the ArmaLite AR-15 had a muzzle velocity of 3,300 feet per second, but the kinetic energy is similar since the .351 bullets are much heavier.

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    The info I'm seeing tends to indicate that 10 round magazines were pretty typical, even if 6 was the standard "out of the box". Maybe the way to address it is to point out that AR-15's are regularly fitted with 30-round magazines, so it is clear that AR-15s have more magazine capacity. So they differ on that characteristic.
    – Dave
    Jun 8 at 21:01
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    This reference pushes that date back to the 1916 texasranger.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/…
    – Dave
    Jun 8 at 21:20
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    An external magazine is an accessory and not a characteristic of the weapon itself. Tiny magazines are available for the AR platform, as are 100-round drums. Jun 9 at 3:31
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    @chrylis-cautiouslyoptimistic- that a weapon is designed to use external magazines is a feature of the the weapon itself. In general, easily swappable external magazines makes it easier to shoot a larger number of bullets in a shorted amount of time if the operator has accumulated enough magazines.
    – Dave
    Jun 9 at 14:45
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    Where the quote in the question says "fires just as fast", it is referring to rate of fire, not to muzzle velocity, and simply comparing muzzle velocities here is possibly misleading; the .223 round has higher velocity but is much lighter than the .351SL. The muzzle energy of the .351 is slightly higher than that of a .223, so in terms of lethality (especially at the kind of short ranges that matter in this context) there's probably not much difference between them.
    – Carcer
    Jun 9 at 21:56

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