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, 2022 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, 2022 at 14:12
  • Just a comment that a lot of the answers seem to be missing the mark, and specifically answering regarding the "Winchester Model 1907" -- a particular gun -- instead of focusing on what was available in 1907, as is the actual question. Would take some research, since "a gatling gun" is not functionally equivalent to an AR-15, but certainly large capacity magazines and various types of semi-auto and full-auto weapon fire is not new. The drum magazine was patented in 1853.
    – JamieB
    Dec 13, 2022 at 21:51

4 Answers 4


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, 2022 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, 2022 at 12:45
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 10, 2022 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, 2022 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, 2022 at 12:48

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. (As it turns out, the fire rate is even slower yet than I originally assumed when writing this: as documented in the C&Rsenal videos referenced by Schwern's excellent answer below, not only will the ten round mag need to be reloaded more often than a larger AR-15 mag, should the shooter be able to procure one, but ejecting the mag and charging after a new mag is inserted is a considerably slower and more difficult process on the 1907.)

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, 2022 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, 2022 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, 2022 at 14:18
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    This answer could be improved by summarizing with Yes or No at the top.
    – shoover
    Jun 12, 2022 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, 2022 at 6:58

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:

Model 1907 :: Self-Loading Rifle
"The Gun That Shoots Through Steel"
Standard Rifle, 20 inch round nickel steel barrel, pistol grip, stock of plain walnut, not checked, weight about 7¼ pounds, number of shots six. List Price, $28.00.
CARTRIDGES, Full Metal Patched, or Soft Point
LIST PRICE PER 1,000, $32.00
This new rifle is going to be a big seller, as indicated by the large number ofinquiries already made about it. It is bound to be a popular gun, as it is built on a safe, sane and simple system, and shoots a cartridge powerful enough for the largest game. It is a strong, hand-some, serviceable gun from muzzle to butt. You can stock this rifle with confidence of your ability not to carry any of them over. We will be glad to send advertising matter upon request.

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

Our gun makers are constantly evolving new devices to simplify and expedite the work of the shooter.  Another argument, if any be needed, that sportsmen must interest themselves in producing game as well as de stroying it, in order to keep up the supply.
The above cut shows the general appearance of the new magazine, which is listed at $3.50, and is suited to the .32, .35 and .351 caliber self-loading rifles. The makers have this to say of the new 10-shot magazine:
By using one of these new magazines the number of shots which can be fired without refilling or substituting another magazine is doubled. Regular magazines for this rifle hold five cartridges, which, with the cartridge that can be put in the chamber, places six shots at the disposal of the operator.
A 10 shot magazine increases this number to eleven.
An expert at rapid fire shooting, who with the regular magazine can shoot fifty shots in a minute, can get in at least eighty by using the 10-shot magazines.
For hunting, these new 10-shot magazines will also be found to be exceedingly effective. They are so light and compact that they can easily he carried in the vest or coat pocket. These magazines for 32 and 35 caliber rifles can be ased without any readjustment of the arm. When they are to be used for 351 caliber rifles, it will be necessary to have the magazines fitted at the factory.
When ordering be sure to specify the
caliber wanted.

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.

  • 7
    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, 2022 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, 2022 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, 2022 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, 2022 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, 2022 at 21:56

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 ONLY functional difference between the 1907 and a controversial and much feared AR15 is the modern black plastic stock

While it's true they are both semi-automatic rifles, they diverge in significant ways from there. And while the author has correctly pointed out that "black rifle" has become a scare tactic, it doesn't mean there aren't differences. One has to ask why people aren't carrying Winchester 1907s if they're just as good as an AR-15?


About 400,000 semi-automatic rifles were produced before WW2.

Which sounds impressive, until you realize that's over a range of over 30 years. Only about 50,000 Winchester 1907s were ever produced in its 50 year production run.

In contrast, it is estimated 5 to 10 million Americans own AR-15s with 300 million total firearms. Quite a large quantitative difference.

What about qualitative differences?

The Guns

Ian McCollum (Forgotten Weapons) in his review of Winchester Model 07 Self-Loading .351 Caliber sums up the Winchester 1907 like so...

This was not a semiauto replacement for a .30-06 Springfield, it was the gun that filled the space between the Winchester 1892 lever action and the M1 Carbine.

The .30-06 Springfield was the standard rifle of the US Army back then, analogous to the AR-15 today. The M1 Carbine was intended to give troops in the rear who weren't expected to see a lot of fighting, truck drivers and artillerymen, something better than a pistol, but still light and handy. Ian is saying the Winchester 1907 was not comparable to a military rifle, it was more for the casual shooter.

[The author] references an extensive library of vintage hunting and shooting books and magazines to see what the historical view of the gun has been (and the results are not flattering).

In contrast the AR-15 is one of the most successful gun designs of the 20th century.


The 1907 fired just as fast as an AR15 or AK47 and the bullet (.351 Winchester)

(Note: the AK-47 ended production in the 1970s. Modern "AK"s are AK-74s.)

Maybe you could pull the trigger at the same speed, if the 1907 doesn't jam (more on that later), but you're not going to hit anything doing that with the Winchester. To understand why, let's look at what it's like to shoot the guns, and their details.

Take a minute to watch Mae of C&Rsenal fire the 1907 Winchester. Note the significant recoil.

Now watch Russell Phagan use a $550 kit-built AR-15. In particular, at 5:30 watch him make hits like its nothing.

Both are very experienced shooters.

Additional information comes from C&Rsenal's Small Arms of WWI Primer 084: French Contract Winchester 1907, in particular Mae's assessment at 55:45.

We can note some functional differences.

  • The Winchester recoil is significant; it is simple blowback relying on a heavy bolt and simple spring to slow the bolt before it slams into the back of the gun. The AR-15 is gas-operated with a long recoil buffer and a locked bolt allowing the pressure to dissipate before unlocking and sending the bolt backwards resulting in much less felt recoil.
  • The shooter must wait for that heavy bolt to travel backwards, stop, and then be pushed back into battery, it is slower to load the next round than the much lighter bolt and refined action of the AR-15.
  • The Winchester reload process was awkward and significantly slower with no hold-open requiring the shooter to re-cock the gun with an awkward and stiff plunger at the front of the gun, the magazine was stiff and the magazine release in an awkward position. The AR-15 holds open and cocked on an empty magazine and its ergonomics are excellent. This makes reloading very fast.
  • The Winchester trigger is very heavy making repeated precision shots slower. The AR-15 can be customized with triggers of many different styles.
  • The Winchester sights are small and slow to acquire targets, as were many sights of that era, in stark contrast to an AR-15 with any number of modern iron sights, scopes, or the red dots like Russell is using.

All of this, the recoil, the small magazine, and poor sights makes the effective rate-of-fire of the Winchester far, far slower than an AR-15 or AK-74.

Magazines and capacity

The Winchester came standard with a 5 round standard magazine with a 10 round option with very limited examples of 15 and 20 round magazines. The single-stack magazine limits its practical size. The magazines are finicky and require some finesse to fit to the rifle and feed properly.

In contrast, one can get AR-15 magazines up to 30 rounds and even 60 round drums. They're extremely standardized.

While the Winchester 1907 had a detachable magazine, they were not intended to be semi-disposable like today. Today you might carry several magazines and use them one after the other, dropping an empty magazine and putting in a new one. Then you might have one or two magazines, keep them when empty, and reload them by hand.

The Bullets

the bullet (.351 Winchester) was actually larger than those fired by the more modern looking weapons

This is an attempt to make the Winchester 1907 seem more powerful than the AR-15. It is not. "Bigger is better" is an obsolete idea of bullet design. Modern ammunition uses smaller, lighter bullets at higher velocities. They are flatter shooting (easier to aim, less bullet drop and target motion), higher penetration, more accurate, and you can carry more of them.

The limitations of blowback

The straight blowback action is one of the reasons why the Winchester 1907 was fairly successful for being such an early self-loading rifle. It's very simple. But it also has severe limitations.

Because the Winchester is blowback operated there is no locking mechanism; when the gunpowder explodes there's nothing keeping the bullet in the barrel but friction and the weight of the bolt. More powerful ammunition needs a heavier bolt. This limits the power of the ammunition the Winchester can handle. Blowback actions are typically for pistols which use much less powerful ammunition than rifles.

In contrast, the AR-15 locks the bolt. When the gunpowder explodes, the bolt stays locked behind the bullet. This allows the AR-15 to use much more powerful ammunition.

.351 Winchester was underpowered and unpopular

Ian McCollum again...

[The Winchester 1907] is generally seen as being hopelessly underpowered today, and that view has been around for many decades... The .351 WSL cartridge was never used in any other production designs, and has not been manufactured in significant quantity now for 40 years or more.

Othais of C&Rsenal agrees.

Whereas the 5.56 NATO and .223 Remington ammunition commonly used in the AR-15 have been wildly successful for 60 years.

The .351 Winchester was not a modern round even by 1907 standards. It's slow, heavy, and round nosed. It is more like what would be fired from a large pistol than a military rifle with an effective range of 100 to 200 yards. As a civilian and police rifle, its lack of penetration was a benefit for police departments who did not want to fire through walls and risk civilians.

The 5.56 NATO round, used by the AR-15, is a modern intermediate military cartridge designed to kill people at 300 to 600 yards. It is almost twice as fast with a pointed spitzer nose. This makes aiming easier as one does not have to account for bullet drop nor lead a moving target as much. The much lighter weight means you can carry more ammunition. And high penetration is desirable for military use.

A note about civilian vs military rifles

Civilians had hundreds of thousands of these for 40 years, while US soldiers were still being issued old fashioned bolt action rifles.

This is attempting to say that civilians had better rifles than even the military because civilians had self-loaders and soldiers had "old-fashioned" bolt-actions.

Civilian and military needs were quite different. For military use, reliability, durability, accuracy, range, penetration, cost, and ease of maintenance are paramount. Your fancy self-loading rifle is useless if it breaks, or if it's too expensive to arm an army, or if it fires an anemic bullet that can't reach the enemy.

Self-loading rifles of the era were complex, fragile, expensive, and hard to maintain. The .351 round is low power and too short range for the needs of the day where military rifles were expected to fire out to 1000 yards or more. For these reasons and more, the Winchester 1907 was not acceptable for use in WW1 except in specialist roles. Only a few thousand were purchased for WW1, a drop in the bucket.

All self-loading rifles were inadequate for military use, too complex, too expensive, too unreliable, until the US put significant effort into the M1 Garand. Arming an entire army with self-loading rifles was unprecedented.


The Winchester 1907 is a very early civilian self-loading rifle firing a round suitable for hunting, home defense, and police. It is significantly slower to acquire targets. The high recoil makes follow up shots slower. It has a smaller magazine capacity, and a slower and awkward reload. It is less accurate, less reliable, and weighs more. .351 Winchester round is slower, less accurate, harder to aim, heavy, short range, and low penetration.

The modern AR-15 is the civilian version of one of the best military rifles in the world. It is high capacity, light, quick to acquire targets, fast to reload, extremely reliable, durable, and easy to service. 5.56 NATO is one of the most successful rounds in the world; light, high capacity, high velocity, accurate, and high penetration.

Only someone who has never handled either rifle could conclude they have no functional difference.

  • You have a 7 point bullet-point list that needs somewhere between 7 and 14 references to support it. Also: the military needs (and that they aren't met by the older gun) need references.
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 6, 2022 at 8:28
  • @Oddthinking The main reference is the C&Rsenal video on the 1907 Winchester. Do you want me to link to each individual time code in the video?
    – Schwern
    Dec 6, 2022 at 18:11
  • Ahh. Tricky. I have removed the post notice, because it follows the rules. Transcribing the video to support the points would be ideal, but I can see it would be painful too.
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 6, 2022 at 22:27
  • @Oddthinking I'll see about annotating the answer with specific quotes.
    – Schwern
    Dec 6, 2022 at 23:01
  • @Oddthinking Thank goodness for the "Copy video URL at current time" button.
    – Schwern
    Dec 8, 2022 at 6:09

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