Columbus, the man, the myth, the spy—today you get to decide, because Columbus Day is an annual celebration of the mystery man’s Voyage of Discovery. Conspiracy buffs, like author Manuel Rosa, contend he was a spy, from Portugal, who deliberately sank the Santa Maria in a clandestine operation that makes today’s CIA spooks look amateur. His cover was so deep that we still don’t know is real name or even where he’s buried. “He was the James Bond of his day,” Rosa told The Guardian in 2014, ignoring the fact Walther Arms wasn’t established until 1886.
Invader, discoverer, exploiter, whatever you prefer, there’s no denying five of the firearm firsts he made in stumbling into the occupied New World.
First shot—Tesla and Marconi’s newfangled radio wouldn’t become reality for centuries, so when Columbus’ first expedition sighted land, the discovery was signaled to the other ships by setting off a deck cannon on the Pinta.
Brandishing—"When he sailed away from Haiti he ordered a shot to be fired through the shipwrecked hulk of Santa Maria to impress on the Native Americans the power of European firearms,” underwater archeologist Donald Keith told National Public Radio (NPR).
Defibrillators—The presence of canons leads Keith to confidently conclude the explorers also brought arquebuses, an early firearm painfully held against the chest during firing.
Tax evasion—Jim Supica, director of the NRA's Firearms Museum, explained to NPR in the same article that the reason the personal firearms record is incomplete in Columbus’ Voyage of Discovery is “… for tax purposes.”
Gun theft—National Public Radio reported that undersea explorer Barry Clifford found a canon similar to what would have been carried by the Santa Maria off the Haitian shore in 2003. When he returned a decade later, hoping to conduct work to determine if it was indeed Columbus’ ill-fated flagship’s submerged firepower, the gun had been looted from the site.
Bonus Factoid First EU controversy—The annual Leif Eriksson Day took place on Oct. 9 with little fanfare, despite the fact he is largely recognized as leading the first successful European invasion of North America. Columbus’ higher-in-caliber arrival largely explains the difference in celebration size.
Watch a video of NRA Firearms Museum Senior Curator Philip Schreier and the ancient hand canon.